Orchestra Outside

ECF grant helps Chamber Orchestra of Edmonton move its season outdoors during pandemic

When Sherry Schiff saw that Chamber Orchestra of Edmonton (COE) had found a safe way to have one of their concerts last summer, she was overjoyed. Like many of us, Schiff was starved for anything that wasn’t sitting around the house — so to be able to set up a chair and take in the transcendent sounds of a chamber orchestra was like giving a starving person a vanilla sundae.

“It meant a lot just to actually have something on the calendar, to be able to look forward to it,” Schiff explains. “We sort of became like groupies for live music after our first one.”

With the help of a $7,000 grant from Edmonton Community Foundation’s (ECF) COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund, the Chamber Orchestra was able to salvage their season by moving from concert halls to the great outdoors. Playing concerts in Borden Park and a few select culs-de-sac and backyards wasn’t just a way to keep the strings ringing, but to help give the COE a firmer footing on the shakiest of ground.

“Edmonton is known for its arts community and it’s important to support organizations at all stages of their growth,” Nneka Otogbolu, ECF’s Director of Communications and Equity Strategy, says. “This grant is helping the Chamber Orchestra continue to grow and serve its audience.”

This is a key time to support emerging organizations that face particular challenges during the pandemic.

“Being only three years old, part of our aim was just to make sure people did not forget who we were,” explains treasurer Marion Boyd. “We are an optimistic and hard-working bunch, if I may say, and we wanted to use this to not just get through, but keep moving on the path to sustainability.”

For artistic director Lidia Khaner, the funding was vital not just for the health of the organization, but to guarantee payment for the musicians she works with, most of whom had also seen their calendars go up in smoke.

“Knowing we would be able to play was a bit of a security blanket for us,” explains Khaner, “and it made it possible to give our musicians a chance to play where they knew they weren’t going to have to rely on passing the hat.”

And though it’s helped buoy the local musical community, the COE also found the outdoor concerts so successful that they’re likely to become a regular part of their repertoire, even when the musicians no longer have to wear masks.

That suits fans like Schiff just fine.

“I think we’ve learned some new habits,” she says, “acquired some new joys.”

That’s certainly one way to build back better.

Learn more about ECF’s COVID-19 response.