World-Renowned Electric Violinist Mark Wood Guest Teaches, Performs with Highlands Ranch Orchestra
HIGHLANDS RANCH -
A high school orchestra room is home to so many different personalities. “Some are shy. Some are timid. Some are overly confident,” observes Ryan Woodworth - director of orchestras at Highlands Ranch High School. Teachers are always looking for a breakthrough moment. That’s where the guest instructor comes in.
“I’m a viola player. We’re the most useless musicians in the world,” suggests guest instructor Mark Wood. He’s selling himself a little short. He comes from a family of musicians. He, along with his brothers, formed the first all brother string quartet. By the age of 12 he was building electric violins. He now manufactures custom violins. The Viper is available in a seven-string model - encompassing every note from bass to cello to viola to violin.
He received a full scholarship to the renowned Juilliard School of music in New York. While there he could not escape the desire to play his viola like a rockstar. “You know what. I’m gonna be the first electric viola player in the world, and I’m gonna play Jimi Hendrix on my viola,” he explains. After a mentorship from Leonard Bernstein he went on to tour with Billy Joel, Celine Dion, and Kanye West. He is perhaps best known for being a founding member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
“This was the first time I got to meet him and I was taken aback. It was amazing,” says Highlands Ranch High violinist Megan Rainey. “You’re frightening looking. You’re scaring me. You do look like a psycho killer,” Wood tells his students. It’s his friendly way of trying to introduce the concepts of movement, eye contact, and stage presence. “I love working with kids because kids are the future. They are also empty vessels that we can inspire.”
Notes, melodies, and harmonies are not on the agenda. Teaching the students to play songs by memory and to engage with their audience is Wood’s primary goal. “What kind of music do you listen to that gives you goosebumps,” he asks the class. Responses range from Guns N Roses, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, and Metallica, to Bob Marley and Justin Bieber. The point is that good music knows no genre. “The rock and roll is gnarly, but the classical - you can never go wrong with classical,” says student Luis Chavez.
“You get the sense of music and passion and…freedom,” explains Rainey after rehearsing a collection of classic rock staples. The quick tutorial is in preparation for the next day’s concert. “It’s not just any concert, it’s a rock concert,” clarifies Woodworth.
“Hello Highlands Ranch!,” shouts Wood to a crowded gymnasium on a November weeknight. “Your job is to make these great young musicians feel like rockstars,” he tells the crowd. While toddlers dance on the floor and families sing along to well-known hits, the young musicians soak in the experience of the past 24 hours.
“Music has let me release myself, express myself,” says Chavez. He’s learned the power of musical expression. “If we can use our instruments as a way to communicate to the modern world we win,” Wood reflects. “I’m gonna make you cry. I’m gonna make you laugh. I’m gonna make you fall in love - and I’m not gonna say a word.”