For years now, Joni Cobb, the President and CEO of Kansas City entrepreneurship incubator Pipeline, has watched SM East choir director Ken Foley in awe. As the parent of two SM East students who were heavily involved in the arts, Cobb would find herself entranced as Foley led his group of young vocalists.
“I kept thinking, that’s what it looks like when you’re doing what you love,” Cobb said of Foley’s work.
So when Cobb was thinking through an appropriate way to close this year’s “Innovator of the Year” award ceremony — a highly-produced show that attracts some of the regions top leaders, Foley stuck in her head.
“The theme of the show this year was passion,” Cobb said. “Ken just embodies it.”
Cobb engaged Foley in secret to have the SM East choir deliver the show’s finale, an upbeat version of Eric Clapton’s “Change the World.” The group started practicing the number in the fall, but no one outside the choir knew what was afoot. The day of the awards show, buses delivered the entire SM East choir to the Midland Theatre, where they were snuck backstage on a service elevator.
“They had to keep quiet as church mice to the end,” Cobb said. “And then the curtain comes up and everyone sees this huge choir back there.”
The performance also included a special trip back to Kansas City for one of the arts programs’ most accomplished recent graduates. Abby Cramer, who has earned both a Blue Star Award and the Joseph Maddy Summer Artist Award for Musical Theater from the Interlochen Arts Camp, came back to town to join the choir as a featured soloist.
Cramer is currently attending the University of Oklahoma where she is majoring in musical theatre.