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I'm not sure how to describe Mark Wood.

Showman, artist, businessman, educator, inventor.  All these terms apply, but it seems to me that there needs to be more said.

Mark Wood grew up on Long Island.  He started playing the viola when he was 12 years old, taking lessons from teachers in the public schools of Port Washington, New York.  While still in school he and his three brothers formed a string quartet, and they toured the Northeast playing Beethoven.
Mark's skill on the viola grew to the extent that he received a full scholarship to attend the prestigious Juilliard School of Music, where he studied under one of the most important viola teachers in the world.

But several years earlier something occurred that would change Mark's life forever.  Mark's parents let him listen to the Beatles' album Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band.
Rock and Roll became Mark's
music of choice.

I could play Stravinsky and Beethoven and Mozart like it was nothing without appreciating it.  I wasn't mature enough."

As for his studies at Juilliard, Mark says his teacher, who was, "The most important viola player in the world . . . one of the best viola teachers in the world . . . but one of the worst teachers for me." wouldn't teach him to play Jimi Hendrix, so after two years Mark left.
"My parents are still reeling . . . still recovering at the thought that I would leave Juilliard," Mark says.
Wood Violins, Viper
Mark Wood
Wood Violins, Stingray
With Juilliard behind him, and following a brief stay in Boston, Mark returned home where he says he spent five years sleeping on the floor of his father's art studio and teaching himself how to improvise.  "Those techniques that I learned back then, I still use today."

Mark also switched from the viola to the violin.

I asked him why he chose the violin.

"What makes violin cool?  You can make the most beautifully sensuous sound on it one second, and the next second, the most aggressive machine gun type playing on one instrument."
But the instrument
wasn't there to let Mark play his
kind of music the way he wanted to play it.
Not one to be discouraged, Mark set out to
design his own instruments, and has started
a company to sell his creations to the public.

Click Here to See A Video of the Instruments Available from Wood Violins.
Mark Wood Violins, Sabre
Wood Violins, Cobra Cello
Stingray Violin
Click Picture for Information
Sabre Violin
Click Picture for Information
Cobra Cello
Click Picture for Information
And, of course, the
While the Stingray and the Sabre are innovative in and of themselves, what truly sets the Cobra and the Viper apart are their support systems.  The strap and bracing system allows the instrument to be "worn."  The violin will stay in position hands free (it is actually quite comfortable) and the cello requires no endpin.
So I've talked about Mark Wood the artist and the inventor.  Where do the words performer and showman come in?

Mark was a founding member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  You may remember them from their song Wizards in Winter, which was popular during the 2005 Christmas season.  It accompanied a video in which an Ohio man had set up his Christmas lights to flash to  the rhythms in TSO's song.  He's appeared on television with Jay Leno, toured with Celine Dion.  He's even done a Pepsi commercial with hip hop violinist Miri Ben Ami. Mark was the Devil and the two played Charlie Daniels's The Devil Went Down to Georgia. The prize was a can of Pepsi.  He also released several albums himself including Voodoo Violence.

Mark has also composed music for such projects as CBS-TV's broadcast of the 2002 Tour de France, CBS-TV's broadcast of the 1998 Olympics, USA Network sports broadcasts - All themes and incidental music (US Open, French Open, Iditarod, Golf Masters, and more), PBS, Discovery Channel and many more.  He has written music for commercials for Minute Maid, Molson's, Rolaids, Seadoo, Sector Watches, Pontiac, and STP.

While all of these things are important, where Mark may be making the biggest impact is in the field of music education.  Here he is involved in at least two important projects.

First, the Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp. Having been affiliated with Mark O'Connor's Fiddle Camps for more than 10 years, Mark (Wood) began his own summer camp for string players several years ago. The annual camp is a "Mecca" for folks serious about rocking out with violin, viola, cello, and bass. An internationally known faculty and lots of hands-on work in everything from rock to country to show tunes make this a "must do" for serious "alternative styles" violinists. And don't miss the chance to play with Mark's good friend Rachel Barton-Pine.
Then there is Mark's Electrify Your Strings project.

"It's the Final Frontier,"  Mark proclaims.

Mark says that every area of music has received attention and promotion but one, bowed strings.  He is passionate about reaching children to show them the beauty of strings, the versatility of the instrument, and just how "kick-butt cool" the string family can be. 

Mark comes to schools for everything ranging from a single evening concert to a 2-day workshop in which he shows orchestra members just how great the violin is, teaches workshop participants to relax, have fun with the instrument and improvise. Then he places the orchestra in front of the student body to give them a taste of what they're missing by not being a part of the strings program.  The result is almost universally acclaimed as one of the greatest boosts the program has ever received!

Since leaving TSO in 2009 Mark has given full effort to Electrify Your Strings. We'll miss his concert performances, but the kids welcome him to their schools with open arms and flock to his camp.
So Mark's ambition is to take the violin from stuffy to cool.  He wants to put the excitement back into orchestral strings.

Does that mean he's completely abandoned his classical roots?

"I listen to classical music every day," he says.  "Brahms, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Dvorak, Beethoven (of course), mostly late romantic period stuff, and then the whole Stravinsky, Copland thing."

