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The Bluestem Post

An orchestra on the prairie

The communities in which Bluestem Communities calls home are well rounded. Situated in the rural areas of south central Kansas that boast a strong agricultural and manufacturing presence, the area is also rich in the fine arts. 

One such fine arts organization that has been a longtime part of the wider community is the Newton Mid-Kansas Symphony Orchestra (NMKSO). 

NMKSO was started in 1956 as the Newton Civic Chorus and Orchestra by Elvera Voth, a Bethel College (North Newton, Kan.) choral director and current Bluestem Communities resident, who needed a large orchestra for her choral oratorio performances. Over the years, the group evolved and became more of a stand-alone orchestra. Now in its 67th season, NMKSO presents classical music performed by local musicians. 

“This community and the surrounding area are so musically rich,” said Jill Gatz, NMKSO general manager. “Many people participate in music through high school and college and it remains very important to them even if they haven’t made it their career. Being part of musical groups develops a camaraderie that is very meaningful. Newton Mid-Kansas Symphony Orchestra gives musicians an opportunity to continue making music with others.” 

The orchestra’s seasons run from fall through summer. The 2023-24 season includes three classics concerts and a summer chamber music concert, as well as school outreach and special events. Each classics concert features 60 to 65 musicians. NMKSO is directed by Dr. Chris Westover- Muñoz, now in his second full season. Westover-Muñoz previously taught three years at Bethel College (North Newton, Kan.), and now serves as Associate Professor of Music and Director of Bands at Denison University (Granville, Ohio).

Because many of the musicians have careers outside of music and performance, the orchestra has implemented a festival format for concerts and rehearsals, making it easier for community musicians to commit to. Musicians work on their music on their own in the weeks leading up to a concert. Full concert rehearsals then begin the Friday evening prior to a Sunday afternoon concert. 

“Having a place in their own community for musicians to perform is meaningful, and it’s also meaningful for audiences,” said Westover-Muñoz. “The community is what makes Newton Mid-Kansas Symphony Orchestra work. It’s your friends and neighbors you see playing in the orchestra and also that you see in the audience. It’s high-quality and welcoming. The fine arts are alive and well in Harvey County.” 

Concerts are typically held at Memorial Hall on the Bethel College campus or the Newton High School Auditorium. Season tickets and single tickets are available at nmkso.org, or two weeks prior to concerts at Faith and Life Bookstore in Newton.

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