Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Symphony returns home to the range

By LISA-MARIE ARMITAGE, Flint Hills Media Project | 6/16/2014

ROSALIA — The rolling, open hills of the tallgrass prairie set the scene for a glimpse of original pioneer life for about 6,700 attendees at the ninth annual Symphony in the Flint Hills Saturday near Rosalia.

“You can kind of visualize what the pioneers saw when they came through here,” Dan Hanney, Berryton, said.

ROSALIA — The rolling, open hills of the tallgrass prairie set the scene for a glimpse of original pioneer life for about 6,700 attendees at the ninth annual Symphony in the Flint Hills Saturday near Rosalia.

“You can kind of visualize what the pioneers saw when they came through here,” Dan Hanney, Berryton, said.

Symphony in the Flint Hills organizes the concert at a different location every year, and surrounding communities coordinate activities that coincide with the concert to give attendees and residents an authentic experience.

Gottsch Cattle Company played host to the concert at Rosalia Ranch, a 10,000-acre operation in the southeast corner of Butler County. Butler, the largest county in the Flint Hills and in Kansas, had never before been home to the concert, and more people from the Wichita area were able to attend.

“I had heard many good things about it,” Jerri Colgan, Wichita, said. “When I found out it was going to be so close to the city, I knew I had to come.”

The location didn’t stop first-time attendees from Kansas City from making an appearance either.

“This is amazing,” Tamera Falicov, Kansas City, Missouri, said. “It’s wonderful that we live so close to the tallgrass prairie.”

With the weather being a concern all week, Saturday was no different. Before the concert, online weather maps showed rain falling at the site, but the real trouble was the wind.

Christy Davis, Symphony in the Flint Hills executive director, met with the weather team early Saturday morning to discuss the weather and emergency plans. A text message was sent to reassure ticket holders that the concert was still a go.

Because winds reached nearly 40 mph, the art and retail tents had to be evacuated almost immediately after the gates opened at 1 p.m. Saturday, and retail merchandise was moved to a larger, more secure tent. The art silent auction had to be postponed and will probably happen later at the Symphony in the Flint Hills office in Cottonwood Falls.

The wind didn’t stop people from coming and enjoying the event.

“A little wind will never kill anyone,” Dan Lykins, Topeka, said.

For the first time, the concert didn’t sell out on the first day tickets were available. But tickets sold out at 5 p.m. Friday — the day before the concert — with about 5,000 general admission tickets and about 1,000 patron tickets sold.

Throughout the afternoon, early concert-goers enjoyed covered wagon rides and nature walks through the prairie. Education and culture tents featured presentations about different topics ranging from oil and mustangs to tornadoes and prairie chickens. Stargazing was available all day and evening.

Senseney Music from Wichita brought in an instrument petting zoo for adults and children to try out different instruments. Professionals helped attendees play flutes, harmonicas and violins.

By early evening, the activities came to a close, and concert-goers moved to stake their claim in front of the Saddlespan tent where the Kansas City Symphony began to play for one of its largest audiences of the year.

“I can’t think of a more beautiful setting,” Aram Demirjian, associate conductor, said. “Inside a concert hall, you just don’t have the vista of the prairie.”

During the symphony, the prairie and music came together as uninterrupted harmony to give what many attendees said was a unique and unparalleled experience.

Toward the end of the concert, outriders on horseback staged a cattle drive behind the Saddlespan tent where the orchestra played.

The western singing group Prairie Rose Rangers joined the Symphony on stage to help end the concert with “Home on the Range” by Daniel E. Kelley. The crowd was moved to join in, which has become something of a tradition. The last note was timed right as the sun dipped down behind the clouds and out of sight.

“To stop and be able to see the cattle with the sunset and sing ‘Home on the Range’ is amazing,” Carolyn Sabatina, Leawood, said. “There is nothing like it.”

The Flint Hills Media Project is an experience-based learning project through Wichita State University. Students cover the Symphony in the Flint Hills, including the people and communities surrounding the event. Find their stories on the Web (www.flinthillsmediaproject.com), on Facebook (Flint Hills Media Project) and on Twitter (@WSUfhmp).

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