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Symphony in the Flint Hills 2009


The prairie has a voice. Often a quiet whisper.

There are times when the bubbling spring water, neigh of horses, song of birds, and distant tuneful call of cattle roll out over the soft green flint hills, whirl with the prairie wind and return sounding like a symphony.

On Saturday June 13th, it was a symphony—Symphony in the Flint Hills, 2009.

Nestled in a cove in the Upper Turkey Creek Pasture of the Doyle Land and Cattle Company, Inc. in Chase County, Kansas, where the endless view of the rolling hills meet the blue sky, the Kansas City Symphony and the native inhabitants captured the hearts of 6,000 guests of owners Randy and Judy Mills. http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2009/Jun/17/picture_001-1.jpg From a distance, the symphony area appears as low clouds on the horizon. The meandering walk to the symphony site includes a bridge over a clear sparkling spring, inviting all to stop and dangle feet in the cold water. Our duties as two of over 500 volunteers helping to make the concert possible beckons so we pause, wish and continue on.

Abby Dechant, Symphony seating coordinator, directs us to our assigned jobs. Among other duties, we prepare seating for 26 sponsors and 138 patrons. Without these contributors, the concert would not be possible. The stage sits at the bottom of a long sloping hillside. There is no bad seat whether on lawn chair, blanket or special front row chair.

Our four-hour shift soon over, we have time to visit afternoon activities before the concert.

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2009/Jun/17/Picture_002.jpg Linzy and Lucy, 7-year old black draft horse sisters, driven by Larry Patton and watched over by experienced sidesaddle rider Terrie Todd, help us understand why many early settlers walk instead of ride in their covered wagons.

In the Butterfly Tent, Randy and Judy Mills tell us about their operation. The ranch is named after Patrick Doyle the first settler in Marion County. Their current home, built in 1882 by Mr. Doyle, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Randy Mills tells of the benefit of fire in maintaining the prairie. My observation is the Flint Hills saying, “Take care of the grass and it will take care of you” is evident in their pasture. Proper grass care as well as their high quality, controlled and documented cattle breeding program makes them successful “current stewards” of the Hills.

I attend educational programs explaining the native grasses and birds that inhabit them, the many prolific natural springs, and archeological formations. It is the Evening Primrose Tent with its “Prairie as Muse” presentations that most inspire my day. TerryLee Whetstone, a Cheyenne, plays Native American flute music with such meaning that I only have to close my eyes to slip back in time.

Writers Steven Hind, Jim Hoy and Denise Low read their poems and prose, eloquently telling of their feelings of beauty and love of Kansas in general and Flint Hills specifically. HC Palmer and Leon Loughridge have collaborated in publishing their artistic descriptions by poem and woodblock prints of the landscapes of the Flint Hills. Loughridge, a Colorado artist tells of his love of the region and its people despite his early stereotyped feelings of Kansas' flat terrain. I felt honored to have these professional and talented writers share their work and inspirations. A perfect prelude to the anticipated final program of the day, the concert.

My words cannot describe the beauty of a full orchestra in this setting. The sound system enables the entire hillside to hear the smallest, quietest note as well as the full expression of each instrument. Copeland, Grofe, Bernstein, Barry. All recognized music even to an inexperienced ear such as mine. For me, Director Steven Jarvi’s final presentation of John Berry’s Dances with Wolves Suite brought tears when Native American riders circled the site then ascended the nearby hill to silhouette against the sky as the last notes rolled across the valley. http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2009/Jun/17/Picture_003.jpg

Randy Mills said earlier in the day, “I like to be out here by myself. Early in the morning on a horse or in a pickup. It’s quiet.” Judy quickly added, “It’s God’s Country.” For a split second, even among thousands of others before the applause erupted, I for one and perhaps many others at the 2009 Symphony in the Flint Hills shared Randy and Judy’s feeling of quietly being by ourselves with nature.


David Lignell 8 years, 8 months ago

Beautiful tribute, Linda. I wish I could have been there to hear the symphony and experience the connection with nature. Thanks for sharing this post.

Ronda Miller 8 years, 8 months ago

Wish I were there now! Thanks, Linda. I am hoping to make it one of these years.

Alia Ahmed 8 years, 8 months ago

Ronda, I bet you wish you were there now. :~ 0 Carry on, this too shall pass.

Linda, I've been to the Symphony of the Prairie in the past and think it a great experience. It has a spiritual quality to it. People treat each other respectfully and it was a chance for me to reflect on what the Native Americans as well as my ancestors experienced when they passed that way. It seems like it the Flint HIlls have probably changed very little in the past several hundred or thousand of years.

Your piece is so well written and I love the photography. Thanks for helping me re-experience it through your writing.

Ralph Gage 8 years, 8 months ago

Hi Linda, Nicely done. Sorry I missed the event, and you, this year.

Linda Hanney 8 years, 8 months ago

Dave & Ronda you should try to go one year. You won't regret it. Just ask Alia and Ralph! Thanks for your comments.

nurse 8 years, 8 months ago

I've attended the Symphony in the Flinthills the past three years and it has been a fantastic experience each year. I particularly enjoyed it last year near Council Grove/Morris County. This year was very good, but I think the little town of Florence got a bad deal. Some of the larger towns (El Dorado, Emporia, etc.) had events going on which overshadowed what Florence was trying to do in conjunction with this event. If you are ever in Florence, stop by the Mercantile. It won't disappoint! Some of the little antique shops were fabulous as well.

Thanks for writing this, Linda, however, I was hoping to keep this event a big secret! When 6,000 tickets sell out in two hours, you know what a big draw this is!

Linda Hanney 8 years, 8 months ago

Nurse, I agree that the small surrounding towns may have been overshadowed by big cities with big tourism budgets. We stayed the night before the concert at Marion County State Lake. Only about 15 minutes from the concert site and there were empty camping sites all around us. At $6 a night, including a hot shower house, it was a great deal. There are many great small town destinations in Kansas. Thanks for your comment.

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