Electrify Your Strings Penn High School

The Penn High School Orchestra had the opportunity to learn and perform with Trans- Siberian Orchestra’s Mark Wood on Wednesday night, October 23, 2019. These students were joined by the 8th-grade members of the Discovery, Grissom, and Schmucker Orchestras to perform classical pieces as well as works from The Beatles and Nirvana.

Mark Wood is a founding member of the rock group, Trans-Siberian Orchestra. He developed the Viper electronic violin by taking inspiration from his parents as well as the classic rock guitarists of the time. At age 15, he studied under maestro Leonard Bernstein who taught him, “Being a musician is what you should be.” Wood attended Julliard school on a full scholarship. While they were grooming him into a professional, Wood watched the changing music scene on the streets of New York. Watching this evolving entity, from jazz to punk he says, “That was the most exciting thing in my life, and I thought I had to be part of that.”

Mark Wood performing with the orchestra at Penn High School October 23,2019

Trans-Siberian Orchestra began in 1996 when Paul O’ Neill, Co-producer of the heavy metal band Savatage, contacted him to form a new progressive rock group. Wood said,” One of the great joys of my life was being part of putting together the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.”They had never thought the group would be as popular as they are as nobody had ever fused classical, rock, and Christmas music together before. Now, they’ve played at arenas for 30,000 people, and sold over ten million records. Wood left the Trans-Siberian Orchestra to embark on his own solo career. Since then, he has collaborated with other notable acts such as Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Celine Dion, and even Kanye West. He explains collaborating as, “We start out at zero, and then by the end of the day, hopefully, you have a masterpiece, and if you don’t tomorrow you’re going to do it again, and you’re going to do it again.” In composing, Mark explained that he starts by improvising over a drumbeat and recording what he plays. He then takes a clip that was satisfactory and expands upon that.

Student Ellen Brockmole performing a solo during Wednesday’s performance

After a performance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a strings teacher had approached him to create a rock orchestra in their own school. Reluctantly he visited the school to find the students open-minded and ready to learn. After working with these kids, Electrify Your Strings was created. For 20 years Mark Wood has helped schools build up their orchestras by instilling self-confidence into the students and promoting music education. The 12 mentors visit around 75 schools per year to reach out to students through music and help kids to “amplify and promote what they do to the world.” Mark described music as a “3D multilevel experience,” reaching people with depth and emotion. In his teaching, Mark puts an emphasis on improvisation and playing how you feel.

In the program, Wood worked with the Penn orchestras, teaching them to “play the music, not the black notes”, stressing the importance of expression in music. He arrived getting to know the students by name and asking them about their own personal interests and hobbies. Wood emphasized the need for movement and emotion when playing to really get involved in the music. Penn student, Ellen Brockmole had the opportunity to perform during Wednesday’s showcase. In an interview she explained her experience playing with Mark Wood He encourages everyone to be a disrupter and create change in the world.

The performance ended with Penn’s rendition of Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown” and a raffle of one of Mark’s instruments. All of the proceeds went back into the Penn music program. To find more information on Mark Wood and the Electrify Your Strings program, visit http://www.electrifyyourstrings.com/.