Guest Commentary

Don Loncasty: Once again for the Kansas City Chorale, the thrill of the Grammys

The Kansas City Chorale performed last fall at Visitation Church.
The Kansas City Chorale performed last fall at Visitation Church.

I’m headed to Los Angeles this weekend for the Grammy Awards. A few years ago, I would never have imagined that I’d type those words someday.

I am executive director of the Kansas City Chorale, a professional chorus of 12 men and 12 women who craft remarkably superb music, led by Artistic Director Charles Bruffy. Three times now the wonderfulness of that music has been recognized by our colleagues at the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences with several nominations and even a couple of wins. Most recently, three years ago this month our album, “Life and Breath: Choral Works by Rene Clausen,” won the Grammy for Best Choral Performance.

At that awards ceremony, I was overwhelmed by the excitement of it all. The memory remains vivid:

After passing several checkpoints to prove that I really am who I say I am, I make my way down the red carpet, weaving through the phalanx of reporters and well-wishers, and finally into the hall. Soon I hear the presenter say, “and the nominees for this year’s best choral recording are ….” And then I hear “the Kansas City Chorale,” spoken in the same breath as four other internationally renowned recording artists…. And then I realize that it is Janis Ian saying it….. It’s wonderfully jarring.

What a kick to be there. Down the row from us is Elton John, and down from him is Johnny Depp (who said to us when a handshake was offered, “Hi, good to meet you, John Depp here.”) And I am feeling oh-so-proud. Proud of our talented and dedicated choristers who have truly earned this distinction. Proud of our city, proud of the arts groups in Kansas City we get to count ourselves among.

As I sit in this heady environment, along with our conductor and most of the singers of the Kansas City Chorale, I realize that 15 years ago when I first walked into the chorale offices there was no really lively Crossroads Arts District. No Kauffman Center. No ArtsKC. It’s hard to believe that after just a few short years, we now call ourselves America’s Creative Crossroads. And we are! Economic impact? How about a quarter of a billion dollars. As a percentage of the area’s economy, twice the national average.

Having come back to earth and back in my office, still riding high, I open the mail to find a letter from Mayor Sly James addressed to Charles. He congratulates us on our win, and then writes: “The arts community is our cultural cornerstone in Kansas City, and it brings me great pleasure to see this legacy honored on the biggest stage in music.”

That one phrase sums up the emotion that all of us shared as we heard the words, “and the Grammy goes to ….”

Talk about bursting with pride, realizing that this little band of ours stood on that stage that night, accepted our award and was lucky enough to represent this wonderful city of ours to the world. His letter is in a frame on the wall now. Right next to our Grammys.

Don Loncasty is executive director of the Kansas City Chorale. Its recording of Rachmaninoff’s “All-Night Vigil,” performed with the Phoenix Chorale and under the direction of Charles Bruffy, is a Grammy finalist. Awards will be announced Feb. 15.