Laura Bibbs Comes into Her Own on Tour with Harry Styles
This past July, Boston Conservatory alum Laura Bibbs (B.M. '19, trumpet) found herself traveling abroad in a city she never thought she would visit, performing live with an artist she never imagined getting the chance to meet, in front of a crowd so enormous she could scarcely believe it.
At the RFC Arena in Reggio Emilia, Italy, Bibbs was sharing the stage with pop superstar Harry Styles, wrapping up the European leg of his Love on Tour, before an audience of 102,000 people. From her place in the horn section, she had a bird’s eye view of the landscape: acres of screaming fans who evidently knew every line of Styles’s songs and felt obliged to prove it by singing along as loudly as they could.
Bibbs says it’s hard to find words for the sense of unreality she felt while performing in that show—and the many others that she played with Styles over the course of the tour, filling the largest arenas in Europe, night after night. “Amazing” doesn’t quite cut it.
“I don’t even know how to describe the euphoria,” she says. “It was like a dream.”
The concert in Reggio Emilia was an appropriately grand finale to Bibbs’s collaboration with Styles, having first performed with him at Coachella in April 2022. (To this day, she doesn’t know who recommended her for that gig, but would love to thank the person.) She subsequently was invited to join the North American leg of Love on Tour—which included a record-breaking run of 15 sold-out shows at both Madison Square Garden in New York and the Kia Forum in Los Angeles. The European leg of the tour followed in summer 2023.
It’s really been a beautiful blossoming into myself. I’m so prepared, I know it. It’s inside of me. It’s finally like I’m just not afraid.
Of course, the high-profile gig has been a huge boost to Bibbs’s career, but it’s also changed the scale of her self-confidence. As a musician who has struggled with performance anxiety, touring with Styles has been a particularly huge success. Meeting the challenges of performing night after night—and having a blast in the meantime—has altered her perception of pre-show nerves. What used to feel like fear she now calls “fuel.”
“I’m having so much fun that I can’t be super anxious about performing, because I love what I'm doing,” she says. “It’s really been a beautiful blossoming into myself. I’m so prepared, I know it. It’s inside of me. It’s finally like I’m just not afraid.”
Bibbs says she has always struggled with performance anxiety, and it worsened during her college years when the process of self-critique would veer off into self-doubt. “When I was a student, I was so hard on myself. I remember struggling with my own inner turmoil as this teenager coming into my 20s—and having really supportive teachers,” she says. “They care about your wellbeing. They care about shaping you into good musicians and good artists.”
Bibbs also found herself questioning the classical music trajectory that she had once imagined would be her career path. At the Conservatory, she sought—and found—opportunities to experiment with improvised music and create works that felt more authentic to her own life experience than traditional repertoire did. Professor Pierre Hurel’s improvisation workshop, for one, made a lasting impression on Bibbs.
Hurel says the workshop is often an outlet for Conservatory students who, like Bibbs, want to put the repertoire aside for a while and express their own ideas.
“When you play from the heart—when you improvise—nothing is written, so it’s kind of putting your guts on the table. You’re really opening up for people to hear what you came up with,” he says. “When Laura had a successful improv—and she had many—you could see she was very happy in a profound way, like spiritually uplifted by the experience. She really wanted to say something meaningful with her trumpet.”
The improv workshop also helps relieve students of the pressure to constantly improve their technique. “It’s very common for students to feel incomplete, 24/7, because by definition you work on things you have not mastered yet…. But the reality is they already have a lot to offer,” Hurel says.
After graduating from the Conservatory in 2019, Bibbs moved to New York, where she began a career as a freelance musician and pursued a master’s degree in contemporary performance from Manhattan School of Music, under the mentorship of trumpeter and composer John Faddis. As a freelancer, she has played on numerous session recordings and has performed live with artists ranging from Faddis to the songwriter and producer Cautious Clay.
On October 1, Bibbs will return to Boston Conservatory for Brass Weekend, a festival of master classes, workshops, and performances by visiting artists. Bibbs will speak with Assistant Professor of Horn Anne Howarth for a presentation called, fittingly enough, Making It in Music.
Bibbs has good advice for current students, and it’s exactly what she needed to hear when starting out as an undergraduate back in 2015.
“I would totally say to just, like, calm down. To just take a second. To be patient, be forgiving.”
There were times she wasn’t exactly sure how she was going to make it, Bibbs says, but she always knew that she would make it. “If you have that belief—and you really believe in it—you can manifest anything. You can really make things happen for yourself.”