On a cool, crisp November day last fall, as the leaves completed their yearly makeover of the New England hills, painting them in swaths of red and orange, a rainstorm was brewing INSIDE of Boston’s Symphony Hall.
Some of the area’s best musicians had gathered on the stage of the historic music venue along with From the Top’s Music Director Tom Vignieri to record a very special piece of music. Tom’s hauntingly beautiful piece “There Will Come Soft Rains” was commissioned by the Columbus Children’s Choir and by Deborah Price and the Chamber Music Connection – a music program in Ohio that has had many performers featured on our NPR show.
“There Will Come Soft Rains” was written using the text of Sara Teasdale’s poem (by the same name and written during World War I) about nature reclaiming a world devastated by war. In the video below, you can see many From the Top alumni and staff members, and hear them create a rainstorm with their voices and instruments. Enjoy!
From the Top Staff Michael Dahlberg, cello Shea Mavros, soprano Erin Nolan, viola Wendy Perrotta, soprano Claire Shepro, alto
From the Top Alumni Claire Bourg, violin Jonah Ellsworth, cello Brian Hong, violin Anna Lee, violin Laura Liu, violin Taeguk Mun, cello Clayton Penrose-Whitmore, violin Haruno Sato, violin Amelia Sie, violin Kiyoe Wellington, double bass
We like to think that if Beethoven arrived in the 21st century, hearing magically restored, he would see the performers on From the Top as a sign of the invigorated future for classical music, full of passion, humor, and music that defies labels. He’d see the music schools and programs that we visit around the country as we do, as pockets of concentrated energy surrounding classical music. For example, on our recent trip to the Aspen Music Festival and School, where hundreds of young musicians gather to learn and perform the music that they love so dearly, I imagined Beethoven strolling along past the quaint wooden practice rooms listening to the strains of piano, flute, violin and more filling the fresh mountain air. I have a hard time imagining in that setting that anyone would be concerned for the future of classical music.
Enter Here Comes Treble Productions, a documentary film crew that believes that there are many individuals and organizations out there doing great things to propel classical music forward. Their film, What Would Beethoven Do? shares the stories of people like Benjamin Zander, who is building the next generation of classical musicians in the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra; Eric Whitacre, who is bringing classical music into the digital age with his Virtual Youth Choir; Bobby McFerrin who is challenging audiences with performances filled with fun and humor; and many more people who are doing amazing things with classical music.
The film so closely relates to what From the Top is interested in that we had to see what these guys were all about. They followed us around on our taping in Aspen and talked with some of the performers on our show, as well as our host, Christopher O’Riley, who is at the forefront of bringing classical music to new audiences. Here’s hoping we might help make the film that much better!
Check out their trailer below and let us know what you think Beethoven would do in the 21st century!
What Would Beethoven Do? | New Documentary Teaser from What Would Beethoven Do on Vimeo.
On July 16, we recorded a show with the National Youth Orchestra of the USA (NYOUSA). Our friends at Carnegie Hall bring this orchestra of amazing young musicians together each summer, and the result is pretty incredible. (You can listen to the show here, if you’d like. We highly recommend it!) The next day, From the Top staff took the entire orchestra through our Arts Leadership Workshop, led by Director of Education & Community Partnerships, Linda Gerstle. We asked Linda to share some of her favorite moments.
PS: It’s worth noting that normally, a From the Top Arts Leadership Workshop has less than 20 young musicians involved. This time, there were a few more.
REQUIEM! Classical Music is Dying in America!
120 members of the National Youth Orchestra of the USA debated this with conviction – from strongly agree to strongly disagree with shades of gray in between. A chorus of voices engaged with the big issues at play in their world – what it means to take it beyond the concert hall as 21st century musicians, how an orchestra can be a resource to a community – an apt illustration of the overall tone of the arts leadership workshop for Carnegie Hall’s NYOUSA.
Orchestra member (and From the Top alum) Audrey Chen summed it up best:
It was amazing seeing everyone speak out and voice their opinions. The whole orientation really went so far to show that all of us can not only play great music but can also communicate our ideas really well!
