Want to support culture while enjoying music, meeting great people and learning about new things? The Eugene Symphony Guild has a spot for you.
“The Eugene Symphony is 54 and the Eugene Symphony Guild is 52,” says Susan Ashton, the Guild’s past vice president of promotion. “In order for the symphony to continue they needed to raise money. We’re a big part of the symphony’s success and we support them any way we can.”
Betty Soreng and her husband John are namesakes of the Hult Center’s Soreng Theater, and the Betty and John Soreng Gallery of Chinese Art at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. She helped found the Eugene Symphony Guild as a member of Eugene’s Junior League in the 1960s.
Soreng was a friend of Caroline Boekleheide, who helped launch Eugene Symphony in her living room 54 years ago. As members of Junior League, they formed a committee to better help their community.
In 1965, Soreng became the first president of the Junior League’s Women’s Committee, a group that fundraised for the Eugene Symphony. In 1968, Soreng chaired the Junior League’s new project to support the symphony, called the Eugene Symphony Committee, later re-named the Eugene Symphony Guild.
Members volunteer their time for fundraising, hosting events and providing education with all proceeds benefitting the Eugene Symphony. Events include lectures, dinners and its flagship event, Music in the Garden.
“Music in the Garden is a self-guided tour of five to six gardens in a Eugene neighborhood so you can walk to each one or drive not too far,” says Ginger Fifield, vice president of fundraising. “We offer continuous live music on that Sunday, and some of the musicians we work with are symphony members, but many are community musicians who volunteer their time.”
Last year, more than 800 guests enjoyed the music, vendors, coffee and homemade cookies in each garden, providing a large portion of the guild’s $25,000 yearly goal. Other events help make up the difference, including Musical Chairs, which are smaller, more intimate gatherings taking place in members’ homes.
“We have eight to 10 Musical Chairs events during the months of April through October,” Ashton says. “It’s often dinners or lectures at different houses, but some years we take trips, such as to Albany to the carousel. We combine that type of trip with lunch somewhere and make it an outing.”
Other past events included a mystery theater, lectures on the city’s planned riverfront development, and tours of a small winery in the Whiteaker neighborhood. Events usually cost $25 to $45, with all proceeds benefitting the symphony.
Last fall, the guild broke with tradition by forgoing its gala event and hosting a “non-event” instead.
“Instead of asking people to spend money on an evening, we’re simply accepting donations,” Ashton says. “You don’t have to dress up and go out, just make a donation. We’re going to see how this turns out.”
Ashton says the guild took this approach because membership is down (from 100 to 85), members are aging or involved in other groups, and hosting a gala is a lot of work.
“It’s not always easy to find people to move all the chairs and do all the other set up you have to do for a big event,” Fifield says.
The financial goal of the Fall Non-Event is $7,000.
Since 1968, the guild has donated more than $1.3 million to the Eugene Symphony.
Membership dues are $40, but provide access to all guild events, and the feel-good opportunity to help with a number of symphony concerts for youth throughout the year. Even more, joining the guild provides an opportunity to make new friends with those who hold a similar interest.
“A lot of people join the guild when they are new to town because it’s a wonderful way to meet people,” Fifield says.
She previous lived in a farming community in southern California and had little local access to classical music. “Now, it’s wonderful because we have all this music I get to enjoy, and the friendships,” she says.
Guild members form other small interest groups within their organization, including a book club, bridge group, walking group, yoga and an armchair travel group. ☸