Kansas profiles: Point, counterpoint

Chad Frey
The Kansan
Flint Hills Counterpoint focuses on 14 acres just north of Peabody, where the tall grass prairie will be restored.

Point, counterpoint. That sounds like a debate, but in this case, it uses a term that describes a project that is bringing multiple perspectives together to honor the Flint Hills of Kansas. 

Renowned musician Dr. Susan Mayo and multiple county partners have launched a project called Flint Hills Counterpoint. 

Susan is originally from Arizona. After studying music in college in California and while performing professionally, she went to Wichita State University to participate in the special music-education program. She later earned a doctorate in cello performance at the University of Kansas and plays cello in the Wichita Symphony. 

“We were looking for a place in the country,” Susan said. She and her husband bought 14 acres north of Peabody that serve as home base for her music and composing career. In addition to classical music, she is part of alternative music ensembles that have performed around the world – in places such as Scotland, France and Croatia.  

Susan is chair of the Historic Sunflower Theatre Foundation that is working to restore a historic theater in downtown Peabody. She is also a faculty member at Friends University in Wichita and is music director for both the Symphony in the Flint Hills fall event called Woodfest as well as Prairie Muses, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing the arts to rural audiences. While serving as a Tallgrass Artist-in-Residence in 2018, Susan met renowned filmmaker Cyan Meeks and they embarked on several collaborations. 

“I’d been running around the country, but I wanted to do something more locally,” Susan said. She has helped launch a new initiative called Flint Hills Counterpoint. “This is a place-making project involving arts and ecology.” The goal is to “celebrate and explore the unique ecosystem of Marion County through the arts.” 

Susan’s 14 acres have become what she terms Counterpoint Home Base. She is working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Kansas Forest Service on a conservation and restoration plan for her 14 acres, but that is just the beginning. 

The project is described on Facebook as a “collaboration with the communities of rural Marion County, Kansas, to investigate and engage the last remaining vestiges of the Tallgrass Prairie in North America – through art, creative documentary methods and conservation.” For example, filmmaker Cyan Meeks is working on a documentary about the land reclamation project. It is called Reclamation Meridian. 

In mid-April, the group is conducting a Musical Bike Adventure Ride in Marion County.  Bicyclists can follow a cross-county route that will include stops where musicians will be performing. Musicians include singer/songwriter Aaron Waddle and Pretend Friend, a bluegrass roots band from Wichita. Bike riders have the choice of a 15- or 30-mile route. Surfaces include gravel, dirt and some pavement. This will be a chance to get good exercise and see some beautiful countryside, along with enjoying excellent music. 

Flint Hills Counterpoint is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission, Prairie Muses, Chamber Music at the Barn, the Kansas Forest Service, and the NRCS. It is supported locally by the county commissioners, the K-State Research and Extension Chisholm Trail District serving Marion County, and other partners. 

“This is such a great county, and Peabody is such a great little town,” Susan said. 

You can learn more about Dr. Mayo on her website and find out more about Flint Hills Counterpoint on its website. For more details about the bike ride, go to Facebook and search for Flint Hills Counterpoint Musical Adventure Bike Ride. 

This is a remarkable project to be found near a rural community like Peabody, population 1,083 people. Now, that’s rural. 

Point, counterpoint. Dr. Susan Mayo points out that the definition of counterpoint is “the art or technique of setting, writing, or playing a melody or melodies in conjunction with another, according to fixed rules.” In this case, her Flint Hills Counterpoint is making a difference by combining melodies of music with the art of nature, all while promoting her home county. I think she makes a great point. 

And there’s more. What is the historic Sunflower Theatre? We’ll learn about that next week.

For a story by the Newton Kansan about Flint Hills Counterpoint, visit  https://tinyurl.com/ytyfbcna

— Ron Wilson is director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University. The mission of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development is to enhance rural development by helping rural people help themselves. The Kansas Profile radio series and columns are produced with assistance from the K-State Research and Extension Department of Communications News Media Services unit.