Rock & Roll Electrifies WHS

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“We don’t need more string players. We need more musicians.” Mark Wood, virtuoso electric violin player, explained last Friday, Feb. 6, before his Velocity Tour concert with the string orchestra students from the Westbury Middle and High schools. Wood has created a highly successful music education program called “Electrify Your Strings!” that brings rock and roll to youth orchestras.

Wood is a legend in the rock and classical world. He founded the classical-rock crossover band, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and has pioneered the creation of electric string instruments. His shop, Wood Violins, sells some of the best electric violins, violas and cellos in the country. Through Electrify Your Strings, he has used his musical success to mentor the next generation of string players.

Mark Wood with his first electric violin.
Mark Wood with his first electric violin.

His educational program promotes music education and mentorship all over the country. Last year, Wood and his team visited 150 schools. “Sometimes we’d go to two in a week and we’d have to travel across the country,” he said. “My priority is giving back. You have to give back. You can’t keep taking. Greats don’t step into public schools. But mentorship is a responsibility. When someone steps in from the outside, it rocks [the student’s] world. Hopefully it inspires them for a lifetime.”

Wood’s authenticity and passion for mentorship was apparent on the stage. Not only did he perform alongside the students and actively connect with each of them, but he also donated an instrument to the school. He showcased Dexter, an alum of Westbury High School, who played in the concert with his Mark Wood-made electric cello.

The huge difference between this concert and a regular orchestra concert, besides the repertoire, was all the movement and freedom that happened onstage.

“Anything that lives moves,” explained Nathan Blake, who served as the Electrify Your Stings choreographer and movement director. “Music is an aspect of life. So music should be moving.”

The Westbury Electrify Your Strings "Rockin' Choir"
The Westbury Electrify Your Strings “Rockin’ Choir”

All members of Electrify Your Strings completely embraced this idea, with Wood moving all over stage as he played violin and conducted the 85-piece string orchestra. His wife, Laura Kaye, an accomplished rock singer, danced around stage as she led the choir and sang along.

The concert remained loud and energized throughout, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats with every song. 13-year-old Natalia Cox was the first vocalist to perform, singing “Runaway.” Her presence and overall musicality lit up the stage, urging Wood to comment, “You are a star!” Another stand-out singer was Arahmus Brown. He poured his emotions and soul into Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.” He connected with the audience in a special way, exemplifying the success of Wood’s program.

The Electrify Your Strings Team: Laura Kaye, Mark Wood, Elijah Wood, and Nathan Blake
The Electrify Your Strings Team: Laura Kaye, Mark Wood, Elijah Wood, and Nathan Blake

Tiffany Shaw, the concert mistress of the Westbury High School orchestra, showed off her gorgeous playing in a Mark Wood original song, “Come Fly With Me.” She improvised a melody on the spot, a skill which is both difficult and daunting. When asked about the Electrify Your Strings program, she said, “It’s nice to try something new. It’s a very unique, playful experience.”

Wood ended the concert by saying, “We all have to fight for the arts. We have to encourage our kids and our administration and our parents to keep music and the arts alive.” The entire crew of Electrify Your Strings stayed behind afterward, signing autographs and talking with the students and their parents. Wood and his team clearly walk the walk, giving back at every chance they get.

You can find Mark Wood and Electrify Your Strings online at www.woodviolins.com and facebook.com/electrifyyourstrings.

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