Salem Symphonic Winds musician Alicia Rasmussen tries to play through her "flute boot," a device intended to minimize the spread of aerosols (Courtesy/Alicia Rasmussen)

John Skelton knew putting on the Salem Symphonic Winds at the Elsinore Theatre Sunday would be difficult after one of his soloists withdrew two weeks out from the show.

Having watched the quick spread of the omicron surge in the Mid-Willamette Valley, the soloist told Skelton he felt he needed to protect his ability to support his family. Skelton looked beyond their typical Mid-Willamette Valley range to Portland and Eugene for a replacement but had no luck. 

Once other performers began contracting the virus, missing rehearsals and were potentially not  able to test negative before the show, the Salem Symphonic Winds’ Board of Directors called an emergency meeting Sunday afternoon and decided to pull the plug.

“It was unanimous at the board level that they felt the responsible thing to do was to really protect our players and the audience,” said Skelton, artistic director for the program.

The Salem Symphonic Winds was rescheduled for May 22 at the Elsinore Theatre.

Before the Sunday show was scrapped, Skelton said the band was “playing wonderfully.”

“We're hoping, given a little more time, that it’ll be safer for us to rehearse again and bring the music we're passionate about to our audiences,” he said.

The first performance the band canceled due to Covid was scheduled in spring 2020 two days after Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order that closed theaters. The nonprofit has held some shows during the pandemic at a reduced capacity, nearly all outdoors, but has also canceled 10 shows in total.

Tom Fohn, executive director of the Elsinore Theatre, said the the Sunday show was the one of three events at the venue in recent weeks that’s been pulled. Organizers of two Varsity Vocals shows, the International Competition of High School A Cappella Quarterfinal on Jan. 28 and the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella Quarterfinal on Jan. 29, told Fohn Thursday morning they were canceling the events.

Fohn said the a cappella events, which are held annually at the Elsinore aside from during the pandemic, won't return until next year. Ticket buyers will automatically receive full refunds. The next show scheduled at the Elsinore that isn't a movie is a tribute to John Denver's Rocky Mountain High Experience Feb. 25.

“We're always concerned. It's been a long two years, and we're all hopeful that the worst is behind us,” he said of potentially having to cancel or postpone future events. “We have shows on the books, and we're hopeful that people feel comfortable coming to them.”

The next play scheduled at the Pentacle Theatre, a comedy called Over the River and Through the Woods by Joe DiPietro, is Feb. 4 to 26. Lisa Joyce, the theater’s executive director, said whether they go through with the show depends on the cast’s continued health.

“It could be that we end up pushing the show later, but we haven't made that call yet, and so far, we’re just charging ahead,” she said.

Anyone who isn’t an actor is required to wear a mask. Joyce said their goal is to test the cast for Covid the day before a performance, and if anyone tests positive, they’ll decide whether to cancel the show or bring in somebody who wasn’t exposed but would need to have a book with notes in hand.

“I suppose that canceling is probably the best thing to do,” she said. “It’s not the viewer experience you want, to watch somebody read from their script.”

Since the Salem Symphonic Winds started in the mid-1970s, some members including Skelton have played together weekly for 40-plus years. 

“It's pretty much a family of musicians not related by genealogy, but by just the bond of making music and taking up challenges in music together to achieve artistic beauty, and that really does bring people together,” he said. “Not being able to do that for a couple of years was really frustrating for a number of players.”

They had a show scheduled in May 2020 with a women’s choir from Oregon State University, focused on planet earth and featuring a video created to play with the music “It’s just breathtaking,” he said. “We were confident it could be life-changing for people in that perspective of our earth and the whole notion of saving the planet essentially, but we haven't been able to reschedule that either.”

Skelton said the choir, having been impacted by Covid, would need more time to be able tackle the music scheduled for the show. 

“They're one of the premier women's choirs in the world, and they were the only one in the entire Willamette Valley that was ready to consider the difficulty of music we asked them to join us on,” he said. “That kind of thing is part of the price that we've paid of Covid, where it's going to take even some more time before some of these things can come back together at the level that they were when we first shut down.”

In the meantime, the nonprofit is applying for grants and has been supported by donations from some patrons. Skelton said they considered doing virtual performances, but they would need to hire technicians to ensure it runs smoothly. “It's just not as practical for low-budget nonprofits like ours to do remote performances that way,” he said.

This story was updated Friday afternoon after Tom Fohn informed Salem Reporter that Varsity Vocals’ International Competition of High School A Cappella Quarterfinal and International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella Quarterfinal were canceled Thursday morning.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM - We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter starting at $5 a month. Click I want to subscribe!