by Dan Holland
Brecksville-Broadview Heights Middle School was the site of the latest installment of “Electrify Your Symphony” on the evening of Oct. 29.
The program, founded in 2001 by renowned electric violinist Mark Wood, a founding member of the internationally-acclaimed Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Wood works with school music directors around the country to create tailor-made rock symphony programs for live performance.
The program, originally called “Electrify Your Strings,” is the third installment in the Brecksville-Broadview Heights School District, with past performances having taken place in 2015 and 2018. This year’s performance was led by electric cellist Greg Byers of EYS, with the program incorporating approximately 170 students from the middle school and high school orchestras. The show also included students from the school choir and band programs.
BBHHS Orchestra Director Steven Cocchiola and BBHMS Orchestra Director Jennifer O’Neal have directed all three EYS programs in the district.
“The concert itself went very well,” said Cocchiola. “I think it was a good way to start off the year, especially since the school year started later this year with the opening of the new elementary school. It was a really good audience, which always helps when the audience responds well. All things considered, it went off quite flawlessly. I was very happy to do it again.”
More importantly, added O’Neal, the students had a great time.
“They’re still playing their music from the show even though we’re getting out new music for the holidays now,” she said. “They’re either playing it by memory or they’re taking out their music and practicing it when they first come in the classroom. So, it tells me how much they liked the songs and want to keep playing them.”
O’Neal said the music compositions seemed a bit intimidating to some of her students at first, as the program is geared more toward high school-level musicians. The music was also to be performed standing up rather than in the usual seated position. But all students rose to the occasion.
“The hardest thing for them was just to loosen up, smile and have fun,” she said. “We’re so serious as string players and want to make sure we play every note perfectly, but this was a little more laid back. These kids didn’t really have a reference since the last EYS concert we had was five years ago. Even the high school kids weren’t sure what it was all about until it happened. It was a different kind of experience for them, but once they figured out what was going on, they were all in, and it was just so much fun.”
Cocchiola said the program allows music students to be exposed to a variety of different styles while incorporating performance elements.
“A lot of times in orchestra, it’s perceived as only consisting of classical music,” he explained. “This is something they listen to and like, and they get into it a lot more. In addition to playing music that they like, it gives them a little peek into the window of what it’s like to perform on stage. You’re adding choreography to it and stage presence, and we added lights and a video wall this time. We tried to add all of these elements that would happen during a rock concert, and we want to make sure our kids are exposed to number of different genres of music.”
A few of the numbers performed included the Mark Wood penned pieces: “Strings Will Rock You,” “Hunters of Avatar” and “Wood’s Bolero,” with a combined finale arrangement of Journey’s “Any Way You Want it.”
The program also included a raffle to win a sting ray electric violin designed by Wood, courtesy of Royalton Music Center, with all proceeds benefiting the school music programs.
“Usually, orchestras are seen as mostly classical music,” added O’Neal. “In the string family, we can vary with our styles and do it with some style and grace within our reach. [The students] can play electric instruments, be boisterous, move around, and do some things that are not within the usual stereotype of what orchestras are usually seen as.”
Cocchiola said he is grateful to be able to gather together for concerts once again following the COVID-19 shutdowns. “We’re very fortunate in that the district has been very proactive in making sure that music was still happening in BBHHS in comparison with some other surrounding school districts,” he said. “We were fortunate, but also, we weren’t able to do certain things creatively, so this allowed a lot of creativity by mixing the high school and middle school kids and having 170 kids on stage at the same time, which we weren’t able to do for the last two years. It was important for us just to be able to go back to normal.”