Lawhorn’s Lawrence: A classical community

Forget that guitar in the garage. Turn your attention to that oboe in the attic.

I know you have one up there. This is Lawrence, and we have lots of things that many other communities don’t have: For example, a community orchestra.

This afternoon the new Lawrence Community Orchestra will debut with a Mother’s Day concert at Theatre Lawrence. On stage will be approximately 40 community members with any number of instruments such as violas, flutes, clarinets, violins, oboes and several other instruments, too.

Mother’s Day Concert

The Lawrence Community Orchestra will have its debut concert at 4 p.m. today at Theatre Lawrence, 4660 Bauer Farm Drive. Tickets, $15 for adults and $10 for students, are available at the door.

Yes, some of the orchestra members are local music educators who live in the worlds of bassoons and timpanis. (Timpanis? One question: Where were those at when I was a 5th grade band drummer?) There are a few orchestra members who even have made their livings as professional performers. But there are also others who just have a love of fine music and happen to know how to play a mean Beethoven.

“We had so many talented musicians step forward,” said Allan Hanson, president of the board of directors for the Lawrence Community Orchestra. “I think this orchestra is another sign that Lawrence is a very special community.”

True, not every community can pull some Wagner out of the closet. (Another question: Did Wagner do his composing work before or after he played that super cool guy on Hart to Hart?)

Regardless, just think, perhaps some day you can be a part of it. The Lawrence Community Orchestra is replacing the Lawrence Chamber Orchestra, which had existed for about 40 years. But the Chamber Orchestra had evolved into a group of largely professional musicians, and many of them were from the Kansas City area, Hanson said. When about $5,000 in funding from the Kansas Arts Commission disappeared as part of state budget cuts, the Chamber Orchestra decided to remake itself with a focus on more community-based players.

“This is not a watering down of the orchestra in any way, though,” Hanson said. “It is just that the people who are playing now are not doing it for a professional wage. They are doing it for the love of community and the love of music.”

In fact, the orchestra’s size has about doubled since it has made the shift to a community orchestra. Leaders are holding out the possibility of growing the group in future years.

So, that means you have a chance — if you ever get that attic cleaned.


There is a lot to learn if you want to be in an orchestra. Yes, knowing how to play your individual instrument to a high level is important. This will take various people differing amounts of time to learn. (I learned all I needed in 5th grade band because the instructor told me there was no reason to come out for 6th grade band.)

But being a fine individual player is just one aspect. It is, after all, one thing to play a piece alone but it is another to play it with 40 other musicians.

“It is very much a team activity,” said Mary Tuven, a longtime Lawrence resident who is retired from the Kansas City Symphony and now is the lead violist for the community orchestra. “I compare it to my grandson’s basketball team. Everyone has a role to play, and you go out there and do your best.”

There’s a good chance you’ll need to practice your bowing. (I would bow very enthusiastically during my 5th grade career because the audience always seemed so enthused that I had quit playing.) Actually, I’m told we’re not talking about that type of bowing. We’re talking about a bow, such as the one you move across the strings of a violin or cello or such. When you are in an orchestra, you don’t just move it in any old fashion. All the string players need to have their bows go up and down at the same time.

“You want it to all look very orderly,” Tuven said.

There are lots of other details like that, such as ensuring that all the string players are applying the same amount of pressure to their strings to produce a uniform sound, or making sure that everyone knows to emphasize the first note, not the fourth note of a bar, for example.

It falls to a conductor to ensure that all these details are attended to. The Lawrence Community Orchestra has co-conductors, Matthew Smith, the associate director of bands at Kansas University, and Rachel Dirks, director of the Lawrence High School orchestra.

Smith says a conductor will start preparing for a piece months in advance before the orchestra ever begins to play it, making numerous decisions about how the piece should precisely be played.

“It is a unique musical challenge because you are not the one making the music,” Smith said. “You are the one guiding the music. It is demanding but it is a thrill. You have to have a real set of ears on the podium and be able to listen and fix problems quickly.”


Come down from the attic. There is good news. You don’t have to play to enjoy all of this.

Lawrence is a town that loves music, but when Lawrence concert goers talk about a pit, be warned that they are probably not talking about an orchestra pit. Leaders of the Community Orchestra are hopeful that a broad range of Lawrence residents will give orchestral music a chance. The group eventually plans to give people more chances to hear the music. Today’s concert is the only one the group currently has set, but the orchestra hopes to develop a season of about three concerts per year, Hanson said. Previously, the Chamber Orchestra played only one concert a year, the longtime Baroque by Candlelight event.

Orchestra leaders are hoping that by having a group of players — some of them your friends and neighbors — performing classical music, that more of you will come to learn what many already have discovered.

“Classical music is elevating to the spirit,” Hanson said. “It makes one think and emote in ways that are different than other music.”

Indeed, take a listen to William Tell’s Overture, and try to stop your mind from at some point imaging riding a horse and saving the day. (One last question: Do we really think the Lone Ranger was the composer of that piece . . . or do we think it was Tonto?)

Today, the audience will get to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and perhaps the most famous four notes in the history of music. Smith is confident Lawrence’s newest orchestra will play it beautifully, and it will strike a chord with the audience too.

“Some of this music has stood the test of time for literally hundreds of years,” Smith said. “That is not by accident. There is something about it that strikes a nerve for multiple generations. It moves people.”

Who knows? Maybe it will even move you to clean a bit more on that attic.

Because, dude, I’m pretty sure that is not an oboe.