Arts & Culture

Heritage Philharmonic community orchestra marks 75 years with first-ever Helzberg show

As part of Heritage Philharmonic’s 75th anniversary series, organist Jan Kraybill will play at the Community of Christ Auditorium.
As part of Heritage Philharmonic’s 75th anniversary series, organist Jan Kraybill will play at the Community of Christ Auditorium.

The Kansas City Symphony, the Lyric Opera and the Kansas City Ballet have certainly put Kansas City on the map as one of the most vibrant classical music towns in the nation.

But I think what really marks Kansas City as a city of music lovers is its incredible number of community orchestras. These groups are full of committed and talented musicians creating high-level music. And they all have devoted audiences.

Next season, the Heritage Philharmonic will celebrate its 75th anniversary with four concerts showcasing the ensemble’s superb musicianship, which has distinguished Heritage as one of the area’s finest community orchestras.

“I think 75 years is a pretty big thing to celebrate,” said Jim Murray, Heritage Philharmonic’s music director and conductor. “For a nonprofit to be around 75 years after it was started I think is an impressive accomplishment. We’ve been doing this in Eastern Jackson County for a long, long time.”

Murray, remarkably, is only the fourth conductor in the history of the Heritage Philharmonic. The group began as the Independence Symphony Orchestra in 1944. It was founded by Franklyn Weddle of the RLDS Church (now Community of Christ) as a small orchestra to accompany the 29th annual production of the Independence “Messiah.”

“I think each local orchestra responds to the needs of its community,” Murray said. “When we changed the name to Heritage, there was an understanding that we wanted to serve more than just Independence. We still rehearse in Independence but we want to serve the entire area.”

Like other community orchestras, Heritage provides an opportunity for musicians who’ve played instruments their entire lives but have not embraced it as a career to continue playing. Heritage’s concerts are also free, providing easy access to great music.

Heritage will kick off its season on Oct. 19 by going back to its roots with a concert in the Community of Christ Auditorium that will showcase the mighty Auditorium organ.

Jim Murray is Heritage Philharmonic’s music director and conductor. Joe Snapp Photography

“I’m so excited that Jan Kraybill is going to play with us,” Murray said. “She’s doing Saint-Saens’ Organ Symphony. The orchestra hasn’t done it since I’ve been here and, as Jan told me, the Auditorium organ is pretty ideal for this piece of music. And audiences love it.”

That concert will also feature a cameo appearance by Murray’s immediate predecessor, conductor laureate Jack Ergo. He’ll conduct the ever-popular Finlandia.

On Dec. 7, Heritage will present its Holiday Concert, an annual musical sugarplum full of high spirits and the singing of children and the ringing of handbells. The Delta Woods Middle School Honor Choir and the Rhapsody Ringers Handbell Choir are on tap to perform. Expect a singalong, Murray said.

“Our holiday concerts are about an hour and are perfect for the whole family,” he added. “You can come in and get your dose of holiday music and then get on with your shopping.”

It seems appropriate that Heritage will celebrate its diamond anniversary with its first-ever concert in Helzberg Hall on March 15, 2020.

“Part of what we’re trying to do this season is represent the past with the Community of Christ, as well as our current partnerships,” Murray said. “So we’re going to have two choirs join us at Helzberg, the Blue Springs South A Cappella Choir and the Truman High School Concert Choir. They’re going to be our grand chorus for Randall Thompson’s Testament of Freedom. And the big work for the orchestra will be the Swan Lake Suite by Tchaikovsky. When you’re playing Helzberg, you want to pick an orchestral showpiece.”

The season will end, as it always does, with a concert featuring winners of the Kansas City Music Teachers National Association Young Artist Competition.

All concerts are free. For more information, visit

Oct. 19: Finlandia by Jean Sibelius conducted by Jack Ergo, “The Distant Princess” by Alexander Tcherepnin, Rosenkavalier Waltz by Richard Strauss and the Organ Symphony by Camille Saint-Saëns featuring organist Jan Kraybill. 7:30 p.m. at the Community of Christ Auditorium, 1001 W. Walnut St., Independence.

Dec. 7: Annual Heritage Holiday Concert. Seasonal favorites with the Delta Woods Middle School Honor Choir and Rhapsody Ringers Handbell Choir from 1st United Methodist Church-Blue Springs. 7:30 p.m. at Blue Springs High School, 2000 NW Ashton Drive, Blue Springs.

March 15, 2020: Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Suite and Randall Thompson’s Testament of Freedom featuring the Blue Springs South High School A Cappella Choir and Truman High School Concert Choir. 3 p.m. at Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

May 2: Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5, Nocturno by António de Lima Fragoso, the Dolly Suite by Gabriel Fauré and the Slavonic Dance, Op. 46 No. 1 by Dvorák. Other works to be announced performed by Young Artist Competition winners. 7:30 pm Blue Springs High School.

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