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These seasonal activities in Kansas City bring light and warmth to the classical music landscape

David DeHetre
The Country Club Plaza shines in the wintertime with its array of string lights.

As the days get shorter and the nights grow longer, moments of light and renewal shine even brighter in our lives. Classical KC and KCUR staff members contributed their favorite seasonal events and traditions to our guide to find warmth and radiance in darker times

This story was first published in Classical KC's "Take Note" newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox the first Wednesday of every month.

In the arctic region of Lapland, the sun sets in October and doesn’t rise again until February, but the prolonged dark is both beloved and beautiful. During this Polar Night, Laplanders enjoy perpetual twilight, northern lights, blue shadows, and cozy traditions.

Here in Kansas City, our darkness isn’t as extreme, but as the winter solstice approaches our extended nights offer opportunities to celebrate the light we do have: pearly pink sunsets, candlelight concerts, treasured traditions, the warmth of friends and family, and the constant companionship of 24/7 classical music on the radio.

Staff at Classical KC and KCUR shared some of their favorite seasonal events, events that bring joy in the darker hours and make them “light up” during the holidays.

Burning brightly

You can enjoy Opus 76 string quartet’s Yule Log Fireplace video during a cozy evening at home or as background for a holiday party — six hours of crackling fire under the string quartets of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Joseph Hadyn, Felix Mendelssohn, Franz Schubert, and Johannes Brahms, performed by Opus 76.

You can also see Opus 76 in person for Fever’s Candlelight Concerts, performing music from “The Nutcracker,” Antonio Vivaldi’s “Winter” and other seasonal favorites on Dec. 13, 22, and 23 at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception.

Other candlelight concerts include Fountain City String Quartet performing the music of Coldplay, Taylor Swift and Adele at the Gem Theater.

Comforting traditions

Popular among Classical KC and KCUR staff is the annual broadcast of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, England. Each year, KCUR host and contributor Brian Ellison live tweets the Christmas Eve morning broadcast with, he says, “a community of folks around the world in absolute choral-music-nerd mode.” Even though he’ll be in South Dakota over the holidays, he’ll be listening to Classical KC’s livestream during the broadcast.

You can also enjoy a uniquely-Kansas City version with Te Deum Chamber Choir and poet/spoken word artist Natasha Ria El-Scari. El-Scari wholly reimagined the text through her African American feminist lens for this production. “Lessons and Carols for Today” is performed Dec. 18 at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and Dec. 19 at Village Presbyterian Church.

KCUR’s Director of Philanthropic Giving, David Fulk, also enjoys the King’s College broadcast, but another favorite is closer to home: William Jewell College’s annual The City Come Again. “It’s now a 40 year tradition,” says Fulk. “I’ve been to all but three of them. My gratitude is that we now have Classical KC to share this music with our audience.”

The William Jewell Concert Choir 2013
Kyle Rivas/William Jewell College
William Jewell College
The William Jewell Concert Choir 2013

The free live event is Monday, Dec. 11 at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral at noon. Classical KC re-broadcasts the recordings Dec. 23 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 24 at 1 p.m. on 91.9 FM.

The family of Classical KC Director Stephen Steigman gather around their menorahs.
Stephen Steigman
The family of Classical KC Director Stephen Steigman gather around their menorahs.

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah is called the “Festival of Lights” and is a time for family, games, stories, fried foods, and candlelight. Stephen Steigman, Director of Classical KC, enjoys “the look and feel of all of our hanukiot (Hanukkah menorahs) being lit up with nine candles each on the last night of Hanukkah. It’s a real barn burner!”

Classical KC’s senior producer Sam Wisman’s tradition includes visiting his hometown temple and performing with friends and family in the Temple Beth Shalom-Topeka Intergenerational Hanukkah Band during the annual Hanukkah celebration.

Classical KC airs two special programs this year during Hanukkah. The holiday officially begins at sundown on Dec. 7 and at 7 p.m., enjoy Chanukah Memories and Melodies. On Dec. 9 and 10 tune in to the annual broadcast of Candles Burning Brightly.

Joyful revelry

Morning Host and Community Engagement Specialist Christy L’Esperance treasures “the hilarious chaos of preschool Christmas concerts; SNOW - falling and blanketing the whole city, creating marshmallow fluff from the ground up; Midnight Mass - the smells and bells, the dark and the candlelight, the quiet and the carols.”

Afternoon Host and Digital Audience Specialist Brooke Knoll is used to the cold—she’s from Minnesota originally. And as a Minnesota native and former choir kid, she looks forward to the St. Olaf Christmas Festival airing on Dec. 25 at 1 p.m. “The St. Olaf choirs and Christmas go hand-in-hand for me.” She also recommends music that evokes light and renewal, like Max Richter’s On the Nature of Daylight and Eric Whitacre’s Lux Arumque.

And while stillness and calm are appreciated during the chaos of the season, jollity is part of the tradition, too, spreading joy and goodwill toward all.

Kansas City holds the Guinness World Record for Largest Tuba Ensemble, achieved in 2018 at the annual TubaChristmas concert.
Kansas City Symphony
Kansas City holds the Guinness World Record for Largest Tuba Ensemble, achieved in 2018 at the annual TubaChristmas concert.

TubaChristmas is one such tradition. While it didn’t start in Kansas City, the tuba community has embraced it. In 2018, TubaChristmas Kansas City set the Guinness World Record for largest tuba ensemble with 835 players. KCUR’s Karen Campbell, Director of Institutional Giving and Communications, loves the annual performance: “Seriously, it’s so silly that it’s a delight and now a tradition a friend began with me when I was particularly down in the dumps. It’s an outing we enjoy every year now!”

If you missed the Dec. 5 TubaChristmas performance this year, you can still attend TromboneChristmas on Dec. 16 at Crown Center. Learn about the genesis of both events with Brooke Knoll’s interview with some of the organizers for Classical KC’s Local Feature last year.

No matter how you celebrate, there’s plenty of options to bring joy, light, and music to your holiday planning, from full symphony orchestras to solo harp. Peruse CKC’s Community Calendar to see upcoming events, check out last month’s Take Note featuring area choirs performing throughout the season, and tune in to CKC’s holiday programming schedule.

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen is a freelance writer in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. Learn more at Proust Eats a Sandwich.