Arts & Culture

Boise Music Week jazzes things up for its future

Boise Music Week is a long-standing tradition that brings our community together through song, dance and music.

People turn out in droves for the free event, attracted by performances ranging from its centerpiece Broadway musical to church organ recitals. For the performers — from school students to professional musicians — it’s about the chance to work together, learn and connect with an audience.

Though those traditions continue, this year organizers of Boise Music Week started changing things up: adding a new jazz night at the Morrison Center, switching to online ticketing and finding a new mission to retool the event for the future.

“These are huge changes for us,” says Allyn Krueger, who heads the performance committee and also regularly directs the musical. “And it’s time. It’s important to challenge ourselves to find out what people want, and how the event should grow.”

For nearly 100 years, Boise Music Week has given the city a weeklong celebration filled with concerts, recitals and a full-scale community musical at one of the state’s premier venues, the Morrison Center — and it is all free.

“It used to be a big deal to be involved in Music Week,” Krueger says. “There were big stories in the paper and pictures of new board members. It was the only thing for a long time. It’s not like that anymore, and we have to think how we’re going to keep pace with the times without losing who and what we are.”

Founded in 1919 by Eugene A. Farner, Boise Music Week was one of the first, if not the very first, of what became a national movement in the 1920s to celebrate community performing arts and music. Although historically, there’s no evidence that Boise started it all because few people outside of the city knew about it until years later when the trend had caught on.

“It’s just amazing that this continues,” says Larry Dennis, who will direct this year’s musical “Gypsy,” the musical retelling of the true story of burlesque artist Gypsy Rose Lee and her sister actress June Havoc.

It’s the first time Music Week has taken on this Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim musical.

Dennis says the move to online ticketing and the push to modernize the organization “could have happened several years ago,” he says. “I’m just glad we’re doing it. That’s what the world is now.”

For more than 50 years, people mailed in a coupon from the Idaho Statesman in exchange for free tickets to the Boise Music Week musical. Organizers added the Showcase and International Dance Night about 10 years ago. This year, free tickets to all those events are being distributed through the Statesman’s boise.dealsaver.com.

The board also has been working to recruit younger members to keep the organization relevant to multiple generations, Krueger says.

Infusing that younger vibe into the organization led to the idea to add jazz to the Music Week mix in 2014. Jazz Night debuted successfully, packing the Boise High School auditorium. This year, “All That’s Jazz” on May 2 marks the first time the Morrison Center has hosted a second Music Week event.

This year, because there was an open night at the Morrison Center, the Endowment Foundation Board encouraged Krueger to apply for a grant to book the house. It worked.

“Jazz night is a great way to branch out and add something that will appeal to a younger audience,” says singer Leta Harris Neustaedter, who will make her Boise Music Week debut with the a cappella singing group Mostly Mary.

“I love that they’re widening their reach,” she says. “And it’s such a wonderful opportunity to perform on that stage. There are so many musicians who don’t get to perform at the Morrison Center. That really is an amazing experience.”

Tickets for the jazz night are available while they last at the Morrison Center box office. You must pick them up in person.

Getting the board to buy into taking this leap took some doing, Krueger says, but it was worth it — although it’s nerve-wracking because it allows people to get their tickets at their own pace, rather than having to hurry to mail in the coupon.

“We know we need to be online to be successful,” Krueger says. “The bottom line is we just want people to come out and enjoy all the events.”

Krueger also is putting together a survey on BoiseMusicWeek.org for people to give feedback on their experiences this year.

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