Musician Spotlight: Laura Arganbright, Principal Oboe
For Women’s History Month, we are sharing about the talented and multi-faceted AYS Principal Oboist Dr. Laura Arganbright. Laura is not only a successful musician, but also a small business owner and music educator. Her time at AYS has informed important friendships in her life at a time where she was new to a large city, and given her opportunities to play scores that she’s dreamed of playing. This interview features the talented oboist who aims to make the world a better place one reed and music lesson at a time.
How did you first become introduced to playing the oboe?
I like to think that the oboe found me. I began my music education playing the piano, and then I really wanted to play the flute. I ended up playing clarinet for a year, switched to flute, and then upon starting junior high, the band teacher sought me out based on a recommendation from my elementary director because the school needed an oboist. I didn’t even know what an oboe was, but my older brother (who played bass in the local youth orchestra) said, “oh yeah, the oboe – if you play it in tune you can get a scholarship.” It wasn’t necessarily about the scholarship, but I was drawn to the uniqueness, so I went for it. I played both oboe and flute throughout middle school and high school, but I felt that oboe matched my personality more so it grew to be my focus.
When did you know music was something you wanted to pursue professionally?
I actually didn’t know that I wanted to pursue music professionally beyond high school until a friend who was a year older than me shared that she was going to ASU to study oboe performance. When she told me I thought, “wait, you can do that?” I literally had no idea that you could study just performing music, I thought that you go to school to be a band director because all of the musicians I knew were music educators. I had for a long time felt that music was going to be my focus, but I didn’t know in what context until I was in college.
So, what did you end up studying in college and what are your degrees?
I have my Bachelor’s in music performance from ASU, and stayed there for my Master’s degree. I attended USC for my Doctorate of Musical Arts which I graduated from in 2018.
What is your AYS story? When did you join and how long have you been a member?
I heard about AYS during my time at USC. I first earned a spot in the orchestra as second oboe in 2016, which was also Maestro Izcaray’s first year. I had the great opportunity to play principal oboe a few times during this season when my colleague (the current principal) was absent for other gigs or competitions. The following year I auditioned and won the principal oboe position, which I have held since then, with my fellowship being slightly extended because of the nature of the pandemic.
Laura recording Stravinsky’s Symphony of Wind Instruments for AYS’ Fall Concert at her apartment.
What was the most rewarding concert that you were a part of with AYS?
The ones that stand out have been the film concerts. Those have been so cool and fun. I played in the Back to the Future and ET Hollywood Project concerts. The other concert that comes to mind is the first concert that Maestro Izcaray conducted, and my first concert playing principal as the second oboist. The program was Schreker’s Vorspiel zu einem Drama, Bloch Schelomo Hebraic Rhapsody, and Mahler Symphony No. 1. That concert was exhausting but so rewarding, and I feel like everyone was working really hard. The concerts at Disney Hall are also always really exciting, I think in part because of the prestige of the venue and being in downtown LA.
What else have you taken with you during your time with AYS?
Definitely friends! I started making my USC friends when I was a student there because of carpooling to AYS rehearsals and concerts. I was the driver of many carpools! Los Angeles is huge but your individual communities are small, in particular the winds community I feel a lot of camaraderie.
You have also played with other orchestras based in and around the Los Angeles area. Tell us about your performance experience beyond AYS.
I play principal oboe with the Bakersfield Symphony and have had that position since 2017. I often play in my home state of Arizona with the Arizona Philharmonic, and I’ll play with pretty much any other freelance group in Los Angeles if they call me! In 2020 I was scheduled to play concertos with the Bakersfield Symphony and Arizona Philharmonic, but those were postponed due to the pandemic. Right now, the plan is to have the Arizona Philharmonic performance in October 2021 and I’m still waiting to hear when the Bakersfield concerto will be rescheduled. I’m really looking forward to having solo opportunities with those ensembles.
I also play principal oboe for a summer opera program in San Diego called Opera Neo and have been with them since 2017. This year we presented an entirely virtual performance of The Magic Flute. All the singers had green screens and acted in their home, and all the musicians were provided piano backing tracks to record instrumental parts at home. There were a few other AYS musicians involved – Lieza Hansen and Annie Ranzani on bassoon, and Sérgio Coelho on clarinet. I recorded both first and second oboe – it was SO many tracks, and kind of a crazy endeavor. I was really happy to see the finished product and pretty proud of the outcome, especially since we started the project not really knowing what we were getting ourselves into and really had to make up procedures and find solutions along the way.
I hear that you also have a reed business and are a small business owner. Tell us more about how your reed making business came to be.
Every oboist who studies oboe in college should learn how to make their own reeds. I started learning in high school, but my confidence came after my undergraduate studies because my professor was a really good reed teacher. By the time I started my doctorate, there weren’t necessarily problems I needed to fix in my reed-making, mostly improving efficiency and consistency.
