by Erica Yadao
The city of Tacoma is known for its beautiful and diverse culture. Many people from around the world have traveled to Tacoma, Washington, to create art. Have you ever wanted to start afresh and make your mark away from home? Uncertain of his accomplishment, Eugene Linden arrived in Tacoma and achieved what he hoped: becoming a conductor of his orchestra. Before I reveal how he has fulfilled his dream, let’s start from the beginning!
Eugene Linden was born in 1912, in Chicago, Illinois, into a musical family. Linden’s mother was a violinist and a musical director at Chicago’s La Salle Hotel and his father, Harry Linden, was the concertmaster of the Chicago opera orchestra. Due to his family’s devotion to music, Eugene Linden became aware of his dream of becoming a professional conductor. Living up to his plan, Eugene Linden conducted his first orchestra in grade school, also known as an elementary school. Then, when Eugene Linden was in high school, attending Jefferson High School in Portland, Oregon, he obtained the role of a conductor for the band. With Linden’s significant role, the band got first place in three state secondary school contests and second place in the fourth competition. Amazing right? Eventually, in May 1930, Eugene Linden gained attention from John Philip Sousa, an American composer and conductor, receiving recognition for his leadership as the only student conductor during the national high school band contest in Flint, Michigan. In 1930, Linden graduated from Jefferson High School.
Despite his early experience, Eugene Linden’s professional conducting career officially began when he joined the first youth orchestra in the United States, the Portland Junior Symphony, later renamed the Portland Youth Philharmonic, established in 1924. After participating in the Portland Youth Philharmonic for a few seasons, Linden became a student conductor to Jacques Gershkovitch. When Linden conducted Beethoven’s Egmont for the Portland Junior Symphony, his conducting opening began. Eugene Linden was later pronounced as an assistant conductor by 1930, contributing to the orchestra by playing the flute and piccolo. So how did Eugene Linden contribute to Tacoma’s music community? Let’s get into it!
At the age of twenty-one in 1933, Eugene Linden decided to hitchhike from Portland to Tacoma, aspiring to begin his own orchestra. By the first rehearsal, only three musicians attended. Although three musicians may seem too little to others, Linden believed “no musicians would have been a failure, three was a beginning.” Continuing to be optimistic, Eugene Linden gathered an ensemble of 65 musicians within a few months. Before the State Armory became the ensemble’s regular rehearsal venue, hosted every Sunday, the musicians would hold rehearsals at the Ted Brown Music Company and the Winthrop Hotel. When the idea of an orchestra became a goal for the musicians, rehearsals were moved to the Scottish Rite Cathedral. The musicians were not paid for the first two years since their assembly. Interestingly, Eugene Linden had not moved to Tacoma officially, commuting from Portland weekly. This ended when a Tacoma resident, Mrs. Belle Hodges, allowed Linden into her home while he was developing his orchestra.
Eugene Linden and the 65 musicians had their first concert at Jason Lee Intermediate School on March 17, 1934. Amazingly, about 800 people attended the first concert. On June 5, 1934, the ensemble had its second concert, also at the Jason Lee Intermediate School. Finally, the ensemble officially named itself the Tacoma Philharmonic in 1936, being known as a proper orchestral group. The Tacoma Philharmonic was also known to perform for service members during the 1940s. Later in 1947, the Tacoma Philharmonic decided to join forces with Seattle Symphony and Olympia Orchestra, temporarily establishing the Pacific Northwest Symphony Orchestra. Maestro Linden was named the Pacific Northwest Symphony Orchestra’s music director and was also a director of the Seattle Symphony from 1948 to 1950. Unfortunately, the Tacoma Philharmonic Board of Directors decided to become a presenting organization due to financial issues in 1951. The foundation has presented and brought to town the Oregon Symphony, Moscow Virtuosi, St. Petersburg State Symphony, Academy of St. Martin in the Field, London Chamber Orchestra and Orpheus, and many more.
Overall, Eugene Linden’s striving for the symphony was not an easy journey. With the goal set in mind since he was a young boy born into a musical family, Linden made sure to accomplish his goals no matter what, always keeping his optimism in check despite all odds. Leaving his home in Portland, Oregon, with no set home in Tacoma for a while, traveling must have been difficult. Certainly, I would not have the guts to do it, and I acknowledge Linden’s bravery for his leap of faith. Since the accomplishment of Eugene Linden creating his orchestra, later becoming an official establishment, the Tacoma Philharmonic became a foundation for more classical groups, orchestras, and solo artists performing more in Tacoma, Washington, adding to the ever-growing art within the city. In addition, I truly believe that Eugene Linden’s story has inspired others to follow their dreams no matter what. So for those who have big dreams, chase them.
Images courtesy Tacoma Public Library and University of Washington.
About the Author
Erica Yadao prepared this article as her final project for TARTS 225: Musical History of Tacoma, taught by Kim Davenport at the University of Washington, Tacoma. At the time she took the class in Autumn Quarter 2022, she was a sophomore pre-major.