SYS History

Spokane Junior Symphony with conductor Paul Whelan in 1959

The Spokane Junior Symphony was born on July 28, 1949, as a nonprofit organization formed to promote a junior symphony in Spokane similar to the famous Portland Junior Symphony Orchestra. Harold Paul Whelan, director and founder of the Spokane Philharmonic, recognized the need for this kind of orchestra had long been felt by prominent  musicians in musical circles throughout the Inland Empire.  Not one of the high schools, alone, could interest enough personnel for a symphony group and no orchestra group was available exclusively to the many talented post-high school young people engaged in musical work.  Under Whelan’s initiative and talented direction, Spokane Junior Symphony began rehearsals in the KXLY television/radio building.  It included 30 musicians from junior and senior high schools and colleges--and a desperate need for oboes, bassoons and violas, a need which continues, at times, even to this day! Applause for the ever changing group of talented musicians has been ringing through the air ever since its first concert on May 23, 1950, held in the Commandery Room of the Spokane Masonic Center.

​In 1962, after twelve music-filled years, Whelan passed on the baton to Donald Thulean, who previously held a position as Dean of the School of Music at Pacific University, Oregon.  Thulean instituted further instructional opportunities to the curriculum which included the Spokane Junior Symphony Summer Camp.  This unique educational concept, attended by over 70 students, after an intensive three days of musical instruction, performed its own inaugural concert on August 30, 1964.  The tradition of this much anticipated annual summer camp,  has continued through 48 years and nine conductors.

In 1969, the program expanded yet again to include a training orchestra for younger ages, and five years later the distinction was made between the Spokane Junior Symphony and the Spokane Youth Orchestra.  1979 brought the now official name of Spokane Youth Symphony to the organization.

Since its humble beginnings, the Spokane Youth Symphony has grown to include four, and at times five, orchestral groups of graduated playing abilities, as well as several short-term string quartets and wind quintets.   Through the years this youth symphony has been fortunate to share the spotlight with hundreds of exceptional musicians, actors and dancers featured as guest artists joining them on the stage.  They were even favored twice when first, the Spokane Philharmonic in 1960, and then the Spokane Symphony in 1970, joined them on stage in side-by-side concerts. Under the 15-year tenure of artistic director  Verne Windham, the organization grew stronger.  Windham, the art and music director of KPBX-FM and one of Spokane’s most well-known voices, came to the rescue just when things looked bleakest for the future of the Spokane Youth Symphony. Bringing with him his unparalleled passion for music and kids, Windham developed a great rapport with the orchestra’s students and gave them what they wanted -- more concerts, more repertoire and a longer season, which made the orchestra stronger than ever.

In 2007, the Spokane Youth Symphony became the first Artistic Constituent of the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox, making this historical and sysdistinguished theater the home of its four-concert seasonal subscription series.  

In the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, Julián Gómez Giraldo stepped into the role of SYS Artistic Director, followed by Dr. Philip Baldwin, who was appointed as Artistic Director in the fall of 2014.

SYS Office Location:
601 W. Maxwell Ave., Suite #1
Spokane, WA 99201

Mailing Address:
Spokane Youth Symphony
PO Box 9547
Spokane, WA 99209

Monday-Friday: 9:00 am-2:30 pm
(or by appointment)

Phone: 509-448-4446
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