Two Millions Bucks for Timpani?! How the Clinton Family Fund Supports Local Orchestra

According to a quick Google search, a standard timpani set costs somewhere between $3,000 and $15,000. This might seem like a lot of cash for couple kettledrums, but not for die-hard fans of the symphony orchestra.

The Chicago-based Clinton Family Fund recently announced a $2 million gift to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association to endow the orchestra's principal timpani position. Accordingly, the position of timpani player will now be known as the Clinton Family Fund Principal Timpani Chair of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

And this isn’t the Clinton’s first grant to support timpani playing. In 2013, it donated money to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association for the purchase of a set of new timpani—a significant upgrade to the orchestra’s collection. Apparently, Bruce Clinton’s timpani philanthropy is his way of fulfilling a teenage dream. And at this point in his life, donating money is as close as he’ll ever get to playing one professionally.

“In my late teens I even fantasized about becoming a professional timpanist,” Clinton said. “For us, we are immensely proud to be connected, even in a small way, to Maestro Muti, to the extraordinary musicians of the CSO and to David Herbert, who is a preeminent timpanist.”

A lifelong Chicago resident, Clinton’s parents encouraged him to attend symphony programs, and over time, he came to love it. Herbert has played the timpani for the orchestra since 2013. Previously he served as principal timpanist of the San Francisco Symphony and the New World Symphony

"I was born and raised in Chicago, and my parents encouraged me to come to the programs of the CSO," Clinton explained. "I developed a passion for this timeless art form, and with it, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra."

And just who is Bruce Clinton? He's the retired chairman and CEO of the Clinton Companies, a real estate development firm, and has served as member of the orchestra’s board of trustees since 2008. Clinton has also held board and trustee positions with the New World Symphony, the League of American Orchestras, and the Friends of Chamber Music of Miami. He and his wife, Martha, are former trustees of the Merit School of Music in Chicago and the Colorado Symphony Association.

Bruce and Martha established the Clinton Family Fund in the mid-90s and it reported nearly $22 million in assets at the end of 2013. But that year, the fund reported less than a million in total giving. So perhaps this newsworthy arts & culture grant is a sign of bigger things to come.

Unfortunately for grantseekers, the Clinton Family Fund doesn’t have a website and only bits and pieces are publicly known about its funding strategies. In the past, the fund has also supported education, radio, television, dance music, and Protestant agencies and churches.