Economy may silence Everett Symphony’s season

The stagnant economy has sucked in another victim as declining ticket sales and a drop in corporate and private donations are forcing the Everett Symphony to make some painful cutbacks to save the orchestra.

Patrons will feel that pain immediately.

Though the family and children’s programming will continue for now, the Everett Symphony is considering the cancellation of the remainder of its primary adult concerts after completing its scheduled December performances, unless the symphony board, the musicians and the community can come up with a plan and the money to continue.

“Even nonprofits must operate within their means,” George Moffat, symphony treasurer and trumpet player, said. “Our sustainable revenue has taken significant hits across the board these past several years.

“We must match our expenses to what we can reasonably expect to bring in.”

Key staff positions will be eliminated, most notably that of the symphony’s music director, Paul-Elliott Cobbs, who has been at that post for more than 25 years and taken the symphony to international levels with performances in Europe and a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall in 2006.

Cobbs, 58, is the music director and the symphony’s conductor. The music director role is a full-time gig that “exceeds our current financial abilities,” symphony board president Myrna Overstreet said.

She said Cobbs’ conductor position doesn’t require as much time or money.

In a phone call on Friday, Cobbs said that, should the symphony’s season continue past December, he would remain as conductor.

After that, he couldn’t say.

“Being music director, it’s not just about the music. It’s about the relationship,” Cobbs said. “Everett’s always been home to me because I’ve had these common experiences with my friends here, on both sides of the podium.

“But I do think that without a music director, there will be total chaos artistically.”

In addition to the music director, the symphony’s director of operations position, held by Sara Drury, was also eliminated, which Overstreet called “a major blow to the organization.”

Several of the symphony’s music education projects are also in jeopardy, including a planned concert for fourth- and fifth-graders in the Stanwood School District, a concert for the winner of the Snohomish County Music Teachers Association concerto competition and a number of Cobbs’ music education initiatives.

If the symphony does cancel the rest of this season, that means eliminating the bulk of its adult concerts — a total of six concerts.

“If we go dark, we hope it will only be for a short period, but we have a whole lot of hope for the future,” Overstreet said.

Karen Greenwalt, who plays second violin and is an orchestra representative to the board of directors, said a survey is being conducted to gauge whether musicians would be willing to play for free.

Greenwalt declined to say much, referring to this statement sent out on behalf of the musicians:

“The musicians of the Everett Symphony feel a strong commitment to this community, to the symphony, and to their excellent working relationship with Maestro Cobbs, who has been instrumental in building this exceptional performing organization. We are evaluating all possible avenues to maintain and strengthen these relationships through this difficult economic time.”

A bad economy is one thing, but the symphony has been suffering financial challenges long before the economy tanked and despite a $1 million donation by John and Idamae Schack in 1999 that created an endowment to help stabilize symphony finances.

One financial challenge the symphony has endured is paying for its 6,600-square-foot art-deco style rehearsal hall and offices at 2710 Colby Ave. in Everett.

After failing to raise $3.5 million in a capital campaign for the building, the board agreed to sell the building in July 2008. The symphony continues to lease the building for about $8,000 a month through the end of the year. However, this money was provided as part of the sales proceeds. Current donations do not pay for the lease. Any money raised now goes directly to programming.

When the building was sold, staff and budget cuts were also made, and the symphony recruited Roger Pawley, who came out of retirement to volunteer to revamp the business side of the organization.

Another cost the symphony has borne over the years has been the rising cost of rent at the Everett Civic Auditorium, owned by the Everett School District, where the symphony plays many of its concerts.

Because the symphony is helping schools keep music in the lives of children and youth, the Everett School District this week reduced the symphony’s rent by about 50 percent.

This year, the symphony also tried to change things up a bit to entice new donors and patrons, such as using modern, mega-church auditoriums for performances and teaming up with Global Spectrum, which manages Comcast Arena, to help with marketing.

“In a normal economy, I believe the symphony would have made a powerful comeback this year,” Pawley said.

Pawley said symphony music raises the quality of life in a community, but people are confused about how symphonies operate. Ticket sales cover less than 50 percent of the cost of each concert, he said.

“The symphony must raise a considerable amount of money to cover the cost of each performance and fund its charitable work with children and youth,” Pawley said.

On a bright note, the Boeing Co. came through this season with a $10,000 grant to support two new symphony initiatives — the Family Together Concerettes for children and the Showcase Benefit Concerts. Pawley said these programs will continue even if the full orchestra cannot play past December.

In January, the Everett Symphony Board plans a series of meetings with musicians, past and future donors, community leaders and anyone interested in keeping the symphony economically viable.

For a schedule of those meetings, e-mail or call 425-258-1605.

“These are tough times, but we are not finished as an orchestra,” Tom Eadie, a symphony board member, said. “We will get through this economy. Better days are before us and we are heading there with a great program. We welcome the community to join us and to support us.”

Theresa Goffredo: 425-339-3424;

Symphony fundraisers

The Everett Symphony will hold several fundraising events to attempt to save this season’s concerts and programs. To make a donation, go to or send it to P.O. Box 1006, Everett, WA 98201. Tickets to the symphony’s annual fundraiser concert, “The Night Before New Year’s Eve,” are also available. This year, popular radio host Tom Dahlstrom is master of ceremonies.

At a glance

The first performance of the Everett Symphony Orchestra was April 14, 1935, at North Junior High School.

Paul-Elliott Cobbs started as the symphony’s conductor and music director in 1984 and is its longest-serving conductor at 25 years.

The orchestra has a board of directors, 10 to 12 individuals who set the overall direction for the symphony and its role in the community.

The orchestra has an annual budget of about $350,000.

There are between 60 and 70 musicians in the orchestra, and they are paid a stipend per performance based on the hourly minimum wage scale.

Musicians rehearse about five times before each concert.

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