I actually got started selling reeds because of an instagram post! Someone in China saw my reeds and messaged me asking if I sold reeds in bulk and what my pricing would be. I had never made 20 reeds all at once and at the time it was pretty stressful, but I didn’t want to turn down the work! This was during the first year of my doctorate, and around the time when I was building my website, which prompted me to add information on my reeds and how to buy them. I never really advertised and promoted my reeds because I wanted the interest to grow organically. It’s at a point now where it’s really good supplemental income, but not so demanding that it’s overwhelming. My business is also supplemented by a few of my colleagues who buy in bulk for their own students. Reed-making is something I think a lot of oboists hate doing, and I don’t hate it at all. I’ve gotten much faster and consistent, and I’m an introvert so I don’t mind the long hours at my desk making reeds.
How many reeds do you make in a year and how long does it take you to make them?
In 2020 I sold over 500 reeds. I can tie and scrape a reed in under 10 minutes, and it’ll play fine, but probably won’t be amazing. I prefer to make reeds in stages. I tie a bunch, then pre-scrape them. The next day I scrape enough that they’re able to be played on the oboe, but they’ll be a bit wild sounding. Then I usually do two finishing sessions with small adjustments to refine the tone, pitch, response, and stability.
You do a really great job developing and communicating your brand. How did you develop your brand and what advice would you give to other freelance musicians?
My initials are “LA” which aligns well with being based in Los Angeles. When I was really young my Dad gave me a Dodgers hat – I was not interested in baseball and I had no idea what Los Angeles was – I just thought it was a cool hat with my initials on it. I do feel like I’ve always been drawn to this city, moreso for its vibrancy and diversity. When I moved here in 2014, I snagged the gmail address and the domain name “LAoboe.”
As for branding, I think it’s really important to have a presence on digital platforms like social media and have a personal website that shows up from a google search or keyword search. But I also believe in cultivating a unique personality that shows depth of character. Yes, I am primarily an oboe performer, music instructor, and reed-maker, but there is so much more to ME that I don’t want to diminish in order to elevate myself as a musician.
For one of my doctoral projects in 2018, I wrote a paper called “Freelancing: the musical F word” which discussed the negativity surrounding being a musical freelancer. The fairly common notion that musicians who sustain a so-called “portfolio career” are less successful, skilled, and satisfied is unfortunate. On the other hand, I have felt this personally. The very aspects of my career that I felt some insecurity about – I don’t have a full-time orchestra gig or a college teaching position – provided me the opportunity to diversify my work portfolio as an oboist. Freelance performer, private teacher, YOLA coach, reed-maker…this diversification of my work is the very reason that I was able to remain fully self-employed, even through the hardships of 2020.
You are also passionate about teaching and music education, can you tell us about it?
I have been a private instructor the longest and I think that’s how many musicians get started with teaching. We dive into it before we even consider ourselves experts, and it ends up being an amazing learning experience. I did not get into general music teaching until my time at USC when I was a mentor with the Thornton Community Education program. My first class was teaching a group of 2nd graders at a public school near USC’s campus. I learned so much and it really set the tone and foundation for my teaching today, and it taught me that I enjoyed working with kids.
I was formerly an oboe teaching artist and musicianship teacher with the Harmony Project and I currently teach with the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (YOLA). The Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA) site near LaFayette Park has a brand new building which I’m really excited to start teaching at later this year. Right now I teach oboe classes as well as beginning recorder classes on Zoom twice a week to over 20 students which has been an adventure – sometimes a struggle, but very rewarding.
Teaching is a vital part of who I am. I see my role as inspiring a passion for music and helping students discover their creative spark. Music classes also facilitate growth in social and emotional skills such as building teamwork, self expression, and listening. My priority is to not necessarily get students to a level of future professional musicians, but rather to provide them the opportunity to experience the joy of learning and playing music and learning valuable life skills along the way.
As you know, it is Women’s History Month, do you have any advice for young women looking to begin a career in the arts?
My advice is to be unapologetic about who you are. Remember that there’s no one-size-fits all formula to success – set your goals high but make sure you’re writing your own story. Forge a unique path that aligns with your passions.
There is a distinct moment I remember from my undergrad when my professor asked me what I saw myself doing in the future. I hadn’t lived anywhere other than Arizona and neither of my parents went to college, so the fact that I was graduating was already an achievement. I also didn’t really know any “professional” musicians other than the teachers I had studied with in high school. My response at the time was something like “hang around town, maybe teach some, and try and get gigs.” He looked at me super focused and replied, “I think you can afford to set your goals higher than that.” I’ve never forgotten the way he said this, and this moment was very much a reckoning with myself about what I wanted my life to look like. It literally hadn’t occurred to me that I could be successful in a place like Los Angeles, and in a sense, I had to learn how to dream in order to learn how to set goals.
Dr. Laura Arganbright enjoys life as a freelance oboist in Los Angeles managing a diverse portfolio of musical projects including performance, education, and reed-making. She is the principal oboist of the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra, the American Youth Symphony, and the Opera Neo summer program and has performed recent concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra, and Arizona Philharmonic. Laura is passionate about music education and fostering music appreciation in youths. As a Teaching Artist for the YOLA program, Laura leads oboe and recorder classes. She enjoys teaching musicians of all ages and levels and maintains a robust private oboe studio. Laura has operated a handmade oboe reed business since 2015 and is enthusiastic about reed-making pedagogy. To read more about Laura, please visit her website: www.LAoboe.com