Washington People: Jennifer Gartley

Music department's programming, public outreach director plays many notes

Jennifer Gartley, programming and public outreach director for the Department of Music in Arts & Sciences, plays a lot of roles for the department, including booking acts for the 560 Music Center. “We’ve filled this building with music," Gartley said. "Now, it’s about how do we curate this music to be as impactful as possible.” (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

From negotiating performance contracts with some of the world’s best musical artists to working on multimillion-dollar construction projects, Jennifer Gartley keeps busy at the 560 Music Building on Trinity Avenue, just a few blocks from Washington University in St. Louis’ Danforth Campus.

Gartley, a professional flutist who has performed with St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, serves as programming and public outreach director for the Department of Music in Arts & Sciences. 

In addition to representing the department in a recently renovated concert hall project on University City’s Washington Avenue, Gartley spearheads the department’s Great Artists Series, which regularly brings world-renowned musicians to the E. Desmond Lee Concert Hall at the 560 Music Center to perform. While they’re here, the artists also lead master classes with students. In the past, the series has boasted such performers as Yefim Bronfman, Susan Graham, Gil Shaham and Katia and Marielle Labeque. 

“I love the Great Artists Series,” said Gartley, who helped bring the series to life in 2017. “I think it is so exciting for students to get to experience the best of the world in a way that is completely accessible. And these artists have the opportunity to move into a space where they’ll be working directly with students. This just doesn’t happen in other places. ” 

In the beginning, Gartley said she wasn’t sure how successful the series would be. 

“Figuring out the artists’ expectations was intimidating at first, and involved strategic planning two or three years out,” she said. “But seeing the product of an artist stepping into the moment on stage is amazing. I remember during the first concert how the whole room was sparkling. The audience could not take their eyes off of what was happening, and in that moment I knew we had something.” 

The community response to the Great Artists Series has been overwhelming, but it’s just one of the ways the Department of Music connects with the St. Louis area community. Combined with student and faculty recitals and other guest artists, the programming that Gartley helps oversee brings in more than 10,000 community members each year. For her, this connection is an important part of her work. 

“The 560 Music Building is in a special place since it is off campus,” she said. “We act like the front porch to the university and for a lot of the community — we’re their touch point with WashU. When they walk into the door, we want them to feel welcome, like they belong and that they’re going to have a meaningful experience they can take with them once they leave our building.

“It’s cool to be able to be that part of WashU for them.” 

Gartley gives a flute lesson to sophomore Emily Angstreich in the Concert Hall of the 560 Music Building. “Teaching refreshed my joy for music in a way I didn’t even know I needed,” she said. (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

Finding joy in music

As a teacher of applied music for flute, teaching individual student lessons is another part of Gartley’s day that keeps her inspired and curious. 

“I feel really lucky that I get to have these one-on-one relationships with students that are dynamic and challenging,” she said. “It’s never the same because the learning curve is so fast. You really have to be on in every minute of a lesson, and as a teacher it forces you to give your best work.

“Teaching refreshed my joy for music in a way I didn’t even know I needed,” she said. “I have the best students.” 

Wearing yet another hat, Gartley also serves in an important role for prospective students. Besides giving tours of the university’s music facilities, Gartley helps high school students navigate how music could fit into their lives at Washington University. 

“Working with prospective students is about finding out what their musical path could look like once they enter WashU,” she said. “For a lot of students, their passion for music is just as important as other students’ drive to go into biology, for example. Their love of music needs to be treated with respect and with the knowledge that they are going to do something excellent and be a contributor to the musical society here at WashU.” 

 When Gartley is not busy inspiring students or communicating with world-famous artists, she performs with and serves as the artistic director for Chamber Project Saint Louis, a group that puts on concerts throughout the city in unique locations and champions music composed by historically underrepresented and local composers. 

“Chamber Project Saint Louis is  my passion project,” she said. “Not only is it artistically fulfilling, but I’ve made the best friendships. It’s like learning all of the things you wished you learned in school — it’s awesome.” 

Building on success 

Since Gartley joined the team in 2007, the Department of Music has seen an immense expanse in programming — from just 35 events a year to more than 150. 

“I could not have imagined the kind of growth that has happened in this department when I started here,” Gartley said. “We’ve filled this building with music. Now, it’s about how do we curate this music to be as impactful as possible.” 

Looking forward, Gartley hopes to strengthen connections between guest artists and students. “I want to continue to find meaningful ways to relate our programming to individual student experiences,” she said. “This year, we’re making sure the guest artists have one-on-one face time with students. These one-on-one experiences were integral for me and have shaped who I have become as a musician.”

For Gartley, this focus on students is at the core of every decision she makes. 

“I am constantly thinking about how we can create the most engaging experiences for students that stick with them once they leave WashU,” she said. 

 When asked how she manages to juggle the immense scope of her work, Gartley cites her colleagues in the Department of Music. “I have the greatest team on earth,” she said. “The people here are so efficient and caring. It’s a great place to work, and I can’t think of any better place to be.” 

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