Emmy-winning musician plays, teaches at Waco Arts Fest

By Anna Flagg

For the second year in a row, Emmy-winning musician Mark Wood took the stage Saturday afternoon at Waco Cultural Arts Festival, held in Indian Spring Park in downtown Waco.

Wood, who lives in New York City, traveled to Waco to perform with student groups from Waco Independent School District at the festival after leading a four-day workshop at University High School.

With Wood leading the pack on Saturday, about 30 orchestra students and four music teachers played musical selections by various artists, including Coldplay and Led Zeppelin.

During the performance, Wood encouraged the audience to participate by dancing and clapping.

Wood introduced some of the students who performed with him and interacted with them during his performance.

Multiple times, Wood stressed the importance of arts education.

“The most important investment we have is on this stage, so we do not compromise in the quality of our education,” Wood said. “These kids deserve the best and you guys give it to them.”

Ten years ago, Wood founded an outreach program called “Electrify your Strings” to teach orchestra students how to incorporate rock ‘n’ roll into their music.

The program has impacted more than 100,000 students around the country.

Wood’s workshop was held at University High School for Waco ISD orchestra students to learn new music in preparation for their participation in the festival.

Wood, an alumnus of The Juilliard School, has a lengthy resume including six original albums, an Emmy for musical composition and performances alongside Celine Dion, Billy Joel and Kanye West.

Wood is also a member of the award-winning Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Wood began experimenting in the 1970s with inventing and created the first solid body electric violin, which has the capacity to produce more power and excitement than the typical violin.

Wood was brought to Waco through a grant written by Doreen Ravenscroft, the president and festival producer of the Waco Cultural Arts Fest, as well as other supporters of the benefits of musical education.

“The best thing about the fest is seeing the hard work and practice these kids have put into the arts and being able to give them the chance to showcase their abilities to Waco,” Ravenscroft said.

Joe Ortiz, Waco High School orchestra director, bragged about Wood.

“We love having Mark come,” Ortiz said. “He is a tremendous person and such a gentleman.”

After his performance with the students, Wood played a few solo pieces and remained behind following the concert, talking with students and parents.

He said he hopes to come back to Waco for the next Cultural Arts Fest and spoke very highly of Waco, which he said he always enjoys visiting mostly because of the people.

“Who knew Waco was filled with so much culture?” Wood said. “You guys show the world how to do it.”