Exploring the ways music can transform lives – as individuals, small and large ensembles – was viewed from many perspectives, using an array of From the Top alumni examples. Whether raising dollars to benefit a rare blood disease like alum Stephanie Block, or mobilizing an entire community to address the gap in musical opportunities across a district’s schools like alum Thomas West, it was inspiring to watch pre-collegiate musicians tell their stories to empower others. Michael Dahlberg, an alum of the radio show and now a member of From the Top’s education team, narrated his personal journey, helping the audience to define their own version of success for themselves, envisioning the possibilities in their lives.
This workshop was just the beginning; with outreach opportunities built into the five week NYOUSA tour schedule, each participant was asked to take a question or thought from the orientation that they wanted to explore throughout the course of the tour. One of From the Top’s primary goals for the arts leadership workshop was to leave orchestra members feeling as excited and curious about the opportunities outside the concert hall as those that lie within. Many expressed an eagerness to take a next step – and we look forward to showcasing their leadership moments that we know will inspire current and future audiences.
In the meantime, check out the incredible array of thoughtful responses to a simple question:
“Music has the power to…?”
PS: Editor’s Note – It’s pretty clear that classical music is alive and well thanks to these young people.
Well, there’s no doubt that being in a place as gorgeous as Aspen gets the creative juices flowing. I mean, really, how can you not feel inspired when this is your view?
Tonight (8/3/14), we’ll record a show of From the Top with host Christopher O’Riley. We’ll feature a host of incredibly talented musicians who are here at the Aspen Music Festival and School. Seriously, these kids will blow you away with their talent, and we’ll tell you more about them later on.
But today, what strikes me the most about this experience is being poised on the edge of something, and I don’t mean all the cliffs around here. We are surrounded by young people, at the top of their musical game, who are experiencing the ultimate training and music-making experience. And we grown ups are smack in the middle of the swirl of energy and potential, pondering how best to help these incredible young people bring their talents and viewpoints to a larger audience.
The folks from the “What Would Beethoven Do?” documentary crew have been following us around, asking us all kinds of questions about why classical music is relevant, how we can bring more people to it..all those questions that those of us in the classical music field tackle on a daily basis. Not surprisingly, we’re finding that the young musicians have some incredible answers.
Just a few moments ago, we heard flute player and From the Top alum Anthony Trionfo talk to the documentary crew about his experiences as a young musician.
Anthony, age 19, already a teacher and a young philosopher who believes that “music is about healing”, is full of ideas and thoughts on how classical music can make life better. Here’s my favorite quote of his, when he was asked how musicians can help bring more people to classical music. “We can play in parks, anywhere,” he says. “The world is (our) concert hall.”
Right now, 16-year-old cellist Lucy Ticho is telling us of her love for movie soundtracks, and how, when she’s in an angsty mood, she likes to listen to Shostakovich; it lifts her up. “Imagine if everyone had that,” she says. “Imagine if they could use classical music to change their mood.”
For anyone who has doubts about the intelligence and compassion of young people today, I wish you could be here with us, listening to these kids. They are inspiring, energetic, and thoughtful. Luckily, you can hear them on the week of October 6 on the radio, on our website, or via our podcast.
As we begin our new season in Aspen, Colorado, this coming week, we’re (between planning meetings) reflecting on the great things that have happened with From the Top this last year. The 2013-2014 season was full of amazing young musicians, unforgettable performances, and unique venues. But we also had some great moments that weren’t on the radio!
This past winter, From the Top was honored with the 2014 Frances Clark Keyboard Pedagogy Award from the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA), an organization that seeks to further the study and making of music.
This award is given to those who make “a significant contribution through the creation and development of products or publications that further the field of keyboard pedagogy.”
We reflect happily on this award as we prepare for the future. It is great to know that our activities at From the Top have furthered the pedagogy. It is a proud reminder of how much music education really matters!
We thank the MTNA for this great honor, and are proud to sit among highly esteemed recipients as we further the cause of music education. Cheers to more great collaborations and contributions to come.
