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Cartoon Symphony' At Art Museum Tonight

If you hear the sounds of ripping cloth, crunching potato chips or popping bubble wrap during the Winfield Regional Symphony's concert in Wichita tonight, don't be surprised. That's all part of "The Cartoon Symphony," an original work by the group's director, Gary Gackstatter, that will be showcased at 7:30 p.m. at the Wichita Art Museum. The symphony will provide accompaniment for five classic Max Fleischer cartoons from the 1920s -- including appropriate sound effects. "We have three people who will be pretty busy at the sound table," Gackstatter said. "They wrote a script for themselves and they will be moving constantly to keep up with the cartoons."

Gackstatter's composition mixes classical music elements with jazz to highlight actions and enhance moods in the vintage animation. All five cartoons combine live action with Fleischer himself and animation with his beloved Coco the Clown, a little prankster who lives in an ink bottle and literally jumps off the drawing board for adventures. "I don't want to call them musical cliches, but when something is threatening, the music is threatening, when it's happy, the music is happy," he said. "The music can stand alone, but it makes more sense when you see the cartoons."

In effect, orchestra members are taking the place of old-time theater accompanists by describing the visuals in music. "It can be tricky. But at least we don't have to put up with film breaking or projectors overheating," he joked. "The Cartoon Symphony" is a follow-up to Gackstatter's "Picture Book Symphony" at the museum last year, which set children's book illustrations to original melodies. "Most of the music I write combines various arts so it seemed a natural to do something with the art museum. It's a great place to perform."

The performance will be in Farha Great Hall under -- appropriately -- the colorful confetti chandelier. The room holds about 300 concertgoers. Gackstatter's interest in cartoons began when his grandmother showed them to him with a hand-cranked projector. He later became a pen-and-ink cartoonist for his high school and college newspapers. "There are about 30 Coco the Clown cartoons, but they always seem to use only two soundtracks. That got a little boring. It was really fun to write new things for them." Gackstatter said he and the Winfield Symphony are creating a new tradition with the art museum by combining visuals and original music. They are already planning the next concert, probably for next spring.

Gackstatter will compose music to highlight paintings of Grouse Creek Valley by artist Mark Flickinger, a fellow instructor at Cowley County Community College. Meanwhile, Flickinger will provide narration for tonight's "Cartoon Symphony." "Mark has a couple of screws loose, so he will be perfect," Gackstatter joked. "His sense of humor matches the cartoons."


What: Winfield Regional Symphony performing original score by Gary Gackstatter for five classic silent Max Fleischer cartoons from the 1920s

Where: Under the confetti chandelier in the Great Hall of the Wichita Art Museum, 1400 W. Museum Blvd.

When: 7:30 p.m. today How much: Concert free with museum admission: $5 adults, $4 seniors and students; $2 ages 5-17.

For more information, call 268-4921 or online at Reach Bob Curtright at 268-6394 or