Kansas: The Epic-Ness

Hey, I have a poster just like this in my room now..!

Why yes, I was the timpanist in the orchestra that played with Kansas on October 14th.  I want to tell you guys about it because it was an EPIC experience, and I don’t ever want to forget!  Ready?  Okay!

Okay, so I hadn’t really heard of Kansas much before this.  Pennington, my instructor, went to one of their concerts when he was in high school, and my mother was a fan, as well.  I mean, I’ve been listening to some of the 70s music as of late, but Kansas?  I’m afraid I hadn’t really heard of them.  And so we were given the music soon after school started.  Boy, was it hard!  I heard later that some colleges even went so far as refusing to play with them because it was so hard!  It was funny, though, because at first we played some classical stuff for a concert that’s near that date.  And we were…okay.  Then we read through the Kansas stuff and the learning curve pretty much went up.  A lot.  We all spent a great deal of time practicing.  I even went to Dr. Stanichar, the director of the Augie orchestra, and got all the full scores so I could look over the music and know what was all going on.  I had listened to some Kansas on YouTube, but the more recent performances that had the orchestra parts, had horrible sound.  So I got some recordings from Stanichar, as well.  I think I was listening and working on that stuff with all of the extra free time that I didn’t have, plus some.  Pennington helped me a great deal, and I was so thankful when I got to the Washington Pavilion for dress rehearsal!

So.  I, being section leader of the three (plus one borrowed) percussionists of the orchestra needed to be there to load-up all the percussion stuff from the band room.  There is this nifty truck that backs up to the loading dock by the Humanities building that transports everything for us.  It was us percussionists, the orchestra manager (who is a double bass player and got his percussion load up lesson 101 for the day), Pennington, and Chris, who is the truck driver and in fact, is really good at life size Tetris and loading up everything.  I was wowed when it all fit (‘cuz we had a lot of random yet not too small odds-and-ends).  But it did!  And so those of us who could be there were aiming at being at the Pavilion loading dock to take everything off the truck at noon.  Okay, so it was just Tyler (the double bass orchestra manager) and I who could be there, and we were late.  We missed the time that the truck was there, but taking things off is a whole lot easier than putting things there.  So we went and had lunch and figured out what to do.

“Hey, I’m the timpanist,” I introduced myself to the stage-hand guys who went with Kansas who were setting up chairs and stuff.  “Could I play some?”

“Uh,” said the closest guy, “yeah, I think so, let me check to see if the sound stuff is all figured out.”  Not too long after he’s like, “Yeah, go ahead, play all you want!”  We walked over to the timpani.  “Feel free to move them closer or further or however you’d like,” he said.  And so I did move them slightly closer so that I could hear the brass who were my cue much of the time.  Tyler helped me uncover the timpani and move them around.  And then I got out my trusty tuning fork (which I think is the hit of the percussion section ‘cuz I don’t remember a day when somebody doesn’t grab it, strike it, and hold it up to their ear to listen to the A 440 until it fades away).  On the timpani I had been playing on in the band room (which were the timpani we brought to the Pavilion last-minute like…and everything fit!), the pitch had been dropping and the letters on the side, which adjusted with the pedal, weren’t accurate.  So I set them all so that I wouldn’t have to constantly be listening to the fork and then the timpani as I changed them—there were some fast pedal changes in that music!  My favorite part: THE TIMPANI WAS MIKED!  That has never happened and will never happen again.  I was SOOOO excited!

PLAYING WITH THE CONDUCTOR: Larry Baird was the one who arranged all this music for orchestra to play with the band.  He was also our conductor.  Each conductor is different, but his style wasn’t too hard to pick up on.  He gave me great eye contact and cues (which helped a lot, because I get lost waaay too easily).  “It’ll all make sense tonight,” he kept saying.  “Play bigger!  It’ll all make sense tonight.  Make sure you come in strong here, it’s gotta be loud!  It’ll all make sense tonight.”  I admit it was a tad-bit different, the way they had everything set up—the normal instruments I’d play by were on the other side, and I heard more strings than brass unless I attuned my ear and watched the horns or something.  It was good, though, to be able to hear other parts.  We went through most of the music with him, before the band came out for the last half hour and ran through like, two songs with us.  Maybe three.  It’s a little fuzzy in my memory ‘cuz it was just AWESOME!  Yeah..

THE TIME IN BETWEEN THE DRESS AND THE CONCERT was spent eating supper and hanging out with some of the other orchestra people.  AND THEN, Stanichar asked for all of the section leaders to congregate so we could be in a PICTURE WITH THE BAND!  I was told the pic would eventually get emailed to me, but A) I don’t really know whose camera the actual picture was taken on and B) I haven’t gotten a picture yet.

THE CONCERT was EPIC!!!  So, most of the songs, we hadn’t even played with the band yet, but it went so well!  It was awesome!  And Larry, the conductor, had some awesome cues!  He’d stop conducting when the band got a little crazy, but he’d point to the entering section two measures before they came in, conducted the one before, and made sure they came in when they were supposed to.  Another reason I was thankful for writing in so many of my cues!  That, and…I’m glad other people can count better than I can, so that they enter the time their supposed to.  It all worked out!  And yes, it all made sense (finally!).  =)

The band was super nice to us all.  They complimented us as an orchestra.  The bass guitar would turn around and jam with Tyler.  The first violin, Matt, actually stood up and improvised with the electric violinist.  During dress, the drummer came back to the percussion section and said hey to all of us, commenting on how jammin’ it was back there.

My parents came, as well (like mom would miss it, she was so excited!), and they waited in line for autographs from the band and conductor.  I had Varieties that night, and while I was in the dressing room, I received texts from both Mom and Dad, saying that the conductor said I was good.  And that the violinist was like, “The timpanist?  Isn’t she the one with another gig tonight?”

Varieties is a completely different story that I won’t get into just now, cuz this post is already somewhat long.  But the orchestra played again that Sunday at the Homecoming service, and I am now a bit better at the 3-dimentional Tetris Chris is such a master at.

In case you were wondering, here are some of the songs we played with Kansas (not in order):


Point of Know Return

Miracles Out of Nowhere

Song for America

Cheyenne Anthem

Hold On


Fight Fire with Fire

Dust in the Wind

Carry on Wayward Son


This video isn’t from when we played with them, and there is an extra person in it, but this is a taste what they sound like with an orchestra (and what they look like years later with non-70s hair…..):

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