Russ Berlin expected the Lee’s Summit Symphony to be a success when he founded it with Phyllis Hamilton.
“We were very optimistic,” Berlin said. “The time was right.”
As a retired, longtime band and orchestra teacher in Lee’s Summit schools, at all grade levels, he knew there was a love for performing.
Even he was surprised after announcing the symphony’s launch in 2003 and 120 people showed up.
“We were just amazed at how many people came out for auditions,” Berlin said.
For the first concert, held in the show horse barn at Longview Farm, 90 musicians crowded onto the stage developer David Gale built for the concert.
Bob White, a longtime fan of the symphony and its board president, said he attended that concert and nearly every concert since.
He said in his opinion, the Lee’s Summit Symphony is a real value, presenting a high quality performance, allowing people to enjoy fine arts in their own community.
He said the concert at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts celebrating the symphony’s 10th anniversary is creating a lot of buzz. The opportunity enhances the symphony’s reputation, he said.
It is a premier facility White compared to playing Carnegie Hall. “It’s that impressive a place,” he said.
White said the symphony and the newer Summit Theatre Group are important aspects of Lee’s Summit life.
“All of the arts add a component that is essential if it’s going to grow and prosper,” White said. “Lee’s Summit has always been a good community, having these other opportunities for the community to enjoy makes the quality of life just that much better.”
Berlin continues as music director and conductor. Hamilton died in 2008.
Berlin said the symphony owes a lot to the music programs in Lee’s Summit schools, where many of the musicians had their first experience.
Moreover, he said, the symphony would not be possible without many non-musician volunteers who work behind the scenes to raise funds and promote the concerts, such as John Claybaugh, a board member who also is an employee of St. Luke’s East Hospital, who secured sponsorship from the hospital to make the Kauffman concert possible.
The symphony’s performance will include a special piece called “Celebrate the Collective” written by a member, Karl Hayes, who plays oboe. He describes the work as a celebration of the orchestra’s maturing from birth to adult, composed of people from all walks of life, working to merge their experiences to produce perfect music.
Berlin said the symphony’s mission is to provide a venue for amateur musicians and professionals who love to play as well as concerts for Lee’s Summit.
“I think we’re one of the better community orchestras in the area,” he said.
Shannon Lawrence, once a student of Berlin’s in elementary school, is one of those musicians who joined the symphony at its first rehearsal. She plays French Horn and percussion.
She has a music studio where she gives lessons and leads a chorale. She said the symphony helps her stay sharp and stay ahead of her students.
When she joined the symphony 10 years ago, she’d been giving guitar and piano lessons, not playing her horn.
“I was so scared, I hadn’t played in so long,” Lawrence said. “I was terrible at first.” After practicing and practicing, the feel came back. Now she plays in a swing trio, for the Summit Theatre Group and other groups as well.
Lawrence said she’s grateful the symphony gives adults the same opportunity in music that Lee’s Summit provides for children.
“It’s enriched me personally,” Lawrence said. “Being involved with the talented folks in the symphony helped me be a better player and educator.”
Berlin recalls that first rehearsal too.
“Everybody was real excited,” Berlin said. “A lot of them hadn’t played for a few years
“You could tell from the smiles on their faces that they really missed it, and it just got better from there.”