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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.

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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.

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“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.


26 days ago | |
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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.

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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.

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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.


26 days ago | |
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“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.

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“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.

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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.


1 month ago | |
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NAME: Mira Williams
AGE: 16
HOMETOWN: Chicago, Illinois
INSTRUMENT: Viola
PERFORMED ON: Shows 277 and 287

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.


1 month ago | |
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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:


2 months ago | |
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For the past three years, From the Top has enjoyed a partnership with Conservatory Lab Charter School in Brighton, Massachusetts. Conservatory Lab is the only music-infused public elementary school in the state and provides all students free vocal and instrumental instruction. However, the students at Conservatory Lab don’t have access to playing in small ensembles, so for the past two years, young musicians from our Center for the Development of Arts Leaders (CDAL) have conducted chamber music residencies at Conservatory Lab. CDAL is From the Top’s arts leadership program in Boston, with trains young musicians to be active leaders in their communities.

The most recent week-long residency paired a CDAL arts leader with a Conservatory Lab student, with whom they worked exclusively. Aside from learning an entire piece — The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080, Contrapunctus I, by J. S. Bach — the CDAL arts leaders and Conservatory Lab students explored the unique lessons that chamber music can teach: leadership, teamwork, and focus. Gabriel, a young clarinetist, explains: “I learned that you don’t have to rely on a conductor, but that you have to listen to every one else when you are playing chamber music.”

While the lessons on dynamics and cueing were valuable, Kat Jara, the Conservatory Lab students’ teacher, says the one-on-one attention — having one mentor dedicated to each Conservatory Lab student, checking in on their bow holds and being a “musical friend” — makes all the difference. The effect on the Conservatory Lab students isn’t truly realized until a few weeks after the residency, she says, when their confidence grows and their self-esteem skyrockets.

The weeklong residency culminated in a side-by-side performance of their chamber work for their friends. After all their hard work, the students were all very nervous to perform, but they prevailed. Nora, a young cellist, said it best: “It was kind of scary, but in the end, when everybody clapped, it felt good!”

Congratulations to the performers from Conservatory Lab: 

Mira Mehta, violin — 6th grade

Gabriel Joachin, clarinet  — 4th grade

Nora Feeney, cello  — 6th grade

Tess Lepeska-True, cello — 4th grade

Antwanai Miller, viola — 6th grade

Angelo Beauvois, cello — 4th grade

And to their teachers from the CDAL Boston program: 

Lilia Chang, violin

Nicholas Gallitano, viola

Changyoung (Calvin) Kim, clarinet

Leland Ko, cello

Ju Hyun Lee, cello


2 months ago | |
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quoteprofileNAME: Gregorio Lopes
AGE: 18
HOMETOWN: Bloomington, Indiana
INSTRUMENT: Violin and viola
PERFORMED ON: Show 283

“My favorite part about playing music has come to be its healing quality,” says 18-year-old violinist/violist Gregorio Lopes. When his ensemble, the Violin Virtuosi, traveled to Brazil, Gregorio remembers playing for children who lived in shanty towns and being struck by how they responded to music. “Their faces lit up when we played,” he recalls. “It was just magical.” He felt a similar sense of connection and inspiration playing for children in the Bronx and for the elderly in senior living facilities. “It’s amazing to see the power music has,” he says.

From personal experience, Gregorio knows just how strong the healing power of music can be. When his parents were going through a messy divorce, music became a welcome respite from the pain he was experiencing. “I fled to my violin during those hard days,” he recalls. “Music was one of the things that was still a constant. It was my way of finding peace.”

Gregorio’s musical life began at the age of 5 when he met the most famous resident of his hometown, the great violinist Joshua Bell. The circumstances were rather unusual; Gregorio and his sister were waiting for their mother to finish a therapy appointment, and into the waiting room strolled the psychologist’s son, who was none other than Joshua Bell. Gregorio recognized the hometown superstar immediately. “He talked with me and was so nice, and I was just taken with him,” he remembers. “From that very moment I decided I wanted to play violin just like him.”

See Gregorio playing with the Violin Virtuosi

See Gregorio playing with the Violin Virtuosi

These days, Gregorio spends much of his time playing music with the Violin Virtuosi, a small group of dedicated string players from the Pre-College String Academy at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. With them, he has performed all around the United States as well as in Argentina, Brazil, Denmark, and Sweden.

As important as music is, academics hold an equally important place in Gregorio’s life. He enjoys challenging himself in school and is drawn to math, psychology, and aeronautics. Next year, he will head to Stanford University where he plans to study engineering. “It was a very difficult choice to decide not to devote myself entirely music,” he explains, “but I have so many other interests I also want to explore.”

Still, music will remain an important part of Gregorio’s life. Thanks to From the Top’s $10,000 Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, Gregorio will soon be the proud owner of a new viola ­– the first instrument he has ever had the opportunity to own.


Gregorio performed on Show 283 at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall in Boston, Massachusetts. He played Melodie, Op.42, No.3 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Listen now.


4 months ago | |
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From Austin, Texas, to Detroit, Michigan, From the Top alumni have been excelling in major competitions all over the United States. We’re thrilled to share the good news from concert halls across the country.

Menuhin Competition, Austin, Texas

StephenWaarts

© 2012 Ranjith Jim Box

Several From the Top alumni appeared as part of the esteemed biennial Menuhin International Competition for Young Violinists held recently in February. Violinists 17-year-old Stephen Waarts, pictured left, (Show 207, Stanford, California) of Los Altos, California, and 18-year-old Stephen Kim (Show 193, Mobile, Alabama) of Cupertino, California, both competed in the Senior Final Round. We are thrilled to share the news that Stephen Waarts won first prize and Stephen Kim took fourth prize! Alex Zhou (Show 263, Davis, California) placed fourth in the Junior Finals competition, the highest-ranking American student in that category.  Also on hand was Ariel Horowitz (Show 262, Greensburg, Pennsylvania) who performed in the “Passing of the Bow” ceremony, a Menuhin tradition that communicates the power of music to share with other cultures.

Sphinx Competition, Detroit, Michigan

We are proud to announce that 15-year-old violist Mira Williams (Show 277, Bowling Green, Ohio) from Chicago, Illinois, 15-year-old violinist Tristan Flores, who will be appearing on Show 285 in Boston, Massachusetts, and 14-year-old cellist, and recipient of our Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, Sterling Elliott (Show 275, