Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Music in a Pasture: Symphony in the Flint Hills

I'm used to playing a horn in the pasture. I pride myself on my rhythmic beep-beep-beeping of the pickup horn to attract our cattle to the corral during a round-up from summer pasture.

But my lonely solo pales in comparison to hearing 80 professional musicians play horns and strings and percussion in the middle of the Kansas prairie. Saturday, I went to my first Symphony in the Flint Hills. Brent, Jill, Eric and the girls got me tickets for a combination Mother's Day and birthday present.
I had always wanted to go, but I never bought them for myself because of the uncertainty of wheat harvest timing. But when others had put down their hard-earned money on my behalf, I was going to make it work, no matter what. Randy was baling hay, so Brent graciously agreed to accompany me.
Photo by Brent with Instagram filter
As I listened to the swell of symphonic music float on the hot breeze of a Kansas evening and drank in the vibrant green rolling landscape under a hazy, humid sky, I pretended I was sopping up sweat instead of tears. It was just so beautiful, but I didn't figure my date would appreciate my emotional response.

It was the 11th annual Symphony of the Flint Hills. This year, it was in the South Clements pasture owned by cattleman Edward Bass in Chase County, but the venue changes each year. After turning off of Highway 177 south of Strong City, a  narrow, curving dirt road was the only way in and out of the venue. I wondered what the city folk thought as the fine dust swirled around cars in a very different form of traffic jam.
Because of the hot forecast, we timed our arrival for later afternoon.
But it still gave me time to wander around the pasture, taking photos of wildflowers and the rolling hills so different from our flat pastures only 2 hours to the west.
The Flint Hills are part of the tallgrass prairie. In Kansas, they stretch from Marshall County in the north down through Riley, Geary, Pottawatomie, Wabaunsee, Morris, Lyon, Chase, Greenwood, Butler, Elk, Cowley and Chautauqua Counties and then into Oklahoma, where they are called the Osage Hills. These 5 million acres comprise the largest expanse of tallgrass prairie in the world.

The Flint Hills began as a vast inland sea 270 million years ago, which left scattered limestone and shallow soil behind. With the rocks less than a foot down, this part of the prairie was spared the plow and left in native grass. It’s the prairie mosaic that author William Least Heat-Moon called “360 degrees of sky.”

While it certainly isn't the mountains of Colorado, it's also very different from the stereotypical flat lands of Kansas.
The light and shadows played hide-and-seek in the gentle nooks and crannies of the rolling Plains covered in lush grass after plentiful spring rains.
Kansas City Symphony Conductor Aram Demirjian directed a program that led off with “Celebration Overture” by Peter Boyer. As the orchestra's notes rose and fell, it certainly seemed like a celebration of music and nature's beauty.
As the orchestra transitioned to "The Magnificent Seven," cowboys herded cattle as a backdrop.
I am used to seeing cattle on pasture, but watching the cowboys ride across the landscape while an orchestra played was a little different from our 4-wheeler round-ups.
Other symphony selections were by quintessential American composer Aaron Copland; the folk song, "Shenandoah"; and the theme music from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Dances with Wolves," among others.
Photo by Brent, which he edited on Instagram
"America the Beautiful" was certainly truth in advertising as the sun was setting in the hazy sky. As the concert came to an end, the 7,000 or so spectators, donors and volunteers stood and sang "Home on the Range," a tradition of Symphony in the Flint Hills.
As I packed up my collapsible chair and my cooler now less full of bottled water and walked out of the "Welcome" gate sign, I thought about the words to a less-familiar verse of Kansas' state song, "Home on the Range," words that we'd just sung in unison:

How often at night when the heavens are bright
With the light from the glittering stars
Have I stood there amazed and asked as I gazed
If their glory exceeds that of ours.

Yes ... indeed.

The Kansas City Star has a short video clip from Saturday's night's concert. I was a good girl and didn't record any video of the concert, so click on the link to get just a small taste of the symphony's music. And, if you get a chance, go to Symphony of the Flint Hills yourself. Next year, it's June 10, 2017, at the Deer Horn Ranch in Geary County. For more information, go to their website, www.symphonyintheflinthills.org.


  1. Oh boy I bet that was fun. Beautiful music and beautiful surroundings----I wanna be there!!!
    Thank you for posting this--I am always amazed at the wonderful vistas of our 'America the Beautiful'.

    1. Everything was very well done. It's amazing that they create a concert venue each year in the middle of a different pasture. (This setting had been used once before, but next year is in a different location.)

  2. Oh how fun, Miss Kim! A new experience that you have been wanting to do and a date with Brent! What a neat Mother's Day/Birthday gift.

    It's always fun to take in something new. I'm not a materialistic person and am discovering that I enjoy new experiences, simple dates, conversations, etc. with family and friends.

    J is on his way home from a "one last thing" parts run. He wants to hit the hay field tomorrow. Good Luck with haying and wheat harvest 2016!

    1. Thanks, Robyn! We got started cutting wheat today, so the journey has begun. Good luck with your haying!

  3. Totally awesome event. Shame about the heat, but what a perfect ending to a hot day. Soon green!

    1. It's par for the course in Kansas in June!

  4. I've never been, but most of my family has been. You were definitely on "my" turf--Dad's farm is not too far away. Beautiful!

    1. I loved all of it - except the heat! But that is Kansas in June.

  5. When I first saw the Flint Hills, I was so overwhelmed with peace. It truly is God's country!! I'd never seen anything so beautiful. I'd love to come back and take the drive again.