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Great Falls Symphony ends the Chinook Winds

Chinook Winds instruments
Posted at 8:07 PM, Mar 12, 2024

GREAT FALLS — The popular chamber musical ensemble the Chinook Winds will be disbanded at the end of the current season. The Chinook Winds are the resident wind quintet of the Great Falls Symphony. Along with the Cascade Quartet, they make up the nine core musicians of the symphony, with a focus on community outreach.

“The musicians I know are experiencing a lot of pain and worry about this,” said Emily Wolfram, wife of a current core member and the Core Ensemble Manager from 2016-2019. “You know, they could continue to play as principals in the symphony, but without that core aspect or that chamber music aspect of their job, their income changes drastically.”

The decision comes after a board meeting discussing the budget and strategy for next concert season. After years of trying to make the Chinook Winds financially viable, coupled with the lack of about $75,000 that had come from endowments in years past, the symphony decided it wanted to shift its focus in another direction.

“We really, really, really want to focus on building up and supporting our all of our musicians,” said Hillary Shepherd, director of the Great Falls Symphony. “We love our core, but we know that we're not just our core, and at the heart of it, we are a symphony.”

Adding to the shock value of the announcement, the Winds received the news in an email on Saturday morning, causing members to question how their worth is viewed by the board.

“Getting your notice on the weekend with a PDF email,” Wolfram said, “…it doesn’t feel like that value has really been held true to.”

Emily Wolfram
Emily Wolfram

The symphony apologized for sending the heavy news in such fashion.

“I’m saddened by that,” Shepherd said, “I know that our board president is sincerely sorry that it was received that way.”

Before the retreat on Friday, The Chinook Winds sent a 13-page letter to the board, emphasizing the importance of their role not only in the symphony, but in the entire Great Falls community. Sources close to the Winds believe that this decision completely undermines the Symphony’s own core values.
“They value relationships that say that they're closely connected to the pulse of the community,” Wolfram said. “The community has spoken up about this.”

While the decision was unanimous, the Symphony emphasizes that this does not mean it was easy. Board members are sad to see the program go, but ultimately decided it was for the best.

“We care so much and we're all very sad about the situation,” Shepherd said, “Certainly when you sunset a program like this, it's art that's being lost, that's been supported for many, many years. And, you know, I'm definitely not blind to emotional reality of it.”

The Symphony wants to keep the musicians and will let them keep their chair in the Symphony, however, many members of the core feel that with the massive drop in pay, it is no longer feasible to stay in Great Falls.

“The main point that I really need the public to know is we want them to play,” Shepherd said. “We’re not trying to get rid of them.”

The sunsetting of the Chinook Winds has already caused a lot of discussion, and the Winds have seen an outpouring of support on social media from the community when they announced that they will only be around for three more months.

Click here to read the news release from the from the Great Falls Symphony.