August 13, 2009 in Washington Voices

Spokane Youth Symphony to open season outdoors

By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photo

Youth Symphony conductor Verne Windham prepares for this year’s 60th season, which will be kicked off with an outdoor concert at Audubon Park next Thursday.
(Full-size photo)

If you go

What: Spokane Youth Symphony free concert

When: next Thursday, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Audubon Park

For information: Call (509) 448-4446 or go to


Symphony organization

Four orchestras are part of the Spokane Youth Symphony organization. It’s common for musicians to start in one group and work their way through the organization.

•The Intermediate String Orchestra is conducted by Faye Atwood and features musicians age 10 to 13 who have typically played their instruments for at least two years.

•The Junior Orchestra, conducted by Heather Montgomery, features musicians age 11 to 15. To qualify, these musicians must be able to perform scales, an etude and a short solo, as well as sight-read.

•The Junior Symphonic Orchestra is conducted by Carol Pederson and features musicians age 13 to 16. The musicians’ skills are very advanced at this level, and this is also when woodwinds, brass and percussion players are added to the strings, making for a full symphonic orchestra.

•The Spokane Youth Orchestra is conducted by Verne Windham and features musicians of high school and college age. Musicians in this orchestra often plan to study music in college or aim to play professionally.

Source: The Spokane Youth Symphony

It’s a Thursday afternoon, and the Spokane Youth Symphony is rehearsing at the Masonic Center on Riverside Avenue. It’s a steaming hot day, so the dress is casual, right down to conductor Verne Windham’s bare feet. Yet the heat doesn’t keep the musicians from working hard as they make their way through Robert Kapilow’s musical adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham.”

The Spokane Youth Symphony kicks off its 60th anniversary season next Thursday with a concert in Audubon Park.

The symphony’s executive director, David Hollingshead, said the orchestra wanted to perform at a park, perhaps as an opening act to the Spokane Symphony, but that didn’t work out.

“We looked into doing our own concert at another park,” Hollingshead said, but the logistics of coordinating an event, with paperwork, security and portable toilets, was too much. “The bureaucracy was insurmountable,” he said.

But the Northwest Neighborhood Association welcomed the idea, inviting the youth symphony to perform the last outdoor concert at Audubon Park this year.

The most advanced students from the four groups that make up the Spokane Youth Symphony will perform at the concert.

The nonprofit organization faces the same financial challenges in a slow economy as many other arts organizations that compete for grants and other funding. Just recently, the Inland Northwest Community Foundation’s “community strategies” grants program gave the group $5,000 toward the purchase of a Fox English horn.

Many instruments are so expensive that young musicians can’t afford to buy their own.

“Any youth orchestra has two absolutely equal functions: to make great music and to make great musicians,” said Windham, Spokane Youth Symphony’s artistic director. “Having terrific instruments for our young musicians is a huge boost to their education and ability. A good instrument both inspires and enables.”

In 2006, the Spokane Youth Symphony moved all its rehearsals to the Masonic Center, which Hollingshead said makes it easy for parents who pick up or drop off one or more of the 180 young musicians who attend rehearsals. It also made it easier for the conductors to communicate.

Since the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox opened in 2007, the Spokane Youth Symphony has had a professional space in which to perform.

“It’s a huge part of musical education to be able to perform in a stellar hall,” said Hollingshead. “Our audiences are now averaging over 700.” And that high number, said Hollingshead, it’s not just families and friends of the young performers.

“Those are Spokane’s music lovers,” he added.

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