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Symphony meets Southern sounds and Western swing
Orchestras special evening blends fiddle, strings and classic Americana music
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Kenny Lambert talks about the hierarchy of a symphony and the duties of a concert master.

Gainesville Symphony members will be trading their bow ties for boots next weekend for a tribute to swing, strings and Americana music.

Concert master Kenny Lambert, who is usually seen in the first violin chair at GSO events, will be the master of ceremonies for the May 17 event at the Georgia Mountains Center. He said all 21 tunes - which include favorites such as the "Tennessee Waltz," "Orange Blossom Special" and Patsy Cline hits - have been completely retooled for a string section. And the strings will be serving as the horn section as well, he said.

"It's going to be a real interesting sound," he said, adding that guests are encouraged to get up and dance along.

"It's a band, sort of a country swing band, with a string section," he said. The Americana dance music will range from "bluegrass to country to western swing to jazz. It kind of all makes sense, all with the same band.

"The jazz tunes all have country flavor; a lot of swing."

Atlanta-based singer Gwen Hughes will accompany Lambert on the stage, belting out tunes. She said she and Lambert crossed paths last year doing "Always ... Patsy Cline" at the 14th Street Playhouse in Atlanta.

Ironically, she said, of the two main female roles in the show, she had the one that didn't require any singing.

"I'm known as a vocalist but I didn't do any other singing (in the show)," she said. "I really appreciate Kenny having faith in me ... I was the comic relief."

Hughes can usually be found at venues around Atlanta such as Smith's Olde Bar and Eddie's Attic, and also performs with her band, the Retro Jazz Kats.

The musicians have already started rehearsals, and Hughes said she's excited to do a show with this type of music.

"They just started talking about doing classic western swing with strings, but that's just not done that much," she said. "I'm totally psyched about it."

Although he learned classical melodies on the violin, Lambert said much of his career - even in high school - found him playing classical violin during the winter and spring and fiddle during the summer. On this occasion, he's reaching into his North Georgia roots to lead the strings on the fiddle.

The main difference between the two playing styles, he said, is in the rhythm and how the bow is used.

"There aren't that many people who do both, and I think it's very scary for classical players because it's such a different bow technique," he said. "I would say bluegrass tends to be less complicated with the left hand - the range of notes, the level of complexity of harmony and those sorts of things are much more complicated in classical music.

"Bluegrass tends to be much simpler melodically or harmonically, but the rhythm is much more prominent and is the difficult thing."

Lambert worked with pianist and arranger Robert Strickland of Atlanta to reformat the popular songs into something appropriate for the string section. Strickland recently conducted the music for "Dream Girls" at the Fabulous Fox Theatre. This will be the first time the new arrangements will be heard, Lambert said.

And he hopes the kickin' tunes will boost people up out of their seats for a jig or two, too.

"This is all brand-new stuff, never been heard," he said. "They're all tunes that people know - and a lot of really popular and common tunes, but they're all brand-new arrangements. And I think this band, flanked by the string section, will be a real interesting sound."