As I sat with Mark and ten Mark and ten Middle School aged violinists I asked him, "What practice advice do you have for these guys?  How can they make their practices better?"

"Practice with a metronome!"  He says string players are notoriously bad with rhythms.

"Practice standing up!"  He insists that playing in a seated position compromises your technique.  "And besides, who plays Rock and Roll sitting down?  NOBODY!"

"Practice in front of a mirror!" 

"Why?" asked 12-year old Miranda.

Mark tilted his head, stuck out his tongue and said, "You might be making some weird face."

The kids laughed and Mark launched right into a thirty-second discussion of posture and position, and the ability to see for yourself just what your teacher is talking about and make corrections.

And finally, have fun with the instrument.  "I love my wah wah pedal," he announced to the kids surrounding him during lunch at the workshop I visited.  When asked why, Mark's eyes lit up.  "Have you ever played through one?  You can make the coolest sounds.  You can make your violin talk!  You can . . ."

And as Mark Wood went on preaching his gospel of practice, good technique and fun the ten wide-eyed kids in our little huddle hung on every single word.  And when it came time to get back on stage for the last two hours of the workshop's second day the forty kids in the auditorium scampered (not moped) back to their seats. 
Mark Wood Music Productions
Wood Violins
Alternative Strings with Mark Wood
Trans Siberian Orchestra--Mark Wood--Lost Christmas
Trans Siberian Orchestra, Mark Wood, Beethoven's Last Night
Trans Siberian Orchestra
Take a look at the recordings above or see everything Amazon has by TSO by
Clicking Here!
Alternative Strings: The New Curriculum
by Julie Lyonn Lieberman
Includes a section by Mark entitled
Evolution, Rock, and Musicianship
They're Not Vipers, But The Are Electric. 
And I Think You'll Find at Least a Couple of Them Pretty Cool.
CheckThese Instruments Out! 
(Click the Pictures)

A year has passed since I wrote the initial article.  I've made a few changes over the course of the year.  I heard that Mark was going to be in my area again, working with the same middle school orchestra.  What impact would I see after a year?  Would the kids still be interested?  What's the teacher have to say about Mark's influence on her program?

I walked into the room mid-rehearsal again.  There were 20% more students than I had seen the year before.  Several folks had joined the group on guitar, and there was a kid on a trap set.  And the room was bouncing.  Mark was at the front of the room with six student soloists who were there to improvise with him.  Some of the kids had been there the year before, some were new, and some of the students I had interviewed last year were missing.

But every student seemed excited or intent.  The musicianship had improved dramatically among many of the students.  Mark wasn't talking about the basics any more.  He was talking about performance. He was talking about having fun with the instrument.  He was talking about playing the violin outside the school environment--well into their lives after high school.

The message was very much, the same.  But there seemed to be more depth to it this time.  And the questions asked by the students in the small group situation were different.

"Should I go to Juilliard?"
Only if you want to play Mozart for the rest of your life and starve.  Juilliard needs to recognize that in order to make a living, students need to learn alternative styles...they need to play the music the public wants.  Juilliard's strength is the technique it teaches.  Look at my right hand.  Look at my left hand.  THAT is what Juilliard teaches.  That is great.  But if that's all I had, I'd be a wonderful violinist, but I'd be hungry.

"So should I give up classical music?"
NO!!!  I play Classical music every day!  I love Classical music!  But that's not what I want to play for the rest of my life. 

"Can I become a professional violinist"
If you love it.  If you're willing to put in the time and effort.  If you're willing to learn to be flexible and play many kinds of music.  If you are willing to work smart, not just follow the traditional path.  Yes.  Otherwise, the world needs doctors.  The world needs engineers.  There is nothing that says you have to do what I do in order to play the violin.  Do what you love.  Love what you do.  Don't stop playing.

A parent spoke up. 
"My daughter says she loves her instrument.  She says she loves playing.  But she never wants to practice and she doesn't want lessons."
Mark looked incredulous! 
She doesn't want lessons?  Well, sometimes we just have to step in and act like parents.  It's not always fun.  Sometimes you just have to step in and tell your kid, "This is the way it's going to be."  They'll thank you later on.

And what does the teacher have to say about things?  Will she be inviting Mark back again next year?
She smiled really broadly.  Her eyes got wide and she almost shouted the answer at me.

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Take a Look at Electrifying Your Accoustic Instrument!
Shadow SH 3000 Quick Mount Violin Transducer

Shadow SH 3000 Quick Mount Violin Transducer

The Shadow SH 3000 Quick Mount Transducer easily mounts directly to the violin's bridge. Includes volume and tone control unit that mounts "chin rest" style to the violin. Includes a shielded 12' (4m) instrument cable. Easy and quick installation.

Shadow Violin Bridge with built in Pickup

Shadow Violin Bridge with built in Pickup

The Shadow Violin Bridge with Built-in Pickup can be carved to match your original bridge. It provides a warm and acoustic violin sound. Includes volume and tone controls that attach chin rest" style and a 12-foot cable.

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