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From the Studio: Conductor Donald Thulean


  Verne Windham remembers former Spokane Symphony conductor Donald Thulean who passed away on April 9.  There will be a small gathering at the Kress Gallery in River Park Square on Friday, April 17 at 5pm.

Donald Thulean's obituary

Donald Thulean was born June 24, 1929 in Wenatchee and died in Seattle on April 9, 2015 shortly after a stroke. This significant figure in orchestral music in the United States studied conducting at the University of Washington where he received B.A. and M.A. degrees. After stints as Dean of Music at Pacific University in Oregon and Dean of Students and Chorus Master at the Aspen Music Festival, along with conducting the Portland Junior Symphony and Portland Symphony, he became the second music director of the Spokane Symphony in 1962. Hired with a mandate to transform a community orchestra into a major regional music provider he did just that in many ways. He initiated a series of personnel changes, hiring advanced musicians to come to Spokane to make the Symphony a core of a livelihood. This went along with beginning a series of educational concerts, funded by the Washington State Cultural Enrichment Program and Title IX of the U.S. government. In this effort the Spokane Symphony played for essentially every middle school and high school student in Washington east of the Cascades over a ten year period. This touring and community engagement included performances and workshops with orchestras in Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Mr. Thulean brought his orchestra to a level appropriate to host a world’s fair, move into a concert hall created for that event, and perform with and for the major artists of the time.

In 1984 he left the Spokane Symphony as Conductor Emeritis to become the Vice President for Artistic Affairs of the American Symphony Orchestra League. In this capacity he specialized in services to the art of conducting, with both conductor development workshops and better methods of conductor selection. He has had a significant impact on a generation of conductors of American orchestras.

In recent years he returned to Seattle, where he immersed himself in orchestral affairs there. A member of the board of directors of both the Seattle Symphony and Seattle Youth Symphony, he brought his considerable wisdom and experience to bear for both organizations, in some cases advocating for difficult but important decisions. He is survived by his wife of 64 years Meryl, their three children Dorcas Marie Freeman, Mark Myron Thulean and William Norton Thulean, grandchildren Brianna, Zachary, Amber, Chelsea and Cody and two great grandchildren.

Donald Thulean will be remembered in several ways. Friday, April 17 friends from Spokane will gather at 5:00 in the Kress Gallery at River Park Square. There will be a memorial service in Seattle at a later date. On Friday, April 24 he will be remembered in a collaborative concert by the Seattle Symphony and University of Washington Symphony Orchestra at Meany Hall on the UW Campus. This was an event he had long advocated which had come to fruition before his death.

In every stage of Donald Thulean’s life and career he has been a powerful and eloquent advocate for the power and meaning of music in people’s lives. This legacy along with his deep humanity and humility have made him a beloved friend to all whom he touched.

This statement came from Brenda Nienhouse, Executive Director of the Spokane Symphony: “Part of why the Spokane Symphony is what it is today is because Don Thulean knew what was a good Symphony, and he wanted that for Spokane. Following his tenure here as Music Director, he worked at the League of American Orchestras, playing an important role in the growth of orchestras nationwide. Most recently, he’s had a significant impact on the arts sector in Seattle. He was great man, and it is a great loss for his family, the Symphony family and the arts world.”

Verne Windham got his start at Spokane Public Radio 20 years ago. “I came in to complain and they hired me.” He’s now the Program Director, as well as the host of Morning Classical and Concert of the Week. When choosing music for Morning Classical, Verne likes to keep the agenda as broadly defined as possible. For Concert of the Week, he focuses on the best of recent local performances, mostly classical in nature. For many years, Verne was also the conductor of the Spokane Youth Orchestra. He enjoys gardening, his vintage car and playing French horn.