Electric violinist Wood teaches students his take on performing
After dinner last Friday night at Darien High School, Mark Wood led an orchestra of Darien teenagers through his composition "Wood's Bolero," his compositional take on Ravel's classical piece mixed with rock.
During the performance, Wood moved quickly across the stage, getting close to the musicians as he fiddled on his electric violin and urged them on.
"The idea is to get them away from the dots on the page and get them to express who they are through the music," Wood's wife, vocalist Laura Kaye said, as she watched the action.
After a short burst of music, a smiling Wood halts the proceedings to urge the students to throw off their preconceptions of what an orchestral performance is. Wood wants them to stay loose, to smile, and, with the exception of the cellists who are trapped behind their instruments, to move.
The main point, for Wood, a founding member of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, is being expressive.
"I want to see energy, and you connecting with the audience," Wood said.
The visit by Wood, the violinist for Trans-Siberian Orchestra and founder of Wood Violins and his "Electrify Your Strings," program, came at the end of several months of rehearsal that Jane Minnis, the orchestra director for the high school, Chris Andrade, the school's choral director, and Middlesex Middle School music director Malcolm Carlan hope will broaden the horizons of the more than 200 musicians and singers in grades eight through 12 taking part.
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Wood's program, "Electrify Your Strings," culminated with a rock concert the students gave for more than 750 people in the school auditorium on Saturday, performing orchestral versions of rock classics like Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," and The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby," alongside Wood's own classical rock fusion pieces.
Minnis said at the concert the students got caught up in the program and gave spirited performances moving around the stage and interacting with each other.
"The students were so energized and so inspired by Mark and Laura at the concert," Minnis said. "Kids who were just really reserved and quiet were just singing, dancing, and jumping around and becoming true rock stars on stage. I hope they can hold onto this."
Dakeda explained that the piece incorporated musical themes of "Night on Bald Mountain," by Modest Mussorgsky.
"It's a different kind of experience," Dakeda said. "It's about connecting with the audience and all the members of the orchestra."
Wood said the whole premise of "Electrify Your Strings," and putting together a concert with only two days worth of rehearsal, is to acquaint young classically trained musicians with styles of American music such as jazz and rock and roll, both of which include improvisational elements.
"There is a very specific philosophy that Laura and I integrate into what we do with technology, integrating American styles, improvising and always a deep connection and respect for our classical music tradition," Wood said.
Wood said after practicing the music and learning the charts in class, over the last two days of rehearsal Wood and Kaye try to get the students to use their voices and instruments more expressively and be less tied to the sheet music.
"Mostly what I ask them is what kind of music they listen to?" Wood said. "When they tell me, I say, `That's the way you should play your instrument,' like the music that motivates you. In addition to classical music, there is so much music out there that can motivate one to get deeper into themselves and deeper into who they are."
Later in the evening rehearsal, singers from the high school's choral programs filed back into the auditorium led by Kaye who had been working through a rehearsal of "Stairway to Heaven," without the orchestra.
The students moved into place on a group of risers at floor level in front of the band. They danced and gestured interpretively along to the lyrics of "Carry On My Wayward Son," by the group Kansas. Movement and choreography is an important aspect of the program that encourages the students to engage with the music and audience, Kaye said.
During the version of "Stairway to Heaven," Kaye continually urged the kids to be more expressive and enjoy themselves.
"All the songs we do have choreography. My main rule is you can't just stand there, you have to move," Kaye said. "That's because I believe that moving helps you express yourself forward."
On Friday night, Aislinn Mobley, 14, and Olivia Fordyce, 15, two Darien High freshmen who sang alto in the choral program, said the concert was a fun change of pace that freed them from some of the strictures and painstaking nature of normal rehearsals.
"The fun part of this is it's all about being yourself and singing out and improvising," said Fordyce, who was to sing a solo on "Knock on Wood," a 1974 song by Amii Stewart. "What Laura did was let us make it our own."
Mobley said Kaye encouraged her to sing louder and to appreciate her own voice.
"My voice isn't conventional and might sound kind of raspy and messy and she told me my voice was beautiful and just sing out," Mobley said. "I really appreciated that."