Q: How long have you been involved with AFCM?
Leslie Tolbert: My husband, Paul St. John, and I have been coming to AFCM concerts since we moved to Tucson almost 30 years ago. For many years we attended only the occasional concerts, but eventually we began to subscribe to the entire season. We decided to participate in the volunteer effort that drives AFCM by offering a home for visiting Festival musicians each March. Now we look forward each year to getting to know wonderful performers and learning first-hand about the music they are playing. Our increasing involvement opened the door to joining the Board two years ago.
Q: What is your current role?
LT: On the Board, I do several things, but I have primary responsibility for our Music in the Schools program, in which local musicians play short educational chamber music concerts for K-12 students in school auditoriums around Tucson. We aim our efforts toward schools in which students will have had little opportunity to hear classical music, and we offer AFCM supporters the opportunity to “Adopt a School” for a donation of at least $1000; those sponsors often accept our invitation to attend the concerts they’ve supported. We are always looking for more sponsors, and I urge anyone who is interested to find me at a concert or contact me through the AFCM website.
Q: Did you play an instrument or perform as a child?
LT: During my childhood, I was lucky to be able to take lessons in piano and violin (and Indian tabla, when we lived in Delhi!), and I played in our county youth orchestra in early high school. At youth orchestra summer camp, I learned the great fun of playing in chamber groups – and I still can imagine that I’m playing beautiful music, even though I never had much actual skill.
Q: What music besides chamber music do you enjoy?
LT: Classical music broadly has great appeal, and I enjoy the symphony orchestra and opera – but chamber music is my favorite because it is so personal and intimate and because the voice of each instrument is so vitally important.
Q: What do you do when you’re not working on AFCM?
LT: I’m a professor of neuroscience at the U of A. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed teaching undergraduate and graduate students various aspects of brain science and doing research, mostly on the impact of sensory input on the development of exquisitely intricate brain circuitry. In recent years, I also served as the University’s Vice President for Research, overseeing and supporting the full range of areas of exploration and discovery, from astronomy to medicine and engineering to women’s studies.
Q: Say a little bit about your interests outside of chamber music.
LT: My family is the thing I treasure most. Four generations of family members are a constant source of joy, and I look for ways to spend more and more time with them. I also have a deep love for travel. Having grown up mostly in Asia and Europe, I always grab at opportunities to explore.
Q: In your opinion, what is the best part of an AFCM concert?
LT: Watching a chamber music performance is even more exciting than listening to a performance. I love the energy and focus and teamwork on display on the stage as the individual performers work together to make beautiful music – and every seat in Leo Rich Theater is close enough for an intimate connection to the stage.