What does the music of spiky 20th century classical composer Bela Bartok have in common with hit songs by classic rock band Kansas?
"Well, mixed meters," said Mark Laycock, director of orchestras at Wichita State University.
Laycock and his students should be adept at playing the shifting rhythmic pulses implied by "mixed meter" — they are working up pieces by both Bartok and Kansas to start the school year.
The WSU Symphony Orchestra will share the stage with the rock band Saturday at Hartman Arena. Kansas, founded in Topeka in 1970, will play all its smash hits, including "Carry on Wayward Son," "Dust in the Wind" and "Point of Know Return."
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While Kansas — Phil Ehart on drums; Billy Greer, bass; Dave Ragsdale, violin; Steve Walsh, vocals; and Richard Williams, guitar — takes center stage, the 70-instrument WSU Symphony will be playing along with every power chord.
"Maybe the band starts out with an introduction and then the orchestra joins in, but sometimes it's the other way around and we provide the backdrop until the band jumps in," Laycock said.
The Kansas-WSU collaboration is one of several that Kansas has made with university ensembles. The orchestra from Washburn University in Topeka was featured on the band's DVD "There's No Place Like Home," released in 2009. The band's current tour includes stops at Oklahoma State University and Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, playing with those schools' orchestras.
Laycock said the orchestra's music, arranged by Larry Baird, who will also conduct, is symphonic in scope in keeping with Kansas' progressive rock style.
"It's got some John Williams elements in it, kind of the brassy bold consonant style," Laycock said. "It's almost a Rush sound of mixed-meters, down-and-dirty classic rock stuff. It's got stuff that really sounds symphonic, that could be almost Baroque or Classical in style where they really take advantage of the string sound and roll with it for a while."
Though the orchestra is preparing classic rock this week, the students have not been neglecting more traditional classics. The orchestra is also rehearsing Schumann's Symphony No. 3, "Rhenish"; Roy Harris' Third Symphony; a new concerto for string quartet and orchestra; and pieces by Bartok and Aaron Jay Kernis for concerts later this school year. The orchestra will play at Carnegie Hall with the WSU Wind Ensemble next May.
But Saturday's appearance with Kansas is more than just another concert. Kansas donated 100 tickets to WSU, which has arranged VIP packages of $100, $200 and $400 to raise money for the School of Music. Also, concert sponsor D'Addario, which distributes guitar and violin strings, drum heads and other accessories, will donate $2,000 to WSU toward a music scholarship and provide $3,000 worth of music equipment to the school.
If you go
What: The classic rock band with the WSU Symphony Orchestra
Where: Hartman Arena, 8151 N. Hartman Arena Drive, Park City
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
How much: Tickets $29, $20 for students. VIP packages $100, $200 and $400. For more information on VIP packages, call 316-978-6202. Tickets available at the Hartman Arena Box Office, at www.stage1tickets.com, or by calling 316-927-3999.