Then and Now: A year ago this month, we published “The Show Must Go On”—the opening act in a yearlong magazine and podcast series shining a light on rural arts at a time of uncertainty.

You may recall that rather than surrender to the realities of the pandemic when the curtain fell on live performances, the Columbia Gorge Orchestra Association pivoted to online rehearsals, performances and education, sometimes making it up as it went. It was all to keep the arts alive in the community.

When the Heart of Community story published and the podcast first aired, people in the orchestra association felt part of something larger, says Lori Russell, our storyteller, musician and CGOA board member. 

“Our story is everyone else’s story,” she says.

A lot has happened since February 2021’s magazine spotlight. 

July 17, 2021, brought the return of live performance for CGOA. A packed free outdoor concert—a welcome back to Gorge residents—featured a surprise. Hood River’s mayor declared the day an honorary one for Artistic Director Mark Steighner and the CGOA Sinfonietta. 

“We were all delighted by the community response,” Lori says of the embrace that day. 

Gratitude for CGOA’s resiliency has also shown up in strong donor and grant support. 

The holidays amplified the joy of performing in person again. 

“Our Voci choir holiday concert was just tremendously emotional,” Lori says. 

Sharing music with a live audience is something she and other performers relish more than ever. The concerts have been energizing and healing.

Reread “The Show Must Go On,” at To hear the podcast featuring those who kept the music alive, go to