If there is one repeating adage about rock’n roll, it’s that past popular song genres often get an encore updated to a current music trend.
Ken Hartfield, a Kelowna musician and composer, is experiencing that music evolution through a song he wrote in the ’60s called The Light that today has created a social media buzz in the United Kingdom as an orchestral re-arrangement.
“It has been a pleasant surprise a to see the reaction to it to say the least,” said Hartfield.
Hartfield was previously at the helm of the Bandidos Cerveza group, which focused on Latin rock.
He decided to go in a different musical direction, creating the Symphonic Rock Evolution, comprised of six vocalists, percussion, bass guitar, electric guitars and a brass and string section.
Okanagan fans will get to hear Hartfield’s latest music project in concert at Kelowna Sept. 23 and in Vernon Oct. 20.
While the orchestra’s concert repertoire revolves around re-arrangement of some classic rock tunes assembled for the group’s first CD, Hartfield also works in some songs written by himself and other group members.
One of Hartfield’s songs from his personal music archive was The Light, a song he originally wrote with a Gordon Lightfoot style music influence in 1969.
The song is about the 68-year-old’s memories of experiencing the fear created by the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 as a kid growing up in Regina, then watching on TV in Saskatoon as the first astronauts landed on the moon in 1969.
“I can remember riding in our family car in 1962 and hearing the air sirens during the Cuban missile crisis, as the Moose Jaw air force base was only 40 miles outside Regina and considered as a possible target,” Hartfield recalled.
“Whenever I get together with old high school buddies today we often talk about that time and how quite frightening it was, not knowing what was going to happen.”
Then seeing a man on the moon is something Hartfield saw as how far civilization had come, from the brink of world war to space exploration.
A European audience first began to discover The Light on a YouTube video, which to date has racked up 20,000 views.
“We checked the analytics on it and surprisingly the largest single age group watching it out are the 18 to 28-year-olds. I found that really interesting as I initially thought the song would appeal more to the baby boomer crowd. So that was a surprise, a shock actually, ” he said.
Several UK radio stations have given the song consistent airplay, and concert promoters want Hartfield to bring his symphony orchestra to Europe to perform.
“The beauty of this is the entire concert has been arranged by me, so we can reduce from 23 to eight to 10 members, and then hire orchestral players over there to fill in the missing musician parts so it makes economic sense,” Hartfield explained.
“We can bring in musicians, show them the sheet music, have an afternoon rehearsal and do the concert that night.”
Hartfield says the marriage of symphony sounds to rock music has deep roots in the UK, starting with The Beatles followed by The Moody Blues, and absorbed by other British groups like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Electric Light Orchestra in the years that followed.
“If you listen to Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin lead guitarist) his guitar work is layered just like a symphony string section and bassist John Paul Jones grew up with parents who both played for the London Symphony Orchestra, so his keyboard contributions to their songs often reflected those influences,” he said.
“So when you think of Led Zeppelin, in a way it was three or four guys trying to recreate a symphony orchestra sound behind their songs.”
Hartfield’s latest musical rebirth has him singing the praises of how social media today can give exposure to songs without the need for a record deal or radio airplay at the outset.
“We will see how the song’s airplay continues over the winter but it sounds like there is a good chance we could be performing over there next year,” he added.