'Can't live without it': A lifelong love of music endures in Lee's Summit
After decades as music educator in the Lee's Summit School District, Russ Berlin co-founded the Lee's Summit Symphony as an outlet for his former students and other community members to continue musical pursuits. Now the Symphony celebrates 20 years of music making and age-less inspiration.
If you grew up playing instrumental music in Lee's Summit, Missouri, chances are high that you may know the name Russ Berlin.
For decades, Berlin was a fixture of the Lee's Summit school system and a mentor to countless kids. After retiring as a teacher in 1999, he helped form the Lee's Summit Symphony in 2003, continuing his positive influence, even after students graduated.
"We had such a strong music program in the Lee's Summit schools," he says, "and many of those students, after college degrees or getting married, they were coming back to Lee's Summit and they had that same feeling that I did."
Berlin adds that "they needed a place to play and I thought our city was primed."
There was a lot of interest in the group from the very beginning.
"We had around 90 people that were there for the first rehearsal," says Berlin. "So there was a need."
"It's one of the best things we've got going in Lee's Summit. I know there are other good things, but we get a lot of compliments on what we're getting accomplished," he says with a smile.
After years of leading the group, Berlin passed the baton in 2021 to fellow Lee’s Summit music educator Kirt Mosier.
Celebrating 20 years
This season, the Lee's Summit Symphony is celebrating 20 years with several performances, including at John Knox Village, a senior living community in Lee's Summit.
Making classical music accessible for all is key to the Symphony's mission.
"We have young (people) coming, we have the elderly coming," Mosier says. "Picking a wide variety of music and appealing to many different types of listeners has really been helpful."
The Symphony not only plays in senior living center pavilions and multipurpose rooms, they also perform at grand concert halls like the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Kansas City.
Their performance inside Helzberg Hall last season was a big moment for Mosier and the Symphony.
"The concert emphasized community and excellence," he says. "We were representing our own community, Lee's Summit, and we were able to put on something at that level."
For that Kauffman Center concert, the Symphony bussed John Knox residents from Lee's Summit so they could attend the performance. It was a meaningful step for Berlin, who is now a John Knox resident himself.
"I thought it was very special," he says. "I have heard so many compliments, and it's almost every day I hear from one or two people how much that meant to them."
More information about the 20th anniversary season of the Lee's Summit Symphony is at LSSymphony.org.