In my teaching, I aim to break the mould of String Education and bring it to the 21st century. Embarking on an Australian first, I decided to team up with legendary American electric violinist Mark Wood and put on an Electrify Your Strings concert at the Athenaeum Theatre in Melbourne’s CBD.
It took about a year from the idea's initial inception, from when Mark and I met at the Australian String Association’s (Austa) National Conference last year. We shared the same vision in wanting to see Rock’n’Roll become a strong part of the string teachers curriculum. Our motivation was that our students should learn all styles of music including those of the modern day. 12 months later saw the hard work of 140 St Leonard's students and staff culminate in one huge evening. Complete with live feed screens, electric instruments, amplification and a lighting rig, here is what Year 10 cello student Angus Gray had to say about the evening:
“Never let it be said that strings are dull. From the Year 4's dancing in the aisles to the older students rocking it out on stage, the St Leonard's College ‘Electrify Your Strings’ concert at the Athenaeum Theatre was a rock fest for strings. With electric stringed instruments as the heroes, Mark proved to be an inspirational educator with the overriding message to be the best musician you can be first, and a string player second. Mark’s special brand of inspiration is especially impressive given he travels all over the world sharing his message, with equal amounts of enthusiasm and support for all the string students he meets.
The workshop was an eye opener for many a string student, with Bach giving way to my favourite: Carry On My Wayward Son by Kansas, just one of several rock tunes Mark arranged for electric strings. The workshop was high energy with everyone having an opportunity to play an electric instrument, with Mark careful to make sure everyone felt included.
Through this experience I learned that you can play any genre in music on any instrument; you just need to think outside the box and don’t always have to conform to traditional values. It was great to see how strings can have relevance in today’s music and more broadly how classical music lays the ground work to help you be the best musician you can be.”
All in all, what was achieved by Mark Wood and the St Leonard's College string department was not only an Australian first, but an extremely rewarding experience. The students are still on a high, but more importantly they now love playing anything from J.S. Bach to Coldplay’s Viva La Vida. Gone are the days when people will say string players can’t play pop! Mission complete!