Frequently Asked Questions


The San Francisco Civic Symphony has a two-fold Mission:  to provide a place for musicians of all skill levels and experiences to play together, and to provide free live orchestral concerts to the general community.

We rely on volunteers from with the groups and our other supporters to do the day-to-day operations and management tasks.  We welcome anyone who would like to be part of this great team.

While there are several other community orchestras in the Bay Area, they all require that their  musician be able play at intermediate to advanced levels.  SF Civic Symphony offers an open and welcoming environment for “late learners” or people who may have put down their instruments for a period of time and wish to start playing again.   We also have very experienced members who wish to keep up their advanced playing abilities and enjoy challenging themselves with new repertoire.

Civic Symphony operates under the belief that great music can be created and enjoyed by the whole community.  And music is more about creativity and human communications and not about playing every note “perfectly”.

Until 2002, the San Francisco Department of Parks and Recreation provided funds for the orchestra, and the orchestra was referred to as “The Recreation Symphony.”  They provided rehearsal and performance spaces for the orchestra, they paid for the music and the repair of the orchestral instruments, and provided a modest salary for the conductor, concertmaster, orchestra manager and librarian.  Gradually, they withdrew their financial support.

Currently, we rely on the generous donations from our audiences and friends.   Each musician not only contributes many hours of rehearsal and practice, but also makes voluntary financial contributions to cover the orchestra’s expenses for rehearsal and concert spaces, music fees, and salaries for our conductor and concertmaster.

Consistent with our “we welcome everyone” mission, no musician or audience member will be turned away because they cannot contribute.

The orchestra plays a unique role in music education in the Bay Area. Each of our members covers a wide spectrum of playing abilities.  Through their participation, each member is able to improve their playing skills as an individual and as an ensemble by learning varied and sometimes difficult repertoire – music that they may not try on their own.

For our audience, we also provide information about the pieces that we perform as well as the composers of those pieces.

The San Francisco Civic Symphony was founded in 1931 by Mrs. Sigmund Stern and Josephine D. Randall, making it the oldest community orchestra west of the Mississippi.  Mr. and Mrs. Stern were great sponsors for the arts in San Francisco.   To start the organization, they sent invitations to local high schools inviting community musicians to Mrs. Stern’s home.  Soon after, rehearsals started and the symphony started the tradition of performing for the public.  The symphony remained a part of San Francisco’s Park and Recreation Department until early 2002, when it became an independent organization.  The symphony has since functioned as an all volunteer orchestra, managed by the members of the orchestra and volunteer supporters.

Our goals for the future include:

Expand Our Concert Offerings

Currently The San Francisco Civic Symphony performs only four times a year.  Our plan is to offer more concerts at different locations throughout San Francisco.

Attract And Retain Great Music Leadership

The San Francisco Civic Symphony currently relies on music directors who volunteer their time and talent.  In order to retain their invaluable services, our hope is to be able to compensate them financially for their contributions to the orchestra and to the community.

Find Rehearsal and Performance Spaces That Meet Our Needs

We currently rent our rehearsal and performance spaces in San Francisco.  We are in direct competition with other performance groups in the city.  As an all volunteer group who provide free concerts to the community, it’s difficult for us to find affordable spaces.  We intend to establish long-term relationships with rehearsal spaces and performance venues that will allow us grow artistically, and provide us the stability for the group and for our audience.

Stabilize Funding

We, as an organization, depend on dues from our members and donations from our friends, families and audiences.   This allows us to raise only a limited amount of money that oftentimes does not cover our operating expenses.   We are in the process of finding  more dependable sources of funding by creating an endowment funded by interested individuals and arts organizations who share our vision and support our intentions to provide free music to the community.

Participate more fully in the SF arts community

We feel we fill an important, un-met need in the arts community.  We want to collaborate with and support other arts groups and to contribute to the whole community.

Establish a Legal Structure

We are setting up more robust operations and financial management systems within the orchestra. With these initiatives, The San Francisco Civic Symphony can continue to contribute to a diverse, educational and cultural environment for San Francisco and the greater Bay Area.

In short, join us.   We offer many ways to contribute to the growth of music and the arts in the Bay Area.   And we need all the help we can get.    Your experience and talents can make help us make our communities more vital places to work and play.


We welcome everyone to our concerts.   As part of our mission, we try to reach members of the community which other orchestras don’t serve.   This includes people with low incomes, who can’t make the usual concert times and schedules.    We are pleased to have families with children, who may be getting their first exposure to classical music.

Maestro Club was created to allow Civic supporters to be recognized.  There are four giving levels:

Divertimento Club:  (Donation of $250 to $499 per year)  Benefits include:

  • Listing on our web site and programs

Virtuoso Club:  (Donation of $500 to $999 per year)   Benefits include:

  • Listing on our web site and programs
  • Exclusive orchestra-branded gift

Bravissimo Level: (Donation of $1,000 to $2,499 per year) Benefits include:

  • Listing on our web site and programs
  • Exclusive orchestra-branded gift
  • Invitation to donor events

Maestro Club: (Donation of $2,500 and above)

  • Listing on our web site and programs
  • Invitation to meet our musicians at after-concert parties
  • Invitation to donor events
  • Invitation for two to Maestro Club dinner

Giving levels reset each year on September 1st.

The Civic Symphony Association also sponsors small chamber ensembles, usually comprised of a selected group.  These groups set up their own schedules and repertoire.   The Association helps by connecting players and sponsoring rehearsal and performance spaces.    We view chamber music as an important part of meeting our mission to support all classical music players.   Contact us for more information.

Since 2006, we have offered String Orchestra Workshop during the summer months to give less experienced string musicians the techniques to successfully play in an orchestra.  The workshop is led by some of our more advanced, more experienced members who have extensive backgrounds in music performance.   Some of the String Orchestra performers eventually join the larger Civic Symphony Orchestra.  The String Orchestra Workshop  supplements underfunded school music programs.

Although some Bay Area Community colleges provide bands that are welcoming to adult beginner wind instrument players, the String Orchestra Workshop is unique in providing ensemble opportunity for inexperienced adult string players.


SF Civic Symphony musicians reflect the diverse demographic of the San Francisco Bay Area.  The orchestra includes players of all experience, age, ethnic, economic, and sexual orientations.   The orchestra has half women and half men.    The latest player demographics here.

If you would like to play with our groups, we ask that you attend as many rehearsals as possible.  If you will miss more than three rehearsal in a concert set, we ask that you not play in the concert, out of respect for the effort of the rest of your musician colleagues.

We depend on our members’ contribute of dues for each set in which they may be performing.  These nominal dues are on a sliding scale, and are our primary source of funding for our rehearsal space, sheet music fees, and supplies expenses, as well as a small stipend for our conductor and concertmaster.  No one will be turned away, if the dues are a financial challenge.

We also ask that you agree to follow this Code of Conduct.

And most importantly, enjoy the serious fun of playing interesting music.

Each group has a different schedule and location.   The full orchestra, SF Civic Symphony, rehearses on Wednesday evenings from 7:30p to 10:00p at Harvey Milk Center, 50 Scott Street, San Francisco. Sectionals, chamber music groups, and other smaller groups establish their own rehearsal spaces.