The Mid America Freedom Band Secures Kansas City for the 2018 Lesbian and Gay Band Association Conference.

Artistic Director Lee Hartman has taken the band to new levels of entertainment

banddirector
Lee Hartman at rehearsal. Photo: J. Long

The Mid America Freedom Band and Kansas City will host the 2018 conference of the Lesbian and Gay Band Association, an international group of more than 30 bands.

In the MAFB proposal to host the conference, organizers wrote: “We are elated to bring the conference to Kansas City for the very first time. From our humble beginnings in 2002 with four musicians to today’s growing ensemble of more than 70, it has been a constant dream for us to host this conference, bringing the members of LGBA to the beautiful Midwest.”

The conference theme is “There’s No Place Like Home,” and it will feature music from and inspired by the heartland of the United States.

Concerts at several venues will be included in the May 23-27, 2018, conference, but the biggest concert will be May 26 at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. 

MAFB artistic director Lee Hartman, 37, said with elation, “That’s super huge. I don’t think it’s hit everyone yet, and people haven’t realized what a big deal it is. I’m excited to see a bunch of big gay band nerd’s geek out with everyone else about music and how awesome Kansas City is.” 

MAFB performs four concerts each year and entertains at events such as AIDS Walk and the Kansas City Pride festival. In 2011, it added a jazz band, the Mighty Mo Combo, which performs at outreach events, fundraisers and KC Fringe.

The band plans to collaborate with the Kansas City-based choral ensemble Musica Vocale and feature a commissioned work from internationally renowned composer Chen Yi, as well as special presentations from the Gay & Lesbian Archive of Mid-America and a spotlight on jazz, reflecting Kansas City’s heritage.

Hartman was raised in Pennsylvania, where he got his undergraduate degree. He moved to Kansas City in 2003 to pursue his master’s and doctoral degrees at UMKC. He started leading the MAFB in 2012.

“What I’m really happy about is the willingness of the band to try new things,”

Hartman said. “At first, they may grumble, but we try it and see if it works. We’ve grown in leaps and bounds not only in numbers, but all aspects of the organization [and] also musically.”

MAFB is all-volunteer, and Hartman said the musicians do not audition.

“The requirements to be in the band,” he said, “are that you have to be 18 years or older and you have to read music.

We say there’s a spot for you if you’re willing to do that. My philosophy is that if all you can play on that first concert is whole notes, guess what, you’re going to play those whole notes to the best of your ability and next week try the half-notes.”

Hartman met his husband, flight attendant Thomas Rutledge, in Kansas City.

“Actually we met online,” he said, laughing. “It wasn’t a hookup. We had talked for a year before we actually met, and it was right before I finished my doctorate. It was the last thing on my mind to be in a relationship. I found out we had mutual friends, Paul Mesner [of Paul Mesner Puppets] being one of them, and he said, ‘You guys really should meet.’”

They were married in Maine before it was legal in Missouri. They have been together for nine years and live in Waldo with their two dogs, a fish and a frog, Hartman said.

In Hartman’s day job, he is a music professor at the University of Central Missouri. He has also served as the editor-in-chief of the online arts magazine, Metropolis.

He has stepped back from that role to gain more time for himself and is now a contributing writer.

“My doctorate is in composition,” he said, “and I felt that I was not writing enough quality music to be proud of and I really wanted to change that. I think my music has improved and I’ve seen the returns on that time commitment to myself.”

Now entering its 14th season, the band relies on a $35,000 annual operating budget, Hartman said.

“Myself and our jazz band music director, Skip Schrock, are the only two paid staff members now,” he said.

The MAFB rehearses weekly in space provided by Central Presbyterian Church in Midtown Kansas City. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, it is always looking for donations. Besides money, Hartman said, they sometimes receive donations of musical instruments as well. 

MAFB has grown from being known as a marching band to more of a concert band.

“We’re in the minority of our larger parent organization, the Lesbian and Gay Band Association,” Hartman said. “We really don’t have a strong marching band presence any longer.”

Part of the reason for that, Hartman said, is that unlike many cities with huge Pride parades, Kansas City does not have an LGBT parade for them to march in.

“We do the Brookside St. Patrick’s Day warm-up parade, and that’s short enough that we can do it,” he said. “And we also have a member that lives right off the route and it’s fun to hang out afterward.”

Hartman said that after they did the Kansas City St. Patrick’s Day parade one year, “Everyone said, never again.  It’s too long and exhausting.

“It’s a double-edged sword. As primarily a concert band, you’re limited to your audience because they have to come to the hall. Where when we do AIDS Walk or the St. Patrick Day parade, you’re seeing a lot more people but you’re not seeing the whole band, you’re maybe seeing a third of it. …

If we’re under 20 people, we’re not going to be putting out a sound that’s anything near what our capability is that we do in a concert hall.” 

MAFB has grown from performing at churches to expanding into the World War I Memorial’s stage for their more recent concerts, including their holiday concert on December 17 and 18 and their 2017 concerts on February 19 and May 6 and 7. 

“We couldn’t fit on Unity’s stage any longer,” he said. “We can’t fit on the World War I Memorial stage any more.”  Hartman said the World War I Memorial representatives have been very supportive and have even offered extenders on the stage to accommodate the growing band.

“As we’ve moved from churches to halls, that’s increased our costs,” said Hartman, when discussing how the band has moved from free concerts to selling tickets at modest prices.   

Hartman said the group’s membership is about 70 percent LGBT and 30 percent straight allies.

“We really would not be where we are today without them,” he said of the straight members. “Not only are they equality advocates, you need people championing your cause, and a lot of the people have come to the band because of the music that we’re playing.”

Lee Hartman Conducting. Photo: Scott Unrein

Hartman said, “I always think the better you play, the more fun you have. When you see it click, it’s amazing. We just did a world premiere Jason Gerraughty [piece] … and it was a really hard piece for us to tackle. When the band first played it, I saw the eyes go, ‘Why are we doing this?’ And then everything just jelled. If we challenge ourselves and push ourselves, we can really do that, and the audience really responded well to it.”

Hartman says that hosting this conference will involve a lot of planning in just an 18-month timeframe, but he is very excited to do it.

Hartman said he is in charge of the artistic side for the conference and the assistant conductor of the band, Ian Bradt, will be in charge of logistics. Hartman credited the work of the VisitKC convention office and Mayor Sly James for helping them in their hosting bid.

He said there will be more than 400 musicians from 30-plus member bands of the LGBA. The host hotel will be the Intercontinental.

“We get to have a great time making music and making friends,” Hartman said. “We can’t wait to show off Kansas City to all these other people coming from all over.”

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire: Holiday Favorites to Warm Your Heart

Saturday, December 17, 7:30 pm
Sunday, December 18, 2:00 pm
J.C. Nichols Auditorium, National World War I Museum and Memorial
100 W 26th St., Kansas City, MO

For more information, visit www.freedomband.com.