Arts News: Lyric Opera’s Former Artistic Director Launches an Arts Podcast Business

Ward Holmquist (from the artist)

With the limitations of the nation’s lockdown last spring, performing artists scrambled to find outlets for performance, to connect with colleagues and audiences and to salvage careers that had relied on in-person concerts.

Our newsfeeds filled with live streams, Zoom panel discussions, Brady-Bunch ensembles, shaky iPhone footage and low-res audio that did no justice to the performer on the recording end. Avidly observing the successes and pitfalls, conductor and consultant Ward Holmquist realized there was a need to share the first-hand experiences of performers who had surfaced in the endless onslaught of digital tidal waves.

To share these stories, Holmquist created the podcast “Tech in Art: Performance on the Digital Stage.”

“They are positive stories about people who were completely unfamiliar with the technology,” said Holmquist, who is host, producer and engineer for the podcast. “But yet, when they were forced to, they saw that they were able to pick it up very quickly. They started to discover the fact that this is a new digital stage that is open to us, and it has certain aspects of it that are really advantageous for artists.”

Holmquist served as artistic director of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City from 1998 to 2015, but his immersion in technology long supported his musical career. Since his time with the Lyric, he’s developed the tech side of his experience into a business.

Podcasts, of course, were another outlet performers turned to when everything went virtual. The format has found popularity in nearly every demographic and spans everything from straight-ahead conversations to elaborate effect-enhanced audio dramas with professional casts.

Holmquist runs the whole operation: contacting potential interviewees, coordinating the interview, recording, hosting, editing, promoting. And he admits to going through his own steep learning curve on the technical side.

“When you are editing it, then you learn very, very quickly what you are doing wrong,” he laughed.

Vocalist Sarah Tannehill Anderson was one of the first subjects of a Tech in Art podcast. (from the artist)

Holmquist started with musicians he had worked with professionally in Kansas City, including Kansas City Symphony’s principal flutist Michael Gordon (Holmquist’s first interview and one of the first Symphony musicians to embrace the “living room” concert), vocalist Sarah Tannehill Anderson and cellist Larry Figg.

By August, he was branching out to national names, including public radio’s Dacia Clay, who hosts the popular “Classical Classroom” podcast (with over 200 episodes), where she converses with classical music stars with exuberant beginner’s mind curiosity.

Holmquist typically launches new shows on Mondays and will continue to bring a mix of local and national voices to his audience.

“It’s a good medium for the moment,” said Holmquist. “It’s a great way to pick up information and knowledge quickly, when you are working on your bike, driving your car, when you are off for your walk or run.”

“A lot of people have been forced into this, but it’s a good thing. And we shouldn’t go back, and we’re not going to go back. Many more of us are going to understand the wonderful possibilities.”

Find “Tech in Art: Performance on the Digital Stage” at techinart.art and other podcast platforms.

About The Author: Libby Hanssen

Libby Hanssen

Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She maintains the culture blog, “Proust Eats a Sandwich,” and writes poetry and children’s books. She holds a master’s degree in trombone performance from UMKC Conservatory and currently works at UMKC’s Music/Media Library.