Central Appalachia Inspired an Orchestral Tour

Wildlands Blog: by Sarah Lempke O’Hare, Director of Education & Community Partnerships, Louisville Orchestra

Over the last two years, Sarah and the Louisville Orchestra (LO) team embarked on a unique tour of the Commonwealth, gaining inspiration from the Central Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky. Read her story below about how the small seed of an idea took root and is growing strong today.

In the fall of 2021, Music Director Teddy Abrams and I were invited for a two-night trip to Pine Mountain with folks from Kentucky Natural Lands Trust. I had recently started as the Director of Education and Community Partnerships with the Louisville Orchestra in February of that year. We didn’t have an Executive Director at the time, but Teddy was working closely with members of senior staff on the idea of a state-wide tour of the orchestra. Nothing like this had ever been done before. While many of us were working at capacity how could I pass up a trip to a beautiful area of the state I hadn’t visited before with a group of people who seemed so passionate about the area?

Our fall trip to Pine Mountain will forever hold a special place in my heart. Driving around the mountains with KNLT founder Marc Evans, board member Mo McKnight Howe, and ED Greg Abernathy, we learned about the land and its rich culture. We heard the unbelievably inspiring story of communities who have endured so much, continue to thrive and the pride they have in those beautiful mountains. I vividly remember standing on the edge of a lookout by Wiley’s Last Resort admiring the mountains asking Teddy, “OK, so how are we really going to do this?” And we talked for some time and envisioned the steps needed to bring the joy of music making to so many people so far from home. That plan, combined with the relationships we formed with CANE Kitchen, Harlan County Tourism, Appalshop, and many more were the seeds that started such an amazing project.

Fast forward to the spring of 2022 with some very hard work and a lot of support, the Louisville Orchestra was given a significant appropriation from the State of Kentucky Legislature to tour the state of Kentucky for 6 weeks over 2 seasons. The vision that Teddy had had the previous year could begin to take shape. This project was not simply to provide free concerts, but to partner with local organizations to bring educational and community engagement services that support their missions and programs.

We began with one week in November of 2022, sending education ensembles to every area of the state – 28 performances in 3 days to be exact! Next, we were thrilled to begin the first week of tour with the full orchestra in Southeastern Kentucky, visiting Prestonsburg, Pineville and Harlan this May. That week felt like a homecoming – to see everyone again and to come back to Appalachia to deliver the performances and partnerships we had promised. It filled us all with so much hope and joy to bring these beautiful services to the community who was so thankful to have us there.

As we continue this journey, working in communities around Kentucky, the communities of Southeastern Kentucky will always be home to us and this precious opportunity we have right now, bringing the orchestra to those who might not have access to the transformative experiences that have impacted us in our lives.

Learn more about the Louisville Orchestra “In Harmony” Tour on the LO website. The next legs of their tour resume this September: louisvilleorchestra.org/inharmonytour/.

photo credits:
Pine Mountain outing pictures by ~ Greg Abernathy, KNLT
Teddy Abrams & the Louisville Orchestra performing in Harlan pictures by Scott Warren
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