All about our musicians: Alexander Laing

Wednesday March 4, 2020

by Andrea Estrada

Phoenix Symphony Principal Clarinet Alexander Laing recalls a moment in his childhood that influenced his musical career – his first public performance.

He took the stage at his eighth grade graduation to present a piece he had worked on endlessly. And that day, as he finished playing and saw a crowd of his closest friends and family cheering him on, something clicked.

“I stood up, did this thing and people had a really positive reaction. I felt like I had accomplished something. It was around that time that I started talking about majoring in music in college and projected playing and being a musician into my future,” Laing says.

Today, Laing, who joined the Symphony in 2002 and is an active member in his community as a performing and teaching artist, looks back at that eighth grade memory and reflects on all of the milestones he’s reached since then.

From completing fellowships with symphonies across the nation and garnering a number of honors and awards, including a 2018 Sphinx Medal of Excellence; to founding The Leading Tone, a nonprofit, after-school project dedicated to exploring music as a context for youth development; and even joining the creative team at From The Top (FTT), a nationally-distributed radio program for young musicians, Laing never stops expanding his musical footprint and is always looking for his next big opportunity.

Most recently, the accomplished instrumental artist was invited to work on the 2019 soundtrack recording of Disney’s The Lion King with the Re-Collective Orchestra – an all-black orchestra dedicated to raising the visibility and profile of black musicians and present culturally relevant work to engage diverse audiences.

Laing says the Re-Collective Orchestra’s participation on the score came after famed music composer Hans Zimmer decided he wanted to change things up for the remake of the film.

“(Zimmer) wanted the music to be bigger and better for this second time. And he wanted to have a much more diverse orchestra than the ones he typically was working with in Hollywood,” Laing says.

“Here, you have Hans Zimmer who has this artistic desire to have a bigger, more diverse orchestra and he has questions on how to do that. Meanwhile, Stephanie Matthews and Matt Jones are working on the Re-Collective Orchestra and they have an answer!”

After connecting with the all-black orchestra, Zimmer enlisted over 100 musicians for the remake, including ones who were on the original Disney film. That’s when Laing was brought in.

“Stephanie started bringing the musicians that she wanted to represent The Re-Collective Orchestra – to be The Re-Collective Orchestra on this project. I was fortunate that the phone rang. She was asking me to join the project,” Laing recalls.

“I’m really grateful to Stephanie and Matt. It takes a lot of work to end up on a project like that. To get to come into that space where I don’t usually work was just an extraordinary opportunity,” Laing says. “It was amazing to be in the room with so many incredible artists and get to be a part of the project.”

And projects like those that aim to connect with diverse audiences resonate with Laing’s own work.

“I believe that music isn’t just sound. Music is sound and words and people. The sounds that hit your ear; the words used to frame up what you’re listening to; and the people making and using the music. It’s a big world and people are going to appreciate music along any and all of those strands,” Laing explains.

“You can make the most diverse sounds. But if you don’t have diversity around the way that you frame the thing, if you don’t have diversity in the people involved, you’re limiting the ways people can come to your thing,” he says.  

Laing, who worked on the The Lion King’s soundtrack for over two weeks in LA with the Re-Collective Orchestra and the Hollywood Orchestra, says he was glad to have the leave and support of The Phoenix Symphony.