.Santa Cruz Symphony Changes Tune to Support Artists During Pandemic

When the county’s first shelter-in-place order went into effect on March 16, the Santa Cruz Symphony (SCS) immediately took action.

Recognizing that it was unlikely that spring performances could be held, SCS set up a Musician Relief Fund, seeded by $20,000 from its general operating budget.

“At first we didn’t know if we would make enough,” said Executive Director Dorothy Wise. “We just knew we had to find a way to support our musicians. It was the least we could do.”

So far the fund has raised $92,000 to financially support out-of-work artists during the Covid-19 pandemic. All of the proceeds go directly to the musicians. 

Wise said that many symphony members are not only struggling financially but emotionally, too.

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“We had several people … some who have been with the symphony for decades, who were so down that they didn’t touch their instruments for weeks,” Wise said. “Some are just now getting back into playing again. It’s been pretty devastating.”

SCS made the decision to refund season ticket holders and not sell subscriptions for its next season. Instead, it will wait to see if things improve and sell single-show tickets when possible.

“At this point, we have no idea when this is all ending,” Wise said. “So we can’t really put a plan in place. And that is not a great feeling. For now, we’re just trying to stay connected and help everyone as much as we can.”

SCS was founded in 1958, aiming to inspire and educate through music. Every season the symphony holds a series of concerts in Santa Cruz, Aptos and Watsonville.

Current Musical Director and Maestro Daniel Stewart took the helm in 2013, and since then SCS has been partnering regularly with artists from around the world, gradually earning them a reputation as a premier orchestra of the greater San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas.

Stewart had the idea for the ongoing Symphony At Home digital series, which released its third episode in late July on YouTube. Each episode reflects on a past work the group has performed, including footage from rehearsals and concerts, as well as interviews with musical collaborators.

Wise recognized others who have helped make Symphony At Home possible, including editor Britt Broadwood and photographer/videographer Kevin Monahan, who has been volunteering his time to help compile footage.

SCS has continued its education outreach, as well. The County Office of Education has been helping support its LinkUp program, albeit in an online format, by organizing lessons and purchasing recorders for students.

“We’re finding ways to get [students] some music education, as much as we can,” Wise said. “That is our end goal.”

Wise, who has been involved with SCS since 1991, will be retiring from her position in September and welcoming a new executive director to the organization.

“I just want to thank all of our patrons and supporters during this difficult time,” she said. “What makes music so special is the live reaction of audiences—that connection. Not having that has left a huge void for many of us. But we’re going to get through this. Music will be back.”

For information and to donate to the Musician Relief Fund visit santacruzsymphony.org. Symphony At Home can be viewed on the group’s YouTube channel.


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