Members of the Science Hill High School Orchestra put the finishing touches on their performances during their practice Friday.
Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Journey, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Bach and Vivaldi — some of these things are not like the others, and that’s the point.
These are the names of selections chosen by Johnson City Schools music director Susan Lambert and founding member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Mark Wood, who will be leading Saturday's “Electrify Your Strings” concert by the Science Hill Orchestra in the school’s auditorium, back for its second year in a row.
Wood says the transition between the genres of music is no hard task, having been something he’s done for many years with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and other musical endeavors.
“It’s as easy as it is for our ears to allow it,” Wood says. “And that’s the beautiful part.”
Nearly 90 students packed the stage of the auditorium Friday to put the final touches on their performances, and the ever-positive Wood, known worldwide for his violin design and playing, was having great success in pumping up the high-schoolers and removing as much of their inhibition and shyness as possible.
Scroll down to view a video of Wood and the SHHS Orchestra practicing
“Everything needs to be exaggerated,” Wood said about his students’ movement and enthusiasm during the performance, requiring them to come out of their shells. “I’ll be right next to you and I promise you won’t look silly. Justin Bieber, that’s who looks silly.”
Feeling and getting into the music is the most important aspect of the performance for Wood, who would frequently stop in the middle of a run-through to let individual students know just how well they were doing and how wonderful it was to see them engaging in the music at such a level, and how much he appreciated their enthusiasm.
Senior Ellen LaPrade was one of those heavily complimented by Wood. She said it was an honor to be working with such distinguished teacher of music.
“I love to play the cello,” LaPrade said. “And knowing all about his music makes this so much fun.”
Wood would encourage the group to collectively sway and bob with the tunes of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Any Way You Want It,” and reflect their energy onto the sold out 650-person crowd. Getting rid of the shyness is the key to making the show not boring, something with which Wood will not put up.
“Shyness leads to the real world flattening you like a truck,” Wood said. “Every moment, you can’t look like you’re on the corner of the street. You need to look engaged.”
He was getting just that reaction from many of the talented players in the SHHS Orchestra, including Chase Taylor, who Wood brought forth to highlight all that was special about this classical, rock and roll and electric mixed music.
Taylor, Wood said, was just about everything not expected of a great string player, and his presence alone would help break down barriers.
“He’s a natural,” Wood said of Taylor. “We love you, Chase!”
Wood’s teaching style is based off his positive encouragement and excitement for the music, always having the attention and admiration of all students in his gallery, whether he joins in with the players or beatboxes the rhythm. He says what you see is the exploration of new territory for high school orchestras.
And who would know better? Wood’s an Emmy award-winning composer and designer of his own variety of violins, called Wood Violins. After the students take part in what’s being billed as a “Rock Orchestra,” Wood will play some of his own original music. All profits from the live concert will be going to Science Hill’s music program.
Lambert said it’s Wood’s philosophy that there are no boundaries in music that gets the students and public behind him and says his style of concert is part of the future of high school orchestras, like Wood said. Following last year’s concert, they were blown away, she said, and that might have something to do with this year’s concert selling out.
The success of the music program shows Lambert she’s doing a good job, saying she perennially sees her talented students land music scholarships, including a current student who’s earned a full-time scholarship to the University of South Carolina, something that is reward for her as the director.