Western Kansas String Academy, Yamaha team up for Battle of the Bands

In a unique event, the Fort Hays State University’s Western Kansas String Academy and the Yamaha Corp. of America have teamed up to present a Battle of the Bands competition for Alternative Strings groups, showcasing student string players throughout the state.
On Wednesday, Jan. 21, from 12:30 to 2:30, seven "alternative string" bands will take the stage, to compete for cash prizes before an audience of their peers and area third-graders in FHSU’s Memorial Union.   
Each of the groups, from Hays, Dodge City, Wichita, Hutchinson and Parsons, is made up of three to 12 players who range in age from elementary to high school. The bands may use musicians such as guitarists, drummers and vocalists and may play acoustic or electric instruments, but at least 50 percent of the players must use traditional bowed-string instruments. The seven groups were chosen from a pool of nine bands who submitted audition recordings in October.  
"Just because you play a string instrument doesn’t mean you only play classical music, or that you can't be part of popular band culture," said Cathy Drabkin, executive director of the Western Kansas String Academy. "We wanted to challenge student string players to experiment with alternative styles such as fiddling, jazz and rock, to style themselves after garage bands that inspire students to keep playing long after school is out."
Each band will perform two pieces in any non-classical style and will be judged on technical skill and entertainment value. "We're encouraging kids to have fun with this," said Drabkin. "Loosen up--take off the tuxedo, strut on stage, give us a show."
The first-place winner will get to perform as the opening act to the Barrage concert that evening in the Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center. Barrage, a high-octane fiddle-fest that features an international, multi-talented cast performing an eclectic mix of music, song and dance, is performing as a part of the university’s Encore Series.
"We're pleased to be part of this ground-breaking event," said Ken Dattmore, marketing manager of orchestral strings for Yamaha. "We think this event gives string students and their teachers a road map and vision of how they can transform an interest in non-classical music into creative music-making activities." Yamaha Strings will equip an experiment room with electric violins, violas, cellos, guitars, amplifiers and special effects devices which students will get to try out during the day. Yamaha will also provide an electric violin to be given away in a drawing.
Following the Battle of the Bands Competition, students will participate in a workshop with members of Barrage, learning how to play alternative styles and rehearsing a song which they will perform with Barrage during the evening concert. "Practicing and performing with professional musicians is very inspiring," said Drabkin, "and Barrage is known for its young cast with amazing energy and musical virtuosity. It should be a great experience."

The Barrage workshop is supported in part by Mid-America Arts Alliance with generous underwriting from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kansas Arts Commission and foundations, corporations and individuals throughout Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.
FHSU's Western Kansas String Academy is a community music institute hosted by the FHSU Music Department, which provides instruction on stringed instruments and guitar for students beginning in kindergarten. The group has sponsored several regular alternative string ensembles over the past few years, featuring fiddling and Celtic, Renaissance, jazz and rock music.

For additional information about the Alternative Strings Battle of the Bands or the Western Kansas String Academy, contact Cathy Drabkin at (785) 628-5363 or cadrabkin@fhsu.edu.

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