June 21: For the love of music

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Jun 21, 2023

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June 21: For the love of music

Every day should be filled with music, but today, June 21, is the official World Day of Music, which was started in France and highlights music’s universal appeal. No matter your favorite genre, music brings people together and breaks boundaries. 

In honor of this day, we recognize just a few of the organizations that make or bring music to our world. These nonprofits have been supported by the BNSF Railway Foundation, which assists charitable organizations that improve the quality of life for thousands of communities across the 28 states where BNSF operates. 

Symphony in the Flint Hills 

Every June, the Symphony in the Flint Hills is held on a pasture somewhere in the Flint Hills of Kansas, one of the few tallgrass prairies left in North America. The Kansas City Symphony is featured, along with guest artists, treating audiences to an evening of music at sunset on a green rolling landscape. 

This year’s event was the 18th and took place on June 10 in Wabaunsee County, Kansas, with about 6,000 attending. The theme was “Transportation in the Flint Hills,” recognizing the history of transportation – trails and trains in particular – as well as how music and the natural environment can transport our minds, hearts and souls.   

“Our mission is to heighten appreciation and knowledge of the Flint Hills and prairie, with the concert as our signature event,” Sandy Carlson, program manager, explained. “We’re in the middle of nowhere and yet we pull off this beautiful concert. When the music begins, it’s an ‘ah-ha’ moment.” 

Before the music started, guests enjoyed watching a covered wagon, a cattle drive and Pow Wow dancers. They could also listen to guest speakers who discussed topics related to the theme or the grasslands. One of this year’s sessions focused on BNSF’s operations in the region. 

“BNSF’s modern infrastructure through the Flint Hills was born from the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway (ATSF or Santa Fe), which was chartered in 1859 by Cyrus Holliday in Topeka. He saw the promise of a railroad that paralleled the Santa Fe Trail and dreamed of a railroad that would extend to Chicago, St. Louis, Mexico City, San Francisco and Galveston, Texas, passing through the Flint Hills,” BNSF Executive Director Public Affairs Andy Williams said. He noted that BNSF has long been a proud partner with the Symphony in the Flint Hills, where BNSF trains are still common. 

“Those who come to Symphony in the Flint Hills for the first time are hooked – on the beautiful landscape, the history, the biological aspect of the prairie and of course, the music,” Kelly Tastove, operation & donor relations manager, said. “Last year we drew visitors from 47 states and seven countries.” 

This year’s evening ended with the audience singing along to “Home on the Range,” the state song. “It’s very emotional moment that brings a few tears,” added Carlson. 

Bismarck-Mandan Civic Chorus 

About 800 miles north of the Flint Hills is a small metropolitan area on another plains that also has a history with our railroad: Bismarck-Mandan, North Dakota, home to the Bismarck-Mandan Civic Chorus (BMCC). 

For more than 45 years, BMCC has performed locally and across the state, fostering, developing and sharing a passion for choral music. The choir has also performed in other states and cities, including Carnegie Hall in New York City and at community events such as the 9/11 Memorial Service and events of national significance. 

“We’re an all-volunteer organization with people from all walks of life who drive in every week for rehearsal to share their talents,” Tom Porter, BMCC director and chair of music at the University of Mary, said. “From spirituals to folk songs to popular music, we enjoy singing.” Porter was one of the founding members of the group, along with a few others who still sing with the chorus. 

There are longtime members and younger ones as well, with a choir of about 75 singers ranging in age from their 20s to their 70s. All must audition and participate in the three annual concerts: one at Christmas, another around Valentine’s Day and a third in the spring, for which BNSF is a sponsor. 

BMCC also provides education. About 1,600 third graders get a chance to hear and learn about opera one day each year at the This is an Opera program. 

“We talk about what opera is, its history, the voice types – and the fact that opera is all around them, in ring tones, commercials, video games,” Porter said. “They end up enamored with opera and its magnitude.” 

Alliance Bulldog Bands 

Like a lot of towns with one high school and limited funds, the Alliance, Nebraska, Bulldogs bands (marching, jazz and concert) work hard for their programs. Doughnut sales, spaghetti feeds, raffles and chocolate sales are all part of the cause. But when the Bulldogs found out that they will be among 40 high school bands invited to perform at the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl in December in Atlanta, their fundraising went into high gear. 

Alliance is another town where BNSF and predecessor roots run deep, and when a grant application to help fund the trip was received, this was an easy decision to make, especially because the bands’ reputation is why they were nominated. 

“This trip will allow all students that participate in our bands -- from freshmen to seniors -- an educational opportunity to immerse themselves in a rich musical environment,” said Laura Mangas, band director. “This may be the only time they ever leave their local community.” 

For some it will also be the first time to travel by airplane or to leave the state, so it will be much more than just a traditional band competition. “The children will be exposed to other bands, directors, musicians and cultural experiences,” she added. “Our bands are diverse groups with diverse experiences and economic backgrounds, and inclusive to children of many abilities and intellectual needs.” 

Already the bands have begun intense practice that will continue over the next six months, culminating with the travel to Atlanta. Many members are children of BNSF employees, several of whom will also act as chaperones or are helping with the fundraising. 

“This opportunity is much larger to the community and to the children than simply playing in a band,” Mangas said. “The children have the opportunity to look outside of themselves and come together for something great.” 

We wish the Bulldogs success on their journey to Atlanta!  

Just as our railroad serves the local communities in which our employees live and work, so do these music makers. And for the sounds they bring and the spirits they lift, we say “thank you for the music.” And happy World Day of Music to all! 

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