History of Chamber Music Kelowna 

 

Chamber Music Kelowna has evolved from modest beginnings when, in the its earliest stages it was known as College Concert Series. An Okanagan college professor, Pen Yeh Tsao, established the series to provide an opportunity for Okanagan College music students to gain performance experience and to hear professional musicians in live performance. The result was a series of three concerts per year that carried on for three years, from 1979 to 1981.

With the closure of the music faculty in 1981, Okanagan College decided to end the series, but a small group of enthusiastic audience members from the community were determined not to let it disappear; notably Mary Irwin, Mary Pooley and Dulcie Fry. They distributed posters around town inviting donations to a “save-the-concerts” fund, and presented the proceeds to the College. 

The successful result was that a board of directors was formed to carry on the series, and the College agreed to continue to donate the use of the theatre and some secretarial assistance. Howard Reimer, and OC faculty member actively involved with the college music series from its inception, became the liaison between the new “Concert Series” and Okanagan College.

For 10 years the Concert Series continued to hold an annual series of three concerts at the Okanagan College theatre, with a faithful core audience.  The emphasis was on presenting local musicians. One annual concert of touring resident artists from the Banff Centre became part of the series for several years during this decade.

Many changes occurred in 1992 and 1993. The organization officially became a society under the name CMS Chamber Music Society, but used the title Kelowna Chamber Music Series (KCMS) in its publicity.  The liaison with Okanagan University College came to an end, and the series moved to the more acoustically pleasing Alliance Church. Concerts would now be presented on Friday nights rather than on random weeknights. KCMS began a policy of welcoming students to attend the concerts for free.

But perhaps the most significant change during this time resulted from the societies successful application for Provincial lottery funding, providing a stable financial base for years to come. As another local presenter, Music in the Mission, had started a concert series highlighting local musicians, there was an opportunity for KCMS to rethink its mandate. It could now afford professional artists’ fees, and a decision was made to begin presenting mainly national and international touring ensembles and soloists.  During this decade, from 1992 to 2003, Eileen Powell and Howard Reimer, alternating as President and Program Director, set a high musical standard, and establish some lasting bonds with musicians.

By the turn of the millennium, KCMS was beginning to present five concerts in its series, audience numbers were regularly over 150, with the subscription base of about 90, an annual program was being printed with paid advertising, and annual funding from the city of Kelowna’s Art Foundation was helping to keep the budget in the black.

With the rapid expansion of the city, another opportunity had emerged. A small theatre was being proposed in the evolving Cultural District downtown - a civic space that could maintain the intimate atmosphere that our audience enjoyed with the performers. KCMS’s interest was expressed to the building’s planning committee, and a financial pledge was made and fulfilled.  The first chamber music concert in the Rotary Centre for the Arts, in November 2002, was one of the first events to take place in the 330-seat Mary Irwin Theatre – appropriately named after one of the series’ founding members, a cultural leader in her time. 

With the new venue came new changes. While there was no longer one cozy lobby in which the audience could mingle at intermission, there was now the more formal air and fun of the Arts Centre. Lost was free parking for all, and a two-minute level stroll to your theatre seat, but gained WordPerfect sight lines from every seat.

The opportunity for reserved seating, and a switch to a new local ticket agency located in the RCA, enabled a more flexible ticketing and subscription system. The society’s name changed to Chamber Music Kelowna Society, which led to a new logo and graphics, and a website was established. 

New funding applications to the BC Arts Council and heritage Canada were successful, ensuring that ensembles could be booked with certainty for the coming season. In 2004 a liaison was formed with Festival Vancouver. A special summer presentation of the National Youth Orchestra of Canada solicit solidified this relationship.

By the end of the 2003-2004 season, subscription sales filled more than half the theatre seats, and concerts were selling out. A couple of Pre-Concert Talks added to the audience’s musical experience. The board took a deep breath at a couple of Strategic Planning Workshops to bring its governance in line with its operations. Isabel Cole and George Hyde compiled a Board Manual, which was adopted by the board of directors in the fall of 2004. The executive committee is composed of the President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer.  The four standing committees are Audience Development and Education, Programming and Performance, Marketing and Publicity, and Finance and Fundraising. A Volunteer Coordinator arranges for volunteers to assist with committee requests during the concert season.

The 2004–2005 season began with a gala 25th Anniversary concert at the RCA, and two local wineries supplied refreshments for the audience. The National Youth Orchestra concert on August 3rd, and participation in the Life and Arts Festival (celebrating Kelowna’s 100th birthday) in May were highlights of the season. Five categories of donations and sponsors were listed in the subscription brochures, and the Board of Directors of directors advanced $15,000 to a new piano fund, under the chairmanship of David Bond. Our new Privacy Policy was posted on the website.

In June 2006, Jane Coop performed four pieces on the new Steinway piano in the Rotary Centre for the Arts at a special concert given for the donors to the piano acquisition fund which had been chaired by David Bond.  The donors included CMK, the Central Okanagan Foundation, the Vancouver foundation and KVPAC, as well as individual donors. Earlier in the year, George Hyde generously donated funds to establish the CMK scholarship fund. Other noteworthy achievements are listed in the President’s Report in the “Reports from the Annual General Meeting” section of this manual.