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The Sound of Spokane: A History of the Spokane Symphony

by Jim Kershner


In 1945, a musical “taskmaster” named Harold Paul Whelan arrived in Spokane and willed a symphony orchestra into existence. Others before him had tried and failed. Yet this orchestra evolved into the Spokane Symphony and is now celebrating its 75th birthday. Almost from the beginning, the orchestra established itself as the premier arts institution in the city. Like a Beethoven symphony, the Spokane Symphony’s story is filled with drama, turmoil, and emotion—not to mention crashing crescendos and triumphant fanfares. It would endure a strike, recessions, budget crises, and tense confrontations between musicians and conductors. A colorful cast of characters have presided at its podium, including a legendary Pulitzer Prize-winner and a prickly Soviet defector. In recent years, the organization embarked on its most audacious project yet, the $31 million purchase and renovation of the Fox Theater. The orchestra now has the rare distinction of owning its concert hall. Through it all, the orchestra’s musical reputation has grown steadily until it has become what some call “the smallest major orchestra in the United States.”


Foreword by James Lowe


"A beautifully researched labor of love, Jim captures both the important and the human. Maybe they are the same."

— Verne Windham, Music Director, Spokane Public Radio, and former Principal Horn, Spokane Symphony Orchestra

"For 15 years, the Spokane Symphony was my musical home. From my first upbeat, to my last cutoff, I admired its anything-is-possible spirit, and the incredible passion and pride of the musicians and audience. The Spokane Symphony is more than an orchestra: it is a community that truly eliminates the line separating musicians and listeners. This shared spirit and dedication propels the artistry of the Symphony ever forward, creating unforgettable memories along the way. I cherish my years in Spokane and applaud Jim Kershner for this fascinating history of the Spokane Symphony."

— Eckart Preu, Music Director, Spokane Symphony, 2004-2019

"I have fond memories of ushering at the Fox Theater as a teenager, and I’m forever grateful to the Spokane Symphony for saving our Art Deco gem and restoring it for the Inland Northwest to enjoy. I love that my hometown’s orchestra is 75 years old—and I loved reading Jim Kershner’s page-turner about its colorful history!"

— Julia Sweeney, actress/comedian/writer


About the Author:

Jim Kershner is a Spokane author, historian, columnist, and journalist. He covered arts and entertainment for The Spokesman-Review for decades and won seven awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. He is the author of Carl Maxey: A Fighting Life (University of Washington Press, 2008), which was a finalist for the 2009 Washington State Book Award. His other books include The Northwest Power Pool (HistoryLink/Documentary Media, 2017), which was the silver winner of the 2018 Independent Publishers Book Award in the regional nonfiction category, and Transit: The Story of Public Transportation in the Puget Sound Region (HistoryLink/Documentary Media, 2019). He is a historian for, The Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, for which he has written more than 250 historical essays. His hobbies include fly fishing, hiking, and playing banjo, an instrument that is, unfortunately, in low orchestral demand.


Published by Documentary Media, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-933245-60-7

High quality softbound with flaps

9 x 10.5 portrait

144 pages

Full color and black and white images throughout

Publication date: September 2020

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Additional Information

Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox

Box Office Hours:
Monday - Friday, 10:00am-5:00pm, and two hours before each performance.

Will Call:
Will Call tickets will be available for pick up at the 1st Avenue Entrance two hours before the performance.

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