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Spokane Symphony kicks off Musicians’ Relief Fund: Donations will help orchestra members pay bills during pandemic

Jason Clark, president and CEO of Second Harvest, accepts a ceremonial check from Joe Brasch, CEO of Spokane’s Future Song Foundation, on Thursday in Second Harvest’s parking lot. The foundation also made a $10,000 donation to the Spokane Symphony’s Musicians’ Relief Fund. (Courtesy of Doug Clark)

The Spokane Symphony has established a Musicians’ Relief Fund to help orchestra musicians who need help to pay their bills during the coronavirus pandemic. The public is invited to contribute to the new fund to assist local classical musicians.

“This relief fund will be an essential resource for Spokane Symphony musicians who need help making rent, buying groceries and squeaking by until we are able to get back to performing onstage at the Fox theater,” Colleen McElroy, piccolo/second flute and Spokane Symphony Orchestra Committee member, said in a news release.

“Nearly all of the orchestra’s musicians teach private music lessons, are on faculty at local colleges and universities, perform side gigs or play with other ensembles to make ends meet. COVID-19 has attacked all of our sources of income simultaneously, as performances have been canceled and teaching has moved online or ended.

“Fortunately, the CARES Act has recently expanded unemployment benefits to cover most musicians who don’t typically qualify because our employment is a mix of W2 reported income, self-employment and 1099 income. However, some musicians will still fall through the cracks. We are grateful for the Musicians’ Relief Fund to help those of us with the greatest financial need,” McElroy said.

Spokane Symphony music director James Lowe, who is quarantined at home in Scotland with his fiancée, Charlotte, and their new dog, Humphrey, said in the news release, “I encourage any of you who have ever been touched by the Spokane Symphony’s music, or for whom live music in Spokane is important, to consider making a donation to the Musicians’ Relief Fund or the Spokane Symphony’s Annual Fund, which supports the broader work of the orchestra.”

Lowe’s guest column in last week’s 7 noted the relief fund as well as other topics related to the Spokane Symphony’s future.

“During this unprecedented pandemic, we’re eager to help our Spokane Symphony musicians make ends meet with financial assistance from the Musicians’ Relief Fund,” Jeff vom Saal, executive director of the Spokane Symphony and Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, said on Thursday morning.

“Most of our musicians supplement their part-time orchestra work with teaching, wedding and event performances and other gigs that have all dried up. The fund is a way for everyone who appreciates our talented musicians to help them get through these very tough times.”

The COVID-19 crisis reminds vom Saal of one of his favorite quotes by Edward Everett Hale, an American author, historian and Unitarian minister. The quote applies to the Musicians’ Relief Fund and why it was set up to assist orchestra members: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

“Helping our Spokane Symphony musicians during this time of great need is something we can do,” vom Saal said.

On Thursday morning, Future Song Foundation made $10,000 contributions to the Musicians’ Relief Fund and Second Harvest food bank. Jason Clark, president and CEO of Second Harvest, accepted a ceremonial check from Joe Brasch, Future Song Foundation CEO, in the food bank parking lot while observing social distancing protocol.

“Life in America and around the world changed almost overnight,” Brasch said in a news release. “We want to do our part to help our local food bank meet the unprecedented demand they are experiencing as they struggle to feed the hungry. This pandemic also has dealt a massive financial blow to our symphony, who employ so many of our finest local musicians. We’ve all witnessed the livelihoods of a lot of our families, friends and neighbors disappear, so I can’t think of a better way to spend our money.”

Future Song was founded in 2015 to ensure that youth continue to have access to the benefits of music education and performance. Board members include Brasch, retired The Spokesman-Review columnist Doug Clark, Myles and Selena Kennedy, Sheryl Stone and Bobby Kluss.

Donations to the Spokane Symphony Musicians’ Relief Fund and Annual Fund are tax deductible and may be made online at under the “Support” tab on the homepage, and then “Give Now.” Checks also may be mailed to the Spokane Symphony, P.O. Box 365, Spokane, WA, 99210.

The Musicians’ Relief Fund was set up to aid symphony musicians who do not qualify for unemployment compensation or for whom unemployment compensation does not cover their needs. The symphony is continuing to pay musicians’ health insurance and instrument insurance.

Symphony musicians may apply for funds now, and the Musicians’ Relief Fund Committee, made up of two Spokane Symphony Orchestra board members and two Orchestra Committee members, will evaluate and fill the requests.

On March 19, the symphony announced the cancellation of the rest of the 2019-20 symphony season, which included three Masterworks concerts (Masterworks 8, 9 and 10), one Pops concert, two Chamber Soirées and “The M Show.” Additionally, all concerts and events at the symphony-owned Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox were canceled.

The symphony’s 70 musicians have been furloughed and are on temporary leave with the intent to rehire when the 75th season of the symphony begins, which is scheduled for Sept. 19 and 20 with Masterworks 1.

In addition to the furloughing of the musicians, staff cuts and furloughs have been implemented in the symphony organization and Martin Woldson Theater, along with expense reductions. At the same time, the symphony is optimistically looking toward the future, and tickets are on sale now for the 75th season of the Spokane Symphony. For more information, visit

Meanwhile, the Walt Wagner Trio has rescheduled its performance for Friday, Oct. 2, at Martin Woldson Theater.