Snyder: Playing a new tune: This is not your father’s Kenosha Symphony




“Outdoor fun” and “Kenosha Symphony Orchestra.”

Those aren’t phrases that immediately come together in anyone’s mind.

But Sarah Gorke is out to change that perception.

Since joining the symphony as its executive director in March, Gorke has been working on an ambitious “rebranding” project for the symphony.

“The old way of thinking was that we expected people to come to us,” she says. “But we should go to the community — and, if people like what they hear, we’d love to have them come to our concerts.”

If the high level of energy and enthusiasm at the symphony’s downtown office is any indication, they are on the right track.

As part of that community outreach focus, the symphony will be at Kenosha HarborMarket Saturday for a top-secret “happenings” at 10 and 11 a.m. Then, on July 26, the group is sponsoring an “instrument petting zoo,” with members of the public welcome — and encouraged — to play with a variety of string, brass, woodwind and percussion instruments.

The symphony is also hosting a Diamond Gala on Aug. 22 to celebrate its 75th anniversary, but perhaps the biggest news is the “Shindig on the Shore,” a free, outdoor symphony concert at the band shell in Pennoyer Park.

“We’re hoping this event will be ‘Ravinia meets the Pops meets the Kenosha Symphony,’” Gorke says.

Besides the concert — featuring movie music Gorke describes as “relatable and exciting for the public” — the Shindig will feature vendors, food (and, they hope, beer if the permit comes through) and children’s activities.

There will also be free cake.

Because who doesn’t love free cake?

“When the music is done, we will all sing ‘happy birthday’ to the symphony and serve birthday cake,” Gorke says. “This event is our way of thanking the community for 75 years of support.”

Gorke is hoping to make the Shindig an annual event and, as a way of involving the community, students in the Kenosha Unified School District’s Summer Strings Program will join the symphony on stage for a few pieces.

A new direction

An adjunct professor of voice at Carthage College, Gorke has performed as a vocalist with the Kenosha Symphony, the Community Sing-Along “Messiah” and other groups. “I am thankful to be tapped into the community through those performances,” she says.

Steering the 75-year-old organization in a new direction is a challenge Gorke welcomes.

“I love the creativity of the job,” she says, “and I am also a type A personality, and I love checking things off lists.”

She was thrilled to find that, as she began talking with community members about the symphony, “the majority of people I’ve spoken with want the symphony to thrive. I’m thankful in a city big enough to sustain an orchestra for 75 years, there’s still that desire to have us succeed.”

Gorke admits, however, that the symphony needs a higher profile, adding, “I have friends in the community who didn’t even know we have a Kenosha Symphony.”

She’s hoping to change that through several events leading up to the symphony’s season opener on Oct. 18.

A month of events

“That first concert will feature Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which is a major work,” Gorke says.

Before that concert, RG Productions will perform an old-time radio show featuring Beethoven, the Kenosha Public Library will host “listening nights” and a Beethoven-related book discussion, and Carthage College will show the documentary “Following the Ninth” about the impact of that landmark piece across the world. The concert will feature local vocalists Melissa Cardamone and Allison Hull.

“It’s not just a concert, it’s a month of events,” Gorke says. “We’re working very hard and have a lot of things on the docket now.”

Working with Gorke to clear that docket are student interns from Carthage

- Max Dinan, a Kenosha native who’s been working on the symphony’s website and other promotional materials. “It’s nice to be directly involved in the arts through the administrative end of it,” he says. “It’s a welcome change from being a performer, and now I realize all the work that’s involved.”

- Kaila Banaszak, who has been busy applying for grants and contacting potential donors and sponsors. “People have been very generous when we’ve reached out to them,” she says. “We have a lot of community support that maybe we didn’t even know about.”

- Taylor Bingaman, who is putting together an archive of several years of Kenosha News articles about the symphony. “When we’re finished, this will be available to the public on our website,” she says.

Note -

The Kenosha Symphony is looking for articles, photos and videos of the group for the archive. If you have any materials, contact Sarah Gorke at the website,, or call 262-654-9080.

Have a comment? Email Liz at or call her at 262-656-6271.

HarborMarket fun

What - A Kenosha Symphony “happening”

When - 10 and 11 a.m. Saturday at HarborMarket, Second Avenue and 56th Street

What - An “instrument petting zoo” at Kenosha HarborMarket

When - 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 26

Details - People are encouraged to touch the instruments (you can even take them apart!). Kenosha Symphony “zookeepers” will be on hand.

What - Kenosha Symphony HarborMarket booth, selling T-shirts and promoting upcoming events

When -

9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 9

Shindig on the Shore

What - Outdoor Kenosha Symphony concert

When - 6 to 9:30 p.m. Sept. 5

Where - The band shell in Pennoyer Park, 35th Street and Seventh Avenue at the lakefront

Cost - Free ($10 bench seating under a tent is available at

Details -

Vendor booths and food (and, they hope, beer sales) are 6 to 9:30 p.m. The music — a pops-style concert with movie music — is 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Free cake -

At 8:30 p.m., cake will be served to celebrate the symphony’s 75th birthday.

Note - If you plan to attend in the free area, you can still register on the website to help the organizers with a head count.

Gala event

What - Kenosha Symphony 75th Anniversary Diamond Gala

When - 6 p.m. Aug. 22

Where -

The Kenosha Country Club, 500 13th Ave.

Details -

The event features hors d’oeuvres, a cash bar, speakers, entertainment, raffle prizes and silent auction items.

Cost - $40 by Aug. 1; $50 after Aug. 1. Purchase tickets at


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