When you mention the name Kansas, most people think of the little dog Toto who is not in Kansas anymore. As for me I hear sounds of a complex mix of musical arrangements which all delve into song masterpieces. Yes, for some of you who may not have known, Kansas is a band. Kansas was discovered by legendary songwriter, publisher, music producer and manager, Don Kirshner in the early 70s. After three moderately successful albums, Kansas finally hit pay dirt with their fourth album, Leftoverture and one of their hit songs, “Carry On Wayward Son”. They went on to record seven more gold albums.
Now Kansas is touring colleges and universities across America. You may say, “What’s so special about that?” Kansas not only performs on this college tour, they perform with college orchestras in an effort to promote the orchestras from colleges and universities in an effort to raise awareness as well as funds for the orchestras. Kansas is able to help college music programs in many ways with the help and support of D’Addario, the world’s largest musical products accessory manufacturer, which brings products to market under the brand names D’Addario, Plane Waves, Rico Reeds and Evans/Pure Sound/HQ percussion products. Jay Bulen, Chair of the Truman State University Department explains, “The support from D’Addario is tremendous. In the fall of 2011, we will have two new scholarships for incoming string players because of this. It will help us build our music program.”
Richard “Rich” Williams, lead guitarist and one of the original founding members, says “It all started a few years ago and it just made good sense. We had hoped to do a lot more of them and one day get them on film which we did with “Know Place Like Home” with Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas which is where we got our start. That really opened up the door for us to work with colleges who are not really set up for funding concerts.” After a universally successful tour with college symphony orchestras in 2010, Kansas decided to do another tour in 2011 and now expands into 2012. Phil Ehart drummer and original founding member says, “Kansas and all the school symphonies just hit it off big time! The only people having more fun than us were all the students playing on stage with us!”
All arrangements for the orchestras are done by world renowned conductor Larry Baird who also conducts the orchestras. According to Williams the scores are sent to the orchestras a few weeks in advance so they can rehearse. On the morning of the show Baird goes in with the performing orchestra to work out the kinks and get them on track. Once all that is completed Kansas comes in to do a sound check and rehearse with the orchestra. Rich Williams said, “It’s a lot of fun playing with the kids. It gives them something to do outside the box and something that they don’t normally get to do.”
A lot of work goes into these concerts but the payoff is remarkable. With a slow economy music programs are not viewed as a necessity therefore is one of the first to be cut in a budget. At least what Kansas is doing on the College Symphony Tour is to make aware the importance of orchestras and music as an art. Yes, music is an art. Music is an art that not everyone has the gift or ability to perform with heart and soul. We, as a society, need to keep the arts in our schools so the very essence of our souls is not lost. Everyone loves music and music has been known to calm the savage beast in all of us. I’ve been a Kansas fan since I first heard them in 1974 and have remained a steadfast listener to their music. To me their music never gets old because I’ve always loved the complexity of their music, their lyrics, musicianship and overall power of their music. If you’re not familiar with Kansas I suggest you listen to some of their music to understand what I am talking about. Such songs as, “Song For America”,” Icarus-Borne On Wings Of Steel”, “The Wall” and any other Kansas song you can get your hands on. You can also go to their website to listen and see what I am talking about and also check out their tour schedule for a concert near you. On September 30th Kansas will be performing with the Kennesaw University Symphony at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center. This is a good chance for all of you to see a great show while supporting the Kennesaw University Symphony. It will be a concert you will thoroughly enjoy and likely will never forget.