Thom Mayes oversees operations of Whatcom Symphony Orchestra


Thom Mayes

Thom Mayes is the new executive director of Whatcom Symphony Orchestra, which has its offices in the Federal Building in downtown Bellingham.


Thom Mayes is so devoted to classical music that he's not only the new executive director of Whatcom Symphony Orchestra, he's also a bass player in the group.

At age 29, it's fair to say the personable administrator and musician seems to vibrate with energy.

Mayes assumed his role Aug. 1, not long after the orchestra's board of directors hired Yaniv Attar as the new artistic director after one season with guest conductors.

Mayes grew up in Edmonds and has played with a variety of symphony orchestras in Colorado and in Northwest Washington, including for Roger Briggs with the Whatcom Symphony. He graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder and has a master's in arts leadership from Seattle University.

Question: What are your goals with Whatcom Symphony Orchestra?

Answer: We have a great impact on young people and we have a strong following of music lovers who have been with us a long time. I feel we also have a great opportunity to reach the 20- and 30-something generation.

Q: It's a committed audience, isn't it?

A: We don't have a problem attracting and maintaining a committed audience, but we also very much want to expand.

We have a deep level of talent for a community this size. We're a "poster child" for what a cultural community can do. And I love the feeling of fresh energy and enthusiasm we have with the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra. There's a great collaborative energy.

Q: Other than attending and donating, how can the community support you?

A: We are very much open to feedback and suggestions. We want the community to support music education, to ensure that classical music can continue with the next generations.

Q: What's up this season?

A: We'll have six performances at Mount Baker Theatre, beginning our 38th season on Oct. 6. We're also excited about our several youth programs and partnerships.

Q: Did grade school music programs inspire you?

A: I was that rare kid who really wanted to do music. I didn't need to be pushed by my parents. I was inspired to take up cello after I was first exposed to music in fourth grade at Edmonds. We had a wonderful program where kids were encouraged to try various instruments. I might never have realized my love for music without a school district that valued music education.

I began playing double bass in sixth grade and I've been playing on a regular basis ever since. I was also involved in soccer and in leadership.

Q: Whatcom Symphony members must like getting a "musical twofer."

A: That was the first thing some of our musicians who remembered me asked me, "Are you going to play, too?" They liked it when I said yes, since orchestras often need bass players.

Q: How did your work with the Lincoln Theatre in Mount Vernon help prepare you?

A: I became executive director at the Lincoln when I was 25 and worked there for 21/2 years. It was great preparation for my new job, working with so many different people and groups.

Before that, I received the first clue about a career in administration when I did an internship in Boulder and attended a seminar with the Entrepreneurship Center for Music. That's when I realized I had something to offer in music beyond performing.

I once dreamed of playing for a living with a major orchestra. Now I find it's freeing to play music and not have to earn my living doing that.


For details about Whatcom Symphony Orchestra, including its upcoming season, call 360-756-6752 or go to

Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.

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