World on a String

 

World on a string: Trans-Siberian violinist at WFISD

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Mark Wood, toting a seven-string electric violin of his own design that looks more Eddie Van Halen than Itzhak Perlman, did perhaps the scariest of things.

He performed for the toughest critics — a few hundred elementary-school students.

The Juilliard-trained, original member of Trans-Siberian Orchestra (and inventor of the first solid body electric violin), returned to Wichita Falls Monday for four days of workshops and talks with Wichita Falls ISD teachers and elementary-school students.

At Fowler Elementary School Tuesday, Wood churned out the Beatles’ “Lonely People” on his pointy, lightning shaped electric violin, along with a country song for good measure — a variety of tunes to introduce young students to the different colors of music.

“Who knows what this is?” he asked Fowler students while holding up a traditional four-string violin, then showed students his seven-string electric violin.

“Do I need that many strings?” he asked with a smile.

Not many of the students knew, however, what a violin bow is called.

One student piped up: “It’s a music stick.”

“A music stick? I kind of like that,” Wood said.

This week, Wood will be visiting eight Wichita Falls ISD schools and will venture into the region to City View Elementary School and Olney High School. He also helmed a teacher workshop at Rider High.

The visit is the second to Wichita Falls for Wood, who the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra brought to town to work with the WFISD’s strings students for their All-Strings Festival in 2015-16. His visits have been made possible by the Priddy Foundation.

Wayne Bennett, interim music director for the symphony, said it was in the orchestra’s plans to bring Wood back to town work with about half of the elementary schools this year.

 

“It’s to get them familiar with music and all different kinds of music,” Bennett said of Wood’s work with the students. He added that the symphony wants to expose students to “alternative ways to play the violin.”

Students shouldn’t feel violins are meant only for classical music; they can play rock or bluegrass, country or fuse their sound with rap — whatever they might want to do. Violin doesn’t have to fit a stereotype, Bennett said.

It was Bennett’s vision to bring Wood to town for last year’s “Electrify Your Strings” program. Wood’s appearance is part of a bigger vision of the WFSO as far as its music education mission.

For the past three years, the arts organization has been adding junior-high and high-schoolers to its arts enhancement programs in the schools. Just last week, the symphony, in concert with the Wichita Falls ISD, brought in the Dallas String Quartet to perform for middle-school students.

Plans are for Wood to return in the 2017-18 school year to work with eight more elementary schools.

He will be at City View Elementary School and Olney High Wednesday. Then Thursday, he will visit Lamar, Milam, Fain and Southern Hills to get these students excited enough, possibly, to want to take up an instrument once they reach middle school and high school, where the Wichita Falls ISD is concentrating its orchestral program.

Follow Times Record News senior editor/reporter Lana Sweeten-Shults on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul.