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Each week, KCUR's Adventure! newsletter brings you a new way to explore the Kansas City region.

Let these Kansas City artists provide your winter soundtrack

An orchestra and chorus in a concert hall with festive lighting
The Kansas City Symphony
The Kansas City Symphony and Symphony Chorus perform during the 2021 Christmas Festival.

'Tis the season! Pair your favorite winter activities in Kansas City with festive musical selections from Kansas City musicians.

This story was first published in Classical KC's Take Note and KCUR's Creative Adventure newsletters. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox.

This time of year, music seems to be in the air — literally. Bells ring outside shopping centers, jingling amidst the endless loop of innocuous holiday songs. Lights twinkle on tree branches down city streets as the globe turns mercilessly toward the winter solstice here on the Northern Hemisphere. Folks hurry busily through year-end errands, visit with friends and family, and attend seasonal events, with a variety of holidays at hand.

Kansas City artists have rocked winter for years, in every style. KCUR contributor Bill Brownlee created a Top Ten list in 2020 that still rings true, featuring jazz, blues, and gospel.

Music is a central component of the winter season, aiding in celebrations, helping navigate the season’s stressors, and intrinsically entwined with our desire to create and capture the perfect winter mood. In this collaboration between Creative Adventures and Classical KC's Take Note, find music selections to pair with your favorite seasonal activities.

Shine a light

David DeHetre
Kansas City's Country Club Plaza features thousands of lights during the holiday season.

Candles, twinkle lights, and toasty fires light our nights during the winter months. Many of the seasonal holidays involve the ceremonial lighting of candles, whether it’s for the Advent wreath, a Saint Lucia crown, the Hanukkah menorah, or the Kwanzaa kinare. Visit classicalkc.org to see the schedule for special holiday programming to accompany your festivities.

In the early 18th century, Antonio Vivaldi wrote The Four Seasons violin concerto and nothing else quite captures the sound of a flurry of falling snow like “Winter.” The musicians of the Kansas City Symphony included an excerpt of the popular favorite in its holiday countdown series in 2020, making it a perfect soundtrack for putting lights on a Christmas tree or placing candles around the house.

There’s something about the sound of string instruments that feels cozy and comforting, much like sitting by a roaring bonfire or fireplace. The Wires string duo is the alter ego of the hosts of Classical KC’s Sound Currents: Sascha Groschang and Laurel Parks. Their album Winter is a collection of Christmas-themed tunes, but they’ve also written less specifically holiday music that evokes a sense of stillness and wonder, like “Zero in the River.”

The Kansas City Chamber Orchestra collaborated with folk singer Connie Dover back in 2007, making a sweet album of traditional tunes that flicker and gleam, including the title track “The Holly and the Ivy.” Pair it with a pine scented candle while cozying up on the couch and drinking hot chocolate, or embracing any relaxing holiday ritual.

Let it snow!

Celebrate the season with a great skate escape at Ice Terrace at Crown Center.
Crown Center
Celebrate the season with a great skate escape at Ice Terrace at Crown Center.

Despite the cold, winter offers many outdoor activities to get hearts pumping and keep cheeks rosy. Skating, skiing, and sledding are just some examples that requires music that energizes.

And nothing generates energy quite like swinging jazz. Check out “Let It Snow” from 2015’s A Very Swingin’ Basie Christmas!, featuring the legendary Count Basie Orchestra. Or track down “Christmas in Kansas City,” a 2006 album by the Kerry Strayer Orchestra, with music performed at the Plaza Lighting Ceremony. Singer Lisa Henry really makes you believe it’s “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

The internationally-respected and award-winning Fountain City Brass Band — celebrating its 20th anniversary this season — performs holiday-themed concerts during December and plans to release an album of some of their favorites later in the month. Enjoy the virtual concert the band released in 2020.

Naturally, pianist Vince Guaraldi’s “Skating” suits the act of gliding across the ice. Every few years or so, there’s the opportunity to hear the album live. This year, Classical KC’s own producer Sam Wisman performs on drums with The Coterie’s A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Making space

The Snow Globes, a Kansas City-based trio, offers a new twist on traditional and classic songs of the season.
Tom Styrkowicz
The Snow Globes, a Kansas City-based trio, offers a new twist on traditional and classic songs of the season.

Long winter nights indoors can lead to maker-paloozas, filled with crafts and creative projects, baking and cookie decorating, sending out holiday cards, wrapping gifts, and thinking about those in need: contributing to charity or making care packages for those far away or less fortunate.

Whatever artistic or gift-giving adventures you embark on, lowkey pop music is a perfect accompaniment. Kansas City’s trio The Snow Globes comes together just a few times a year. Proceeds from their albums — they have five so far — go to The Wash Project, a community-led initiative in Mali focused on improving public health, women's empowerment and food security.

It can be a difficult time of year for many people, overwhelmed by circumstances and obligation, and music can help remind us to be thoughtful and introspective. In late 2020, the husband-and-wife duo of Barnaby Bright released their holiday album In A Bleak Midwinter, a mix of familiar tunes and originals, including the single, “The Hurting Times.”

Violence, homelessness, and food insecurity affect many while the war in Ukraine rages on. The popular tune “Carol of the Bells” is based on a Ukrainian song. Enjoy a stunning version Isaac Cates and Ordained recorded in 2014.

Gathering together

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

From caroling to group sing-alongs, it’s the time of year for group participation, whether at home with friends and family or out and about.

Unfortunately, the annual Messiah sing-along isn’t happening at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral this year, though there is no shortage of recordings of George Frideric Handel’s work if you want to try at home.

Folks come together in more ways than one. Listen to Classical KC’s Local Feature Saturday, December 10, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, December 11, at 1 p.m. to hear from organizers of the region’s annual TubaChristmas and Trombone Christmas, where hundreds of area brass players of all ages and skill levels come together to perform.

Snowy hikes can be a magical way to engage with the season and each other. With the air glittering and the world hushed, it’s a perfect respite shared with a kindred spirit. It seems almost sacrilege to suggest any music, but what’s a more fitting setting than a rendition of Silent Night, recorded live by the Kansas City Chorale in an ethereal arrangementby composer Ed Frazier Davis.

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.
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