“Don’t just play the music – act like rock stars!” UTSA Orchestra conductor Dr. Eugene Dowdy jokes as he tries to coax more animation from the strings section. It’s rare that violinists get to act the parts of rock stars during a symphonic performance, but that’s exactly what the students of UTSA’s orchestra will do next Friday when they take the stage with 70’s rock legends Kansas. Famous for classics like “Carry on Wayward Son” and “Point of Know Return,” Kansas will partner up with UTSA’s orchestra on Sept. 17 as the third stop on an eight show collegiate tour.
Backed by the corporate sponsorship of The D’Addario Foundation, Kansas is both raising money for the colleges’ music programs as well as test-driving their new orchestral concept all in one go. “We did a show last year on the band’s 35 anniversary in Topeka [KS] with an orchestra and it went really well,” explained Kansas’ drummer and manager Phil Ehart. “So we started talking to other programs and some people liked the idea and some didn’t [laughs]. These first eight dates are a test tour.” Apparently things are looking good, as the band now has 40 other schools lined up to accompany them should they decide to take the act full spread.
So how did UTSA end up as beneficiaries on the short list of tentative frontrunners? “We tried to keep it fairly small. We were looking for good music programs that wanted to participate and Eugene [Dowdy] was fairly aggressive in getting back to us and definitely got the concept,” said Erhart. “It was a mutual thing.” As an added bonus, D’Addario will also make a sizeable contribution to UTSA’s music scholarships fund in addition to providing $3,000 worth of musical equipment to the university.
Dowdy won’t be conducting the orchestra during the show, however, as that is the job of Kansas’ hired gun Larry Baird who will conduct every show on this collegiate tour. Under the guidance of Kansas, Baird wrote and arranged the orchestra score from relative scratch. “The Moody Blues were the first group to do a sort of orchestral rock show like this and Larry was their conductor. Everyone told us you gotta’ get Larry, he’s the guy,” said Ehart. Just because it’s an arrangement designed to feature a prominent rock band doesn’t mean that the music is easy.
“The music is challenging,” said UTSA pianist Victoria Folks. Timpanist John Brown agreed, “in certain songs I have to change tunings in a split second; some of the pieces are very complicated.” Despite the fact that most of the students weren’t alive when Kansas was first popular, they definitely appreciate the opportunity and understand the significance of the show. “It’s pretty cool to see how they do things on stage,” said trombonist Becca Patterson. One of the students will see what it’s like to be front and center as Kansas has offered UTSA the exclusive honor of accompanying Dave Ragsdale, the band’s violinist, in an improvisational solo during the band’s hit “Dust in the Wind.” Tryouts will be held this week to see who earns the spot.
UTSA and Kansas are set to rock on Friday, September 17 at Trinity University’s Laurie Auditorium. Showtime is 8:00 pm and tickets can be purchased at the box office or at Ticketmaster.com for $38 and $48 + fees.