The Flint Hills were alive with music Saturday evening near Bushong in Lyons County. The Leet family pasture played host to more than 5,000 people for the seventh annual Symphony in the Flint Hills. The Kansas City Symphony provided beautiful music amid the beauty of the rolling Flint Hills. (For more on the concert, See Page 6.)

And it wasn’t just high-brow music. The playlist included a western medley — complete with the conductor in a cowboy hat — and a backdrop of real wranglers on horses herding cattle in the pasture surrounding the concert area. For many Kansans, it doesn’t get much better than this.

The event included numerous educational and entertainment components beyond the culmination of the day’s events with the symphony concert at the end of the day. The outdoors was the star in most of the artwork on display at the event, and it truly was at the heart of all that occurred Saturday, from presentations on the soil and its history to stories about previous landowners in the area. The history of the Flint Hills — and why it means so much to so many — also was on display.

Ottawa was connected to the event, albeit undeveloped, via the Flint Hills Nature Trail, which spectators walked on to get to the Flint Hills and the symphony. The Flint Hills Nature Trail starts in Osawatomie, ends in Herington and follows an old Union Pacific railroad line. It was railbanked in 1996, meaning the railroad track was taken out of commission and set aside to preserve the corridors for possible future use, according to Herald archives. It is part of the larger Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy, which maintains more than 150 miles of trails, including the Flint Hills trail.

It is used by people from across the state for bike riding, hiking, sightseeing and horseback riding. Some people especially like to take long horse rides on a 17-mile path from Rantoul to Ottawa along the river.

Though it takes many partners to pull off an event of this magnitude, the primary partner is nature. Nature, literally, was a windy host Saturday, but it didn’t lessen the enjoyment of it.

Ottawa plays host to its own symphony this month with the Ottawa Suzuki Strings Institute. Attendance at the talented performers’ concerts rarely fills every available seat, so why not expand the event, much like the Symphony in the Flint Hills, to include nature and more rural, scenic environments as new partners? Surely the beautiful trail offers some locales that would enhance the musical experience alongside nature. After seven years, the Flint Hills event consistently sells out all 5,000 tickets within five minutes.

Alice Joy Lewis, Ottawa Suzuki Strings director, agreed she recognizes the benefits of such a setting, saying, “I am very favorable to the concept of having concerts outdoors in general. The benefits outweigh the challenges. Large ensembles work best in that situation, of course, orchestras rather than solos, for example.”

Lewis noted such concerts:

• Can be lovely and, depending on where they’re located, the natural background gives a sort of “organic” feel to the blend of earth, sky, people and sound.

• Provide a relaxed, more casual feel for people in attendance.

• Come with some challenges in set up, of course. Being outside means a group is vulnerable to wind and weather. Temperatures that are extremely hot are not good for bows and varnishes on stringed instruments. With a proper sound shell that also covers the group, direct sunlight can be avoided, however.

“I’d be game for future plans to this effect if we had a good location and plenty of lead time to prepare as necessary,” Lewis said.

Perhaps the Flint Hills organizers really have found a partnership worth replicating in this area. Franklin County area residents enjoy the outdoors, the equestrian lifestyle, history, education and good music. It sounds like an unbeatable combination to develop here at home.

 

— Jeanny Sharp,

editor and publisher