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Free State High School orchestra students to perform with KC Symphony at free concert in Lawrence

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Free State High School seniors Morgan Kimuri and Mei Gordon Washington practice cello every day, many mornings before dawn. 

The community will be able to witness the girls’ dedication to their instruments firsthand during a free concert with the Kansas City Symphony’s Mobile Music Box starting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 20 at South Park. 

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Kimuri, Washington and the Free State chamber orchestra will open for the group and play with them. 

“We are very excited,” Washington said. “This is sort of a new experience for both of us. We’ve never done a performance like this before — where we’re a part of a professional ensemble.”

Mid-America Performing Arts Alliance, a Lawrence nonprofit, arranged for members of the Kansas City Symphony to bring its Mobile Music Box to Lawrence not just for Tuesday night’s concert, but for a string of outreach concerts that will take place in the day at local schools. 

One of MAPAA’s core missions is to bring trained musicians to underserved communities throughout the Midwest, said Jesse Henkensiefken, executive director.

Jesse Henkensiefken

“Our whole point is to bring an extraordinary level of artistry and culture and musicianship to the Midwest, you know, to a place that … could be seen as underserved,” Henkensiefken said.

“(We asked), ‘how can we help students, the aspiring young musicians, the university students, the high school students, the elementary kids, you know, how can we impact them and introduce them to music and artists that they may otherwise not have any access to at all?” 

One answer was to bring the Kansas City Music Box to Woodlawn Elementary School. 

“We’re doing an outreach concert (for) about 200 kids and 40 faculty,” Henkensiefken said. “They’re just all kind of stopping their day, coming out and we’re gonna … play for these kids.”  

MAPAA and the Mobile Music Box will also play for Limestone Community School.  

“(This) is an incredible and unique experience for the participants,” said Tatiana Tessman, MAPAA’s artistic director and Henkensiefken’s wife. “Both Woodlawn and Limestone Community Elementary Schools get their very own private Kansas City Symphony Music Box Lawn concerts for their student body and staff.”  

Tatiana Tessman

Tessman, who co-founded MAPAA, trained under maestro Mstislav Rostropovich, considered by many to be one of the best cellists of all time. She credits Rostropovich with altering her own career trajectory, enabling her to become a concert pianist and an international, award-winning musician. 

Through MAPAA, Tessman hopes to impart Rostropovich’s legacy to a new generation of musicians. 

“The most important thing a professional musician can do is reach their hand out to help aspiring young artists, offering inspiration and helping them reach their potential in developing their talent,” Tessman said. 

Part of MAPAA’s mission is to connect students with renowned musician mentors. To prepare for the upcoming concert, Kimuri and Washington were able to rehearse with cellists from the Kansas City Symphony. 

Judy Erpelding, director of the Free State orchestra, believes her students will be positively shaped by the experience of playing with a professional ensemble. And her students are ready for the opportunity. 

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Judy Erpelding

“Some of these (students) are the best musicians in the state for their grades on their instruments,” Erpelding said. “They already perform some pretty high level music, … and honestly some of these kids have gotten to see some of these musicians on stage before so this is going to be a very cool opportunity for them to get to sit on stage and sit next to them and play with them and play at their level to some extent.” 

The performance with the Kansas City Symphony aligns with Erpelding’s goal of teaching students how to prepare for gig events like weddings and holiday parties. 

“These kids are learning real-world applications right now on how to book events, to perform in events, and what kind of literature they should be choosing to do that,” she said. “This one’s just extra special because … opening for the Kansas City Symphony members, … performing with experienced professional musicians, is a very rare opportunity, and it’s so cool to get to do that while we’re here in Lawrence.”

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Kimuri has been playing cello for nine years but hasn’t done much “gigging” yet. Excited to play with Kansas City Symphony members, she sees the experience as a treasured highlight of her burgeoning musical career.

“If I don’t stay with an orchestra, I still plan on playing in groups outside of school, and doing more gigs in the future,” she said.   

To “gig” well, students need to have a repertoire, or set list, at the ready. Erpelding teaches her students to learn 30 to 50 songs they could play at any hired gigs. 

Her students will play some of these songs — like “Viva La Vida” and “La Bamba” — at Tuesday’s concert. 

There will be food vendors at Tuesday’s concert, including 23rd Street Brewing Company, Sandwich Bowl, Torched Goodness, and Kona Ice. See more upcoming MAPAA events at this link.

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Morgan Kimuri practices with fellow Free State orchestra members on Sept. 15, 2022.

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Chansi Long (she/her), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, has a bachelor of science in mass media from Baker University and a master’s in nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa. She’s been published in the Washington Post, River Teeth and Brevity. She was honored to be named Kansas Writer of the Year by the Winfield Arts and Humanities Council in 2016 for her essay “Lovesick.”

Read more of her work for the Times here.

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