Golden Strings going electric

Founder of Trans-Siberian Orchestra joining the party
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Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Dan O’Connell, Shawano Community Middle School orchestra director, works with his group recently on a song they will be performing for Golden Strings next week. This will be the first time the middle school orchestra has joined the high school orchestra for the Golden Strings concert.

The Golden Strings concert has been a traditional fundraiser for the Shawano Community High School orchestra for decades, but that tradition is about to be electrified.

The orchestra is getting a little boost from Mark Wood, one of the founding members of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, who will be including the students in a workshop called “Electrify Your Strings.” Wood will work with the orchestras from both the high school and Shawano Community Middle School for several days next week, culminating in the annual concert Nov. 3-4.

“Mark Wood’s ‘Electrify Your Strings’ program has been around for quite a while,” said Jill Sousek, SCHS orchestra director. “I have a few friends who have worked with him before, and they suggested I get in contact with Mark to see if we could make something happen here.”

Sousek had originally planned to utilize Wood for her orchestra, but she said that Wood specifically asked to spend time working with both the high school and middle school, giving her the opportunity to get both schools together for an event.

“With him coming in, we want the most kids to work with him,” Sousek said. “Between the high school and middle school, we’ll have 160 students on stage. That’s going to make it interesting and priceless for the musicians that’ll be on stage, but also for the audience. We’ll reach out to more parents and community members than we normally would if we just had a middle school concert or a high school concert.”

Dan O’Connell, SCMS orchestra director, said he is really excited for his students to have the opportunity but admits it might be a little daunting for his beginning students who are just learning to play their instruments. Shawano’s elementary schools do not have bands or orchestras, so the first opportunity the students have, outside of private lessons, is in middle school.

“Jill and I have been talking about doing a combined concert for a number of years,” O’Connell said. “It just hadn’t gotten off the ground.”

Sousek noted that this will be a different level of commitment for all the students involved. While both schools have been working on their pieces since the beginning of the year, the game is expected to change a little once Wood arrives in Shawano.

“We’ll have a small amount of rehearsals with Mark to produce a big product,” Sousek said.

Audiences can expect a different setup for this concert. The regular horseshoe positioning of the orchestra will be gone, as will the music stands. Wood, in an interview with the Leader, said one of the first things he does is get rid of the music stands in order to get the musicians and the audience to make eye contact.

Also, Golden Strings this year will be, as Sousek described it, a rock concert. There will be more of a light show this year, and there will be some electrical violins and other instruments sent to the school from Wood’s company to be part of the concert.

“Our students, many of them, have seen Trans-Siberian Orchestra in Green Bay or Milwaukee. So when we said we’re bringing in someone from TSO, they were thrilled,” Sousek said. “Plus, he’s a professional musician. Not often do we have professional musicians in this area. They may be in Green Bay. They may be in Appleton, but they’re not willing to make the drive to Shawano.”

Heid Music, State Bank of Shawano and the SCHS Music Boosters Association have contributed to this year’s Golden Strings concert. It is the only performance fundraiser the orchestras do all year; other orchestra concerts are free to the public.

”This is an exciting opportunity for our students to perform in a way they never have before with a world-renowned artist,” O’Connell said. “It gives them the chance to see what it takes to prepare for taking the stage at a rock concert, and gets them off the pages of their sheet music.”

Both orchestras have grown in recent years, according to Sousek, and the money raised from Golden Strings will help to purchase additional instruments, as well as repair some current instruments.

Next week will be the first opportunity for both orchestras to come together for rehearsal, and Sousek said she felt some apprehension about trying to organize the “rat race” noting that the two orchestras will be comingled as one.

“There’s a specific diagram of where students are supposed to be on stage,” Sousek said. “For us to get that all together is going to be interesting. But the high school kids are eager to work with the middle school kids, and the middle school’s excited to be working with the older kids.”

Even after Wood’s departure, the two orchestras still plan on working together on future Golden Strings concerts and possibly other events.

“There will be other projects that we’re planning for either later this year or for the next school year,” Sousek said.

AT A GLANCE

WHAT: Golden Strings concert, featuring Mark Wood, founding member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra

WHEN: 7 p.m. Nov. 3, 3 p.m. Nov. 4

WHERE: Auditorium, Shawano Community High School, 220 County Road B, Shawano

TICKETS: $10