By Jenni Luckett
A few months ago, Justin Redona hadn’t heard of the song Dust in the Wind, much less the band that made it famous.
But next week, the Pacific University sophomore will be on stage with classic rock band Kansas, closing out one of its hit numbers with a solo on his viola.
Though the band reached its peak in the late 1970s and throughout the ‘80s—about a decade before his birth—Redona says he now knows just who Kansas is.
“Like any music, the more you listen and practice, the more it sticks with you,” he said. “I don’t typically listen that that genre every day, but their music is good.”
The Pacific Philharmonic, which features about 60 students and 20 community members, is the latest participant in Kansas’ Symphony Rocks collegiate tour. The band performs its songs in concert, accompanied by college orchestras around the country.
Redona said he enjoys listening to pop tunes, as well as to traditional Hawaiian music (he’s from Oahu). When he’s playing, though, it’s mostly classical.
He’s been practicing both the piano and viola for about 10 years, since he was inspired by an elementary trip to the symphony and came home asking for an electric keyboard.
When he started picking out recognizable tunes by ear, his mom got him piano lessons. A year later, when his school offered a strings program, he signed up. He said his parents never forced him into music, but when it came time to pick a strings instrument, Mom did get a say.
“She listened to them all, and she said the violin was too squeaky, and she didn’t want me lugging a cello all around school,” Redona said. That left the viola.
Through middle and high school, he played both instruments. He participated in his schools’ music programs, the local symphony, the school jazz band, while also satisfying a proclivity for science in the classroom.
When the time came to choose a college, Pacific University’s College of Arts & Sciences offered him the best option: he’s double majoring in chemistry and music and a pre-med track. Pacific boasts a high admissions rate for medical school and the opportunity to continue performing his music, along with a scholarship for his musical talent.
“I got the best package from here,” he said. “I get the good of both the science and music here.
“I want to go to med school, but I can’t let go of the music.”
He’s not alone, said Bryce Seliger, music professor and conductor of the Pacific Philharmonic, which she has built from almost nothing in her 10 years with the University. Many participating students aren’t even double-majors; they are natural or social sciences students who fulfill their passion for the arts through on-campus music groups.
She said she hopes that the Kansas concert will provide yet another avenue for bridging interests—this time for people who are less comfortable with classical music.
Seliger has long been interested in the relationship between classical and rock music and that is, in fact, how the Kansas-Pacific University link came about: She is preparing for a sabbatical in which she plans to study rock music for orchestras. In her preliminary research, she learned about the Kansas Symphony Rocks tour and started working to bring it to Pacific.
She said she believes connections like this make classical music more accessible to people to whom it hasn’t been marketed. Rock, she said, invites the audience to participate. In classical music, the audience is more passive, and that can be intimidating to people.
“You sit, you don’t even know when to clap. It’s uncomfortable,” she said, adding that she’d like to find ways to bring the energy and accessibility of rock to classical music.
Last year, she had the Pacific Philharmonic playing music from the video games Angry Birds and Super Mario Bros. and from movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, prior to introducing classics like Beethoven to the audience.
“They love that, too, they just don’t know that they do,” she said. “I don’t think Beethoven has gone out of style. I think we just forgot how to market it.”
She said she believes audiences can participate in classical concerts, that they can find connections and help build the energy they way they do in a rock concert.
“I want the orchestra to feel that way: We’re rock stars, too.”
Redona, at the very least, will get his chance to feel that next week.
His solo comes at the end of Dust in the Wind, in a “rock solo,” he explained.
It’s a little different from the classical solos he’s used to, the ones that are carefully scripted in sheet music. In rock, you have to ad lib, do a little more riffing.
“It’s a learning process, the whole experience. It’s broadened the way I play,” he said. “Basically, I’m doing what a guitar would do, except on the viola.”
The Pacific Philharmonic performs with Kansas at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 18, at the Roseland Theater. Tickets are available at TicketsWest.com, at Safeway Tickets West outlets, at any Music Millennium store, or by phone at 503-224-8499. General admission seating is $40. Standing room only is $30, and reserved seating is $50. Pacific students with valid ID receive discount tickets for $25.