Mark Wood, young Johnson City musicians rock out in Freedom Hall

From left, Science Hill musicians Mack Sartino (11th grade, cellist), Erin McMillion (11th grade, violist), Olivia Simmons (11th grade, violinist), Kaylee Rogers (11th grade, violinist), and Michael Hu (11th grade, cellist). Photo by Daniell Morin

By Danielle Morin

Students from Indian Trail Intermediate School, Liberty Bell Middle School, and Science Hill High School came together last Thursday and Friday to rehearse with Mark Wood, founder and member of the Trans Siberian Orchestra, preparing for a Saturday night concert inside Freedom Hall as part of Wood’s Spotlight Tour.

Wood described the event as, “a wonderful moment for us all to feel back to relative normal,” referencing the two-year postponement due to COVID-19 restrictions (the show was originally planned for April of 2020).

The concert was a result of successful collaboration efforts between the Trans Siberian Orchestra and Susan Lambert, Director of the Johnson City Schools Orchestra program. Olivia Simmons, one of Lambert’s violin students, expressed her appreciation for the event and Lambert’s dedication to making it happen, saying, “I think [Lambert] deserves a lot of the credit too because she’s been an incredible teacher, and she’s been trying to get us this experience for a long time.”

Mark Wood instructs students during a rehearsal prior to Saturday’s concert. Photo by Danielle Morin

The Spotlight Tour is part of Wood’s campaign to energize the music program in public schools. Wood explained, “So, what I do, while I tour around with the Trans Siberian Orchestra, we go to schools and empower the music program.

“Now we have hundreds of kids in orchestra because we’ve been consistently inspiring!”

And it seems his mission is working. Mack Sartino, a Science Hill student and cellist said, “I think that he is really inspiring a lot of these kids, because I feel like when a lot of these kids join the orchestra, they don’t really know what they’re doing, and so this really gives people an opportunity to really just expand their interests.”

Fellow classmate and cellist, Michael Hu, added, “It’s a good experience, and we all hope to learn from it and do better in our own perspectives and our own instruments.”

But Wood’s interaction with the students went beyond simply teaching them how to better play their instruments. The concert was one of a kind, featuring an orchestral-rock performance, in an attempt to blur the definitive line between the two genres whose styles have always been viewed as opposing ones.

Johnson City Schools Orchestra students perform with Wood during Wood’s Spotlight Tour concert inside Freedom Hall on Saturday night. Photo by T.R. Dunn, T.R. Dunn Photography

The result is an orchestra production with an exciting rock experience that allowed students to truly broaden their understanding of what music can be. Kaylee Rogers, a violinist for Science Hill, described Wood’s style and approach as an “anomaly,” explaining, “the way he plays is so different to what we’re used to, and so I think it’s been, like, a challenge to change up the way we play our music.”

As exciting as the show was to watch for audience members, it was equally if not more exciting for Science Hill’s musicians to rehearse and perform. Violist Erin McMillion exclaimed, “I just completely geek out because I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is AC/DC, and I’m playing it on my viola!”

The two-day rehearsals were held in anticipation of Saturday’s performance that Wood described as, “the moment where we’re going to have thousands of people celebrating this music program.” It looked liked everyone had something to gain from the unique experience and the Johnson City Schools look forward to collaborating with Mark Wood and the Trans Siberian Orchestra in the future.


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