An orchestra audience is typically expected to remain quiet during performances out of respect for the performers. That wasn’t the case at Vancouver School of Arts and Academics on Tuesday afternoon.
“New York City needs to hear you!” yelled Emmy Award-winning violinist and composer Mark Wood, beckoning both to his student string ensemble and his audience in the school’s Royal Durst Theatre as they put together their own rendition of Queen’s iconic rock anthem “We Will Rock You.”
Wood, best known as an original member of the multiplatinum record-selling Trans-Siberian Orchestra, led a series of master-class workshops with students in the school’s collection of string orchestra classes in preparation for an evening concert Tuesday. The event, called “Electrify Your Strings!” was part of Wood’s 2022-2023 “Breakout Tour” of leading such classes to students across the country, focusing on teaching musical improvisation and personal experiences while diving into classical arrangements of rock ’n’ roll hits.
“Music is living and breathing, the biggest part of emotion is motion,” Wood said to one of the groups, encouraging them to sway their bodies back and forth to the rhythm. Using an iPad hooked up to the theater’s sound system, Wood played the instrumental backing to “We Will Rock You” featuring just drums and bass so the group could hear how their melody fit in to the piece.
“We’ve really got to shake the walls here,” he said.
Students take the spotlight
Throughout the practice session — which was just one of four he led Tuesday, each with a different group of students — Wood chose individual students to come up to the front and showcase how they moved to the music.
Seniors, such as principal cellist Gabe Fouts-Carrico, even got the chance to have their instruments hooked up to microphones to be featured performers alongside Wood’s signature handcrafted seven-string electric Viper violin.
“It was really interesting, that’s for sure,” said Fouts-Carrico, who, while mild-mannered, said he didn’t mind being labeled a “hotshot.” “I’m used to being in front, but this was different.”
As the rehearsal wrapped up, Wood took the time to let each featured performer take a bow. One student, a particularly energetic young cellist, made sure to relish his spotlight.
“Give it up for me!” they yelled.
Salena Walker, the school’s orchestra director, said the event was something she’d had her eyes on as a way to invigorate student excitement since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The fact that (the students) get to work with someone like Mark Wood is incredible. He’s all about connecting with and empowering students, this is a great opportunity,” Walker said as another group of students began warming up on stage.
“ ‘How can we bring life to music?’ We’ve been thinking about that for a long time. And we’ve been hyping this up all year.”