Co-CEO Jennifer Hurly-Wales receiving the award this past winter
Photo copyright 2014 Harry Butler, Nashville
It is just past 8:00 PM in New England Conservatory’s Brown Hall where a single piano is set center stage. The lights dim, the audience quiets down, and 18-year-old cellist and From the Top alum Lev Mamuya steps out from behind the curtain.
Inspired by the arts leadership orientation and outreach event he participated in as components of his October radio appearance on From the Top, Lev decided to create a From the Top alumni benefit concert. This concert was put on in partnership with Music for Food, a Boston-based organization that uses music to raise awareness and resources in the fight against hunger. The project also satisfied his senior project requirement at Roxbury Latin High School.
“100% of the proceeds of tonight’s performance will benefit the Women’s Lunch Place,” he says to end his speech, and the audience murmurs excitedly.
The languid tones of the Bach Suite No. 6 for Solo Cello, the sweet blend of flute and harp in Mozart’s Concerto, and the passion in Schumann’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in G Minor filled the hall. With several other pieces, From the Top alumni and staff are the featured performers of the evening. An enthusiastic audience response generates close to $1,200 in donations for the Women’s Lunch Place, a safe, welcoming day community for all self-identified women who are experiencing homelessness or poverty.
“The most rewarding part was definitely seeing it all come together on the evening of the concert, and understanding the impact the raised money would have,” Lev reflects. “It was sometimes easy to get lost in the tedium of the emails, scheduling, and legwork. But reading about the number of meals funded and hearing all of the beautiful music really affirmed my goals, and made the whole project very rewarding.”
The success of this endeavor is a noteworthy event for both organizations because it is the first time they have worked together.
“The project really started to help me consider a career in the arts,” Lev says. “It was an extremely valuable learning process for me to be on the ‘organization’ side of things and learn about planning, rather than just performing.”
Do you use art to help a worthy cause?
Learn more about the Women’s Lunch Place. Learn more about Music for Food.
Last month, From the Top returned to the Virginia Arts Festival for a performance in the historic Attucks Theatre in Norfolk. The Rhythm Project All Stars, the Virginia Arts Festival’s teen world percussion ensemble, was featured on the show.
In addition, featured soloists included 11-year-old pianist Kyle Hu, 16-year-old double bassist Lena Goodson, 17-year-old soprano Emily Pogorelc, 15-year-old violinist Alissa Mori, and brothers 19-year-old violinist Brendon Elliott and 14-year-old cellist Sterling Elliott.
In the minutes before the concert, the performers had some fun backstage.
“Before our show, the Rhythm Project All Stars were just jamming out in the back dressing room,” Lena said. “I rapped! They were having a lot of fun, so everyone joined in. We had a rap battle. It was wild. We all mixed really well, it wasn’t like the soloists were segregated from the large ensemble. We all became best friends!”
After the backstage activities, the stage was set, the lights were up, and an enthusiastic audience filled the first floor of the Attucks Theatre. It was time to perform.
After each performance, the crowd roared with thunderous applause and each performer took several bows with grins on their faces. Lena described a touching interaction she had with one audience member following the performance.
“My goal for my performance was that I wanted the audience to feel something. After the show, an older lady came up to me – she was blind, so she was holding my hand – she told me that when she was younger, she had played the double bass and that it had brought back memories hearing me play.”
Alissa described a similar interaction with an audience member, her favorite moment of the weekend. “A young boy told me he wants to play the violin to become someone like me.”
Alissa quickly learned that From the Top was more than she had imagined it would be. “I thought I would just meet other performers my age, but it was more than that. I learned it was about the experience with them,” she told us.
Were you in the audience in Virginia? Comment and tell us about your experience!
In the next “In Their Own Words” series blog post, read more about how the performers took music beyond the concert hall in their arts leadership orientation and visiting an elementary school in Norfolk, Virginia.
“Arts Leadership” is an important phrase at From the Top. But what does it mean, really? For 33 members of the Center for the Development of Arts Leadership (CDAL), it has meant a year of sharing music with different generations, and learning valuable lessons along the way. Through CDAL’s Community Performance Series, our young musicians/leaders have reached more than 1,400 people of all ages throughout the Greater Boston area.
