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Her electrifying style

Abby Bolen stands alone in a small room, the vibrantly painted viper violin positioned on her shoulder, her bow moving fast and intense. She plays a song that sounds like rock and roll with a Celtic flair.

Abby, 16, plays the electric violin as if she is one with the music she creates.“I can feel the music; I feel it in my torso. It’s like a passion, a passionate feeling,” said the East Kentwood High School junior. When asked what song she was playing, she responded, “I made that up. I was just going.”

Her skill with the instrument has caught the attention of world-renowned violist Mark Wood, a musician who has served as a source of inspiration for Abby since seventh grade. 

Wood, an Emmy-winning composer and original member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, personally selected Abby as one of 10 students nationwide to perform with him in the MuZart World Educational Conference Nov. 9.  The concert, titled “We are Hope,” took place at the LDS Conference Center, in Salt Lake City, a venue with seating for more than 20,000, the biggest Abby has ever performed in.

She received the invitation to participate in the MuZart concert with Wood via e-mail, an experience that put her “on cloud nine,” he said. “I was selected for the way I move on stage,” she said. “I can move my body the way the music tells me to,” she said.

A Rock Star Connection

Wood has known Abby since he visited her school with his Electrify Your Strings education program. She performed a solo with him during his initial visit in seventh grade, just a year after she began playing violin. Wood is the inventor of the viper violin, an electric instrument with a chest support system so the musician doesn’t have to hold it.

“She’s a rock star, confident, talented and a great performer,” Wood said. “Her skill with our vipers is unique and special. She embodies the perfect engaging performer and artist.”

Abby interviewed Wood during a second visit to the district her freshman year. She also choreographed the entire set for the concert orchestra during his visit and played viper on every single song for every set. She holds the principal 2nd violin chair in the EKHS Symphony and is a member of the school’s ABC (Anything But Classical) Orchestra and has been a soloist with ABC.

She was the only one of five East Kentwood students who attended the Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp to receive a scholarship for it.

Cultivating her Craft

Most days, Abby practices on her traditional violin, but borrows the sleek electric viper from Ingrid Dykeman, East Kentwood orchestra director, for awhile each week. She learned her improvisational skill with the instrument from Wood’s “Electrify Your Strings: The Mark Wood Improvisational Violin Method” book.

She said Dykeman and Eric Hudson, director of the ABC Orchestra, have embraced alternative style music and really encouraged her to develop her skills. Dykeman developed a special curriculum for Abby.

“She’s a phenomenal musician that has that instinct for rock,” she said. The minute I saw her in orchestra I realized she had that passion…I’m so excited and so pleased and so proud that she’s getting this opportunity at such a young age.”

Daughter of Marie and Shawn Bolen, Abby plans to pursue a degree in psychology in college, and perhaps play the violin on the side.


ABC Orchestra

Muzart World

Video: Abby Bolen improvises on the viper violin

Video: Abby Bolen playing as guest instructor at Valleywood Middle School

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.


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