Skagit Symphony

The Skagit Symphony performs in March 2019 at its Masterpiece Concert at McIntyre Hall.

One of the flute players makes sure to practice every day.

One of the French horn players found sheet music from his college days and played it for a fresh challenge.

The music director sends videos and tips and words of encouragement to his musicians now stuck in their homes.

For the Skagit Symphony, what was supposed to be a thrilling anniversary has turned into a holding pattern — and a wait to see if the season will resume.

With the spread of COVID-19, the symphony’s 40th anniversary season has been disrupted, most noticeably by the cancellation of its concert that had been slated for March 21.

“Unforgettable, That’s What You Are!” was supposed to feature a guest soloist in soprano Laura Corina Sanders and an original work written by the symphony’s former music director, Roupen Shakarian, who held that role for 14 years.

Current music director Michael Wheatley said the disruption is particularly difficult given the timing: the symphony’s 40th season as well as his first.

“Personally, that’s the most heartbreaking part of the whole thing. I crafted a whole first season here to introduce the audience to myself and the orchestra to myself,” he said. “We only do five or six concerts a year. Each concert had a purpose, something I wanted to communicate about where we were, where we’re going. To lose the concert we lost is heartbreaking. It’s not something you can move. This is the 40th anniversary so it loses a sense of timeliness.”

Wheatley said he was also disappointed an audience has yet to be able to hear Shakarian’s original work.

“It reflects Roupen’s personality and humor. We were so excited to open the performance with it,” he said.

Wheatley said the symphony is carefully considering various plans, such as incorporating some of the music that was to be performed in March in future concerts. As for those future concerts, he said the symphony will perform — or cancel — based on safety considerations. He hopes it’ll be the former.

“How lovely would it be to celebrate together the end of this whole ordeal?” he said of the possibility of performing the planned pops concert in June. “My hope is to make it a reality. We’ll have to see.”

Until then, the symphony’s musicians are doing their best to stay sharp, practice and share music.

While they can’t gather, they are finding other ways to communicate.

Wheatley shared a Spotify playlist titled “In the Time of Covid19 that included works by Schubert and Mahler. He also hopes to conference with the musicians online for games, trivia and even lectures about music.

French horn player Doug Robertson found folders with music he’d played in college, and played it. He also ran through scales and played parts from Mozart horn concertos.

“I find playing my horn a great challenge and relief, so I’m playing every day,” he said.

Robertson said he enjoys — and is challenged by — practicing at home. But it’s no substitute for the symphony’s weekly rehearsals.

“We’re a big group of friends and rehearsals are a fantastic time to get together and share music. We miss that. We miss that time,” he said. “I’m sad we missed the concert but it’s the rehearsals too. We look forward to that.”

Principal flute player Stephanie Bethea, who lives in Sedro-Woolley, said she still practices every day.

Bethea, a teacher at Skagit Valley College who also gives private lessons in flute and piano, is firm in the belief that music plays a role in uncertain times such as these. She said she still communicates with her students using FaceTime.

“It’s not ideal,” she said. “Music needs to happen live. But we do what we can. ... Music is the heart of our life and we have to keep it going.”

Reporter Trevor Pyle: 360-416-2156,, Twitter: @Sports_SVH,

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