18-year-old cellist and From the Top Arts Leader Lev Mamuya recently played at the Boston Children’s Museum. For many youngsters in this audience, Lev’s performance (or those of his fellow musicians) was their first encounter with live music.
“It was really cool to see such little kids, of all backgrounds, totally engaged,” Lev said about his performance.
18-year-old pianist Phuong Nghi Pham had a similar experience.
“To be able to see in their eyes the joy and curiosity of learning about something really cool and interesting for the first time was absolutely amazing.”
In other parts of the community, CDAL musicians experienced a broader range and diversity of listeners, including cancer patients at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and senior citizens at the Goddard Assisted Living House in Brookline.
During 19-year-old Nick Tisherman’s recent oboe performance at the Goddard House, many of the listeners sang along. Afterwards, some of them even came up to play the piano. It was a powerful experience for young musicians to see how music transcends generations.
As we watch the young arts leaders share their music through these community performances, it’s clear they benefit as much as their audience. Seeing the excitement of their audiences reminds them of why they play music in the first place.
“Music is so powerful,” said 16-year-old pianist Yoo Jin Ahn. “Music united us in that moment despite our differences of age and background.”
From the Top is now accepting applications for the 2014-2015 Arts Leadership Program. Click here to learn more.
Mira Williams is a dedicated and passionate young musician with strong beliefs and a firm commitment to improving her music. In April, she stepped up to the microphone at the New World Center in Miami Beach, Florida, and stunned audience members with a powerful performance of Fantasie by Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Her interview was peppered with humor as she discussed her “viola rights” efforts – “It’s honestly one of the most beautiful instruments ever and it’s so underrated,” she told us – and she spoke eloquently about increasing diversity in classical music.
Yet Mira really lights up when talking about improving her playing and sharing her music with others. She studies at the Music Institute of Chicago, where she plays in the string orchestra and in a chamber group called Quartet Vox. She comes from a musical family; “I honestly can’t name one person in my immediate family that doesn’t play or sing or something,” she says.
After recording their show at New World Center, Mira and her fellow performers spent two intense days visiting local schools as part of From the Top’s arts outreach efforts. She was particularly inspired by her visit to Miami Northwestern Senior High School, where she and the other performers met with an after school band group. She was impressed with the band musically, as well as their dedication to music, and says she learned “to make sure the outreach experience is beneficial to all parties involved. I can bring my music to others, but they also have lessons to share with me.”
After returning to Chicago, Mira was invited by the Rembrandt Chamber Players to visit the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School, an all-girls public school in Chicago dedicated to empowering young women to transform their lives through education. Mira spent the afternoon with a flute player from the Rembrandt Chamber Orchestra in a visual art classroom. As Mira played, the students drew what the music represented to them. While nervous at first, Mira became more excited as she heard from the students. She tells us: “It was nice to hear people who aren’t classically trained talk about what they heard and cool to see how my music looked visually in their artwork.”
Later, Mira returned to the school with her ensemble, Quartet Vox. Many of the students remembered her from her first visit to the school and cheered for her. She said, “Having the whole quartet there allowed me to show how my viola sounded in relation to the other instruments. The students really seemed to enjoy the music; several said they wanted to learn how to play, so we referred them to music schools.”
Mira has received From the Top’s Jack Kent Cooke Young artist award and plans to use the $10,000 scholarship to purchase a new viola and continue her studies at the Academy of the Music Institute of Chicago.
Mira performed on Show 277 in Bowling Green, Ohio as part of the Quartet Lumiére and most recently on Show 287 at New World Symphony in Miami Beach, Florida.
UPDATE! Here’s the clip of Yuki on GMA this morning. We had so much fun and are so proud of Yuki!
Tune in to Good Morning America between 7:30–8:00 AM on Thursday, May 1, to see From the Top alum Yuki Beppu talk about Lady Gaga, classical music, and how she is on a mission to put them together!
Here’s Yuki’s amazing video mash-up of Lady Gaga and her own music:
"I am very happy with the ease and versatility with which I can share my content with my audience, clients and business partners alike."