“It is amazing what people can do if you just leave a door open for them,” says Kirt Mosier, conductor for Lee’s Summit Symphony Orchestra. More of a life philosophy than just a quote, Kirt knows firsthand the value of having, and being, a good mentor.
Kirt acknowledges many people offered him a hand along the way in his forty-year career in music, but none more so than Russ Berlin, his predecessor at the Lee’s Summit Symphony Orchestra. While Berlin ‘passed the baton’ to Mosier in March, he has been instrumental over the duration of Kirt’s career as a teacher, a composer, and a conductor.
Kirt and Russ have a long and rich history. Both can recall the moment they first met. Kirt was a student at Raytown High School; Russ was a guest teacher from Lee’s Summit at a school band practice. Kirt noticed this guy kept looking at him and smiling while Kirt played. Russ says, “It was very evident the first time I heard him that he is so musically talented. It was very noticeable.” Russ made his way to Kirt, introduced himself and encouraged him to continue with music.
Their paths did not intersect again for several years. Kirt went on to college, first at University of Kansas and then finishing at UMKC. He bolstered his musical aspirations with gigs everywhere from Tiffany’s Attic to Worlds of Fun. Meanwhile, Russ was busy establishing the orchestra at Lee’s Summit High School as one of the finest in the nation.
After a successful stint with student teaching, Mosier accepted a position with Raytown South High School as the orchestra director. Kirt admits he never planned to be a teacher. Instead, his sights were set on being a professional musician. “I was young and just wanted off the road for a year to get medical insurance. It was a dumb way to go into teaching. However, once I saw what you could do with young kids’ lives, the lights went on and I was sold.” From there, Kirt continued to build his reputation as an educator.
Russ moved on to the orchestra director at Lee’s Summit North, which opened an opportunity for Kirt at Lee’s Summit High School. Based on Kirt’s success at Raytown South, Russ advocated for him to get the Lee’s Summit position.
At Lee’s Summit, Kirt fine-tuned his talents as a composer. “The orchestra Russ established was so good and could play the hard music that I had been writing for other orchestras. They were a great resource to develop me as a conductor and as a composer. I was getting to compose master works instead of arrangements for high schools.”
As colleagues, Russ and Kirt developed a friendship based on mutual admiration and respect. Kirt says, “In those years we became very close. There was never ego or jealousy between us.”
Kirt eventually moved on to be the orchestra director at Lee’s Summit West High School and launched the Digital Media Technology program at Summit Tech. Over the span of his career in teaching, he has used the platform to help others in a place of growth. Kirt does not rattle off the extensive list of awards, competition wins or impressive guest conductor positions as his highest accomplishments. Instead, he says that helping students has been his most notable achievement. He has been a benefactor to students scattered across the country, as well as a loyal following locally. He finds joy in encouraging, complimenting, connecting—opening doors for others.
With a 20-year age gap, Kirt likens Russ as the pioneer who made it all possible. The culmination of the parallels has been the transition from Russ to Kirt as the conductor of the Lee’s Summit Symphony Orchestra. Kirt praises Russ for bringing the orchestra into prominence. “I don’t think I could have started it as well as he did, however, with everything I bring to the table hopefully we can take it to the next level. Russ and I have different skill sets. They are apples and oranges, but they are both sweet.”
Kirt’s vision for the future of Lee’s Summit Symphony Orchestra is to “find that balance between programming that the musicians like and are excited about with programming that will resonate with the audience.” He is motivated to try new ideas, incorporate unique programming, and elevate the reach of the orchestra. Kirt has a few tricks up his sleeve for the holiday concert, with a special composition for trumpets that is “going to be gangbusters.”
As the co-founder of the orchestra and now conductor emeritus, Russ is steadfast in supporting Kirt. He says, “I knew that Kirt was needed to bring the orchestra to new heights. We are lucky to have him in Lee’s Summit.”
Despite the changing of the guard, the relationship between these two musical masterminds continues. Kirt has left the door open for Russ to conduct at several upcoming concerts. They still banter, have fun and work to elevate their shared love of music.