Smithsonian Journeys Experts
Dr. Carol Reynolds weaves history, humor, and high energy into everything she does. A musicologist, pianist, and organist, she specializes in Russian, East European, and German cultural history. Carol was a professor of music history for more than 20 years at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. In addition to music, she is well versed in the history and fine arts of western Europe and Russia. Before becoming a professor, she studied at the Leningrad Conservatory and lived in West Germany.
Dr. Reynolds is a frequent Smithsonian Journeys Expert and has led tours through Russia, the Baltic States, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Switzerland, and Croatia. She is fluent in Russian and German.
A staunch advocate of Arts Education at every stage of life, she works with organizations like The Dallas Symphony, Van Cliburn Concerts, Kimball Museum, Opera America, and Smithsonian Associates. Carol has turned her attention to public speaking and the creation of online arts curricula and educational programs for adult audiences and secondary-school students.
Under the moniker Professor Carol, she publishes courses in cultural history for adults and students, including Discovering Music: 300 Years of Interaction in Western Music, Arts, History, and Culture, Exploring America’s Artistic Heritage, Imperial Russia, and Early Sacred Music. She and her husband Hank maintain a second home in Weimar (former East Germany).
What Our Travelers Say
- Susan M.
“You should have a rating above excellent for both Carol [Reynolds]. "Treasure," "superb," "extraordinary" and "stellar" come to mind. I came to learn history and hear music; I got that and more. I was able to experience and immerse myself in a culture.”
- David M.
[We] have never had a "guide" as engaging as Carol. Carol "made" our trip! I could go on and on about Carol's talents as a guide and teacher, as well as her ability to relate to everyone superbly.
- Dolorosa M.
Carol is a wonderful, intelligent and talented professor, so warm and engaging. She was never "perfunctory" and engaged everyone [in] her group in a very personal way.
- Previous Smithsonian Journeys Traveler
Carol's enthusiasm for her topics is energizing. She brings new insight to old topics and connects them very well to the locations we are visiting.
- Previous Smithsonian Journeys Traveler
She was very knowledgable and charismatic and also kept her lectures very engaging and interesting. I would highly recommend her to anybody. I really liked her incorporation of music into her lectures.
By the Expert
A Q&A with Expert Dr. Carol Reynolds
Q: As a cultural and musical historian, you're an expert at weaving together the art, music, culture, and history of Europe. What first sparked your interest in music and in European history?
A : The world came to me through books when I was a child. Growing up in the mountains of Virginia, I had no opportunity to travel or attend concerts. But my mother passionately valued education, despite her own impoverished upbringing in an immigrant ghetto in Brooklyn. From her I learned that education, history, and the arts mattered.
Then, at age 14, I fell in love with Russia, but for a different reason. An older cousin was studying Russian at college. When he came home for Christmas, he showed me the Cyrillic alphabet. It seemed so glamorous to me. Amused by my enthusiasm, he began to send me books, including my first Russian novels.
At the same time, my piano teacher began feeding me Russian repertoire, particularly pieces by Prokofiev and Kabalevsky. I fell deeply in love with Russian culture and vowed I would go some day. Of course, back then, one couldn't just "go" independently to Russia, so travel had to wait until 1981 when I received a grant to write my dissertation in Leningrad.
Q: As part of its cultural mission, Smithsonian has a strong focus on music. In fact, 2019 has been declared the Smithsonian Year of Music. As a music historian, tell us your thoughts on music as a reflection of culture.
A : Music bears the glorious label of “the international language”—a medium of communication that binds people even where ethnic, political, or religious identities would otherwise divide. Music allows us to absorb a new geographic region more readily. It helps us better understand the flow of a region’s history since music, both in content and style, reflects historical events. Through music we enter more quickly into another culture’s language and societal values.
Q: How does this play into the many tours and cruises that you lead for Smithsonian Journeys?
A : The music we hear while traveling etches lasting memories: long after we forget other details, we tend to remember a concert we attended, an organ playing in a cathedral we visited, or a trio of jazz musicians we stumbled upon in a café. Smithsonian travelers often have a lively interest in the arts. The agendas of some tours are rich in musical events. But even if not, itineraries on Smithsonian Journeys offer many blocks of open time when travelers can pursue individual interests. In my formal lectures, I weave in quite a bit of musical history. This happens easily since music is so integrated into our human experience. Occasionally we have travelers who are attending their first opera, ballet, or formal concert. In these cases, I’m able to offer preparatory information to help the occasion be a joyful one.
Q: What other topics do you like to include in your presentations?
A : I craft each presentation to include a variety of aspects. Political and military history, language, topography, religious history, and the fi ne arts—these converge to make up a region’s culture. Sometimes, of course, a talk focuses on specific persons or events, such as the monumental writers Pushkin or Goethe, or political events like the fall of the Berlin Wall or the end of the Romanov Tsars. I seek to paint a colorful canvas for every talk.
Q: How do you view your role as a Smithsonian Journeys Expert?
A : My approach is three-fold. First, I want to help travelers realize their goals for the journey. Whether the fulfillment of a life-long dream or the next item on a “bucket list,” each Smithsonian journey has the power to enrich the traveler. Secondly, I want to be available as much as possible. Questions come up during formal presentations, of course. But more questions arise during coach rides to historical sites, at breakfast, or during quiet moments when we gaze from our river ship at the setting sun. Finally, I want us to have fun! A Smithsonian journey provides a 24/7 classroom for all of us. We are living our learning, and few things are more exciting than that.