November 17, 2023

Backstage at the Egyptian: Courtney Hanna-McNamara of the Kishwaukee Symphony talks the annual Children’s Concert

woman holding violin stands in front of brick wall

ZANDER: What is your role and what do you do for the Kishwaukee Symphony Orchestra?
COURTNEY: I serve as the general manager for the KSO, and my job includes a little bit of everything! I work alongside our music director, our administrative team, and our board of directors in order to plan and promote concerts and events, fundraise to ensure the KSO’s future, and further the KSO’s mission “to engage, educate, and enrich the community through music” in DeKalb County and beyond. I am also a violinist in the orchestra.

Z: For those who are not familiar, what is the Kishwaukee Symphony Orchestra?
C: The Kishwaukee Symphony Orchestra is a not-for-profit orchestra for the community which
consists of community professionals, students, and dedicated amateur musicians. The KSO
began informally in 1976 and now offers 7 concerts a year, including our annual Children’s
Concert. Our orchestra consists of 45 to 70 or more musicians in each performance, most of
whom volunteer their time and talent to the organization. This year, we are celebrating our
music director Linc Smelser’s 20th anniversary with the KSO.

Z: What is the vision and history behind the KSO Children’s Concert?
C: The KSO has held their annual Children’s Concert for over three decades. The goal of the
concert is to provide an introduction to the symphony orchestra that can support what students
are learning in their elementary and middle-school music classrooms and to open the door for
their future involvement in instrumental music ensembles. In a survey conducted after last
year’s concert, 2/3rds of middle schoolers and 3/4s of elementary students told us that they had
never attended an orchestra concert before, so there is a tremendous need for this kind of an
enriching cultural experience. We work with several community partners including the Farny R.
Wurlitzer Foundation through the DeKalb County Community Foundation to keep ticket prices to
a minimum and even to sponsor funding for buses so that this concert is accessible to as many
students as possible.

Z: How important is it to connect the youth with music?
C: There will be no symphony orchestras a generation from now unless we involve students in
classical music today, whether as musicians or audience members. Youth participation in the
arts is one of the greatest predictors of adult civic engagement, so not only does this concert
pave the way for the future of the KSO but it also serves as an investment in the future of
DeKalb County. The students in our audience on Thursday are the community leaders and arts
advocates of tomorrow.

We are excited to have several very talented high school student musicians in the orchestra for
our Children’s Concert this year; they have fond memories of attending this concert with their
elementary classes!

Z: What songs will be played?
C: The KSO will perform a concert with the theme “Everybody DANCE!” featuring 12 orchestral
works from 11 different composers, ranging from Copland to Dvorak to Mozart. The musical
selections will expose the audience to the ways in which music and dance intersect: the score
from a famous ballet like The Nutcracker, traditional folk dances that inspired an entire suite for
string orchestra, or music intended to accompany dancers at a ball.

A crowd watches an orchestra

Z: How is performing at an historic venue like the Egyptian?
C: The KSO has a long relationship with the Egyptian Theatre and we value the ways we’ve been
able to partner together to foster a vibrant arts scene in DeKalb County. Just as many of the
students have never attended a symphony orchestra concert before, it is also true that many of
them have never set foot in a performance space like the Egyptian. If we want to ensure a future
for the performing arts in our community, we need to make sure the next generation of
performers and audience members feel welcomed into these spaces! The Children’s Concert is
the perfect opportunity to showcase the beautiful, historic setting of the Egyptian Theatre and
encourage these students to return here as often as possible.

Z: How can interested readers find more information about KSO events and programs?
C: The KSO has a website,, that is about to undergo a major facelift! Stay tuned.
You can join our newsletter list at We’re also easy to find on all
social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok: @kishorchestra.