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Leave the suit: No Divide KC wants you to bring your authentic self to the concert hall

Artists from No Divide's 2021 Queer Narratives Festival.
No Divide KC
Artists from No Divide's 2021 Queer Narratives Festival.

By changing expectations surrounding concert etiquette and affordability, the organization is removing barriers that have deterred audiences from classical music in the past.

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.

The institution of Classical Music — capital C, capital M — is notoriously daunting. Traditionally reserved for those of the ruling class, the art form originated over 500 years ago with the nobility and the church, performance limited to those with education and training.

Opportunities to participate in and enjoy classical music have become increasingly available to all sorts of people, but layers of expectation developed, with audience participation limited to silent observation and polite appreciation.

Working to erase that stigma, No Divide KC challenges the barriers inherent in the traditional concert experience with “Come As You Are: Vulnerability in the Concert Space.” It’s their first performance of the year, partnering with KCVITAs, newEar Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, and the Mid America Freedom Band.

“It's goal is to break down some of the accessibility barriers in the concert hall, by programming composers whose voices are not often represented,” says Stacy Busch, co-founder and No Divide KC president.

“The etiquette [of the concert hall] is prohibitive to some people...if it's not something you have been invited into,” says Busch. “I know from my own personal experience that that's something that composers and performers feel as well, if they don't precisely fit into a role that has been assigned. It can feel isolating and stifling, creatively.”

They also address some of the socio-economic barriers to audiences. The performance is free to attend (though donations are accepted) at the ADA-accessible St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. There is no expectation of black tie attire for the performers or attendees. Waved away, too, are the unwritten rules of hushed reverence that veil performances.

“Clapping is available to everyone, anytime,” laughs Busch.

Vulnerability, in our modern age, is more about honesty than weakness. No Divide KC integrates the arts and artistic events to advocate for social causes and create safe spaces for performers and audiences by including diverse voices in all their programming, leadership, and decision making.

“I think in particular something that we've seen over the past few years is this response that people have when they attend our events that the environment feels very safe and supportive and I think that's become something that is really unique to us,” says Busch.

No Divide KC was recently awarded a Cultural Producers Grant from the Charlotte Street Foundation, in acknowledgment of their mission to support under-served communities and under-represented voices.

“Come As You Are” includes three newly-commissioned pieces and four art songs, each addressing vulnerability in a different way, including queer love, neurodivergent perceptions, and issues of race, gender, and sexuality. The concert runs for approximately an hour.

No Divide KC also removes the pay-to-play aspect of composition competitions, with free score submissions, and compensates their performing artists (there’s no “play for the exposure” racket here, thank you very much).

Many of the composers are new voices to the Kansas City arts scene. Two, in fact, are making their United States debut: Robert McIntyre from Australia and Rylan Gleave from Scotland.

To help establish a welcoming environment as people enter the space, the program starts with a pre-concert video, with composers and No Divide KC members sharing more about their experience in classical music.

“We have a bit of a following that wants to come to our events, no matter what the event is, because they know the experience,” says Busch.

The organization also host events like the annual Queer Narratives Festival, Bilingual Poetry Workshop, storytelling events, and Trans Day of Visibility.

“They feel a part of it and they feel some amount of ownership and safety in just attending these events. We've started to cultivate a community of people that are really interested in artistic programming and want to see cool, artistic local events happening.”

No Divide KC presents “Come As You Are: Vulnerability in the Concert Space” Saturday March 19 at 7 p.m. For more information and current COVID-19 protocols visit

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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