Middle Schoolers Get Rock Orchestra Lesson

Dec 16, 2016

Sioux Falls middle schoolers are playing music with a world-renowned rock orchestra violinist. Mark Wood is in town to perform Saturday night. More than 2,700 students are set to accompany him.

Middle schoolers on string instruments perform one of the most iconic contemporary holiday tunes. Mark Wood directs from the front of the room. He instructs students to crouch down, then pop back up with their bows held straight in the air.

Wood is a founding member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. He plays the seven-string electric violin he invented.

"Remember, we’re dealing not with an instrument that has only been around for a couple of decades. It’s been around for 400 years without changing at all, and there’s beauty in that," Wood says. "There’s beauty in tradition. There’s beauty in preserving, but there’s also beauty in innovation."

Wood uses the instrument as a metaphor for string music. He says traditional classical performance doesn’t need to change, but musicians do need to augment it. Wood does that by incorporating amps and iPads.

Rock orchestra violinist Mark Wood works with kids at Patrick Henry Middle School in Sioux Falls.
Credit Kealey Bultena / SDPB

"I think that the kid of now, the kid of the next 20 years, is going to be so different and sophisticated and demanding of a deeper experience with the music, with technology, and experience with other people," Wood says.

Wood says students who incorporate movement with their musical performance activate their brains, their bodies, and their hearts. He’s teaching middle schoolers that they can create different kinds of music.

"Usually when you see an orchestra you have the violists here, and if a guy in the back of the violist section, which was me at Julliard by the way, with red sneakers, leather pants, and their hair on fire, I’m going to stick out – and not in a good way in a traditional orchestra," Wood says. "But I was like, ‘Well, where can I fit? I know. Let’s make something new.’ So we have all the kids are standing up (except the cellos), and they’re activating movement and body fluidity with their playing, and we’re working with a choir and a band with the same mentality of activating their inner voice."

Wood says students discover their individual energy and passion using classical instruments in contemporary ways.

Orchestra, band, and choir students from around Sioux Falls perform with Mark Wood on Saturday, December 17 at 7 p.m. at the Denny Sanford Premier Center.