From horse barn to concert hall

May 6, 2013 

Is there any more iconic image of small-town 20th century Americana than the town band performing in a bandstand in the park on a warm summer night? I grew up near Marceline which takes pride in being Walt Disney’s boyhood hometown. The railroad still plays an important role, and next to the downtown depot is a charming park featuring the bandstand. Disney created a glamorized version of Marceline’s downtown now known to millions as “Main Street U.S.A.” in all Disney theme parks.

In the 21st century, few towns have the luxury of a town band playing Sousa marches on Saturday nights. But a lucky few still have volunteer musical performances of varying types and quality. There are about 800 community orchestras nationwide, and Lee’s Summit’s symphony is among the best.

Organized in 2003, the Symphony chose the historic show horse arena at Longview Farms as its “band stand” and performed its first concert for an enthusiastic crowd of several hundred music lovers. Thus began a stellar ten-year history of six or more performances per year, presented at very low cost so as to be accessible to anyone who wants to attend. The musical quality has continuously improved thanks to the skill and loyalty of Russell Berlin, musical director, and approximately 70 area musicians – half of whom are charter members.

In addition to the horse barn, venues have include Unity Village, the John Knox Pavilion, Powell Gardens, a temporary stage near Lee’s Summit’s depot, and the Bernard Campbell Performing Arts Center at Lee’s Summit High School.

And now, add the beautiful Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Kansas City! Thanks to a generous grant from Saint Luke’s East Hospital in Lee’s Summit, the Symphony will finally perform in an elegant and acoustically-outstanding hall designed to showcase beautiful music. Berlin and the musicians are enthusiastically preparing a program that will showcase outstanding performers and repeat some of the audience favorites from the past ten years. They will even perform an original piece written just for this occasion, “Celebrate the Collective” by Karl Hayes, a current and charter member of the orchestra.

The June 15 concert will still be affordable and accessible. Tickets start at only $15 and are available online (www. or by calling 816-994-7222. Chartered motorcoaches will be available to transport audience members from LSHS for only $10; for a limited time, travel vouchers and the $15 tickets can be bought at either Lee’s Summit HyVee store; deadline is May 17. If you’ve attended other events at the Kauffman Center, you know what a bargain this is!

I plan to join other friends for the night out, starting with the motor coach ride (there are rumors of champagne en route!) to avoid the hassle and parking fee downtown. We’ll be filled with hometown pride as we watch our beautiful orchestra close their tenth anniversary season in style in one of the most beautiful performance halls in America. And there won’t be any mosquitoes or train whistles to distract! Won’t you join us?

Carol Rothwell is a Lee’s Summit resident who serves on the Board of Directors of the Lee’s Summit Symphony Orchestra.

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