Kansas State University's McCain Performance Series is offering a special way to celebrate 150 years of Kansas statehood: a concert by the rock band Kansas at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 28, in McCain Auditorium.
Fusing British progressive rock with an American heartland sound, Kansas will play many of its biggest hits, including "Carry On Wayward Son," "Dust in the Wind" and more. Accompanying the band will be the 80-member K-State Orchestra.
"Kansas is considered America's greatest and most successful progressive rock band," said Todd Holmberg, executive director of McCain Auditorium. "They have had an immeasurable influence on contemporary music since the mid-1970s. On that basis alone, I was interested in programming them for the series. Because of the obvious regional ties of the band, I made their K-State appearance more meaningful by timing it with the 150th birthday of the state of Kansas. I invited them to perform with the K-State Orchestra to create an epic celebration for the university and community."
David Littrell, university distinguished professor of music and director of the orchestra, isn't sure who is more excited about the orchestra's upcoming performance with the rock group: the orchestra members or their parents.
"When I told the students about it last fall, they were thrilled. They all wanted to do it. Then I heard from their parents. Many of them are from the same generation as the band and are big fans. They can't wait for the show," said Littrell.
To prepare for the concert the orchestra will have four two-hour practice sessions led by Littrell and then a final rehearsal on the afternoon of the show led by Larry Baird, guest conductor for the performance. A noted composer, arranger, conductor and performer, Baird wrote the orchestral arrangements being used in the concert.
Making the whole experience even more memorable for the orchestra is that the concert is being taped for a documentary on the progressive rock band by Smoky Hills Public Television, Bunker Hill. The documentary, which could be distributed to other PBS affiliate stations, will include behind-the-scenes footage of the orchestra and band preparing for the concert, interviews with members of Kansas and the orchestra, and more. The K-State Division of Communications and Marketing's video production services unit is assisting with the project.
The K-State Orchestra has a distinguished history. It was founded in 1867 and has been in continuous existence since 1882. The orchestra has played in K-State performances with noted musicians before, including acoustic duo Jay Ungar and Molly Mason. But Littrell said this would be the first time the ensemble performs with a rock band.
"The students are ready to try something so completely different from Brahms," he said. "Rock 'n' roll isn’t easy music to learn. It has totally different rhythms.
"I knew that this Kansas concert was going to be an extraordinary event in the history of the K-State Orchestra when not only the students, but many of their parents, told me how excited about it they were. Several students have told me that Kansas is their favorite band. I hope that McCain is packed for what is going to be a most enjoyable concert."Tickets are on sale now, with prices starting at $19.50 for K-State students and $39 for the general public. Discounts for K-State faculty and staff, military, and children are also available. Tickets can be purchased at the McCain Auditorium box office, 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, or by calling 785-532-6428. More information is available online at http://www.k-state.edu/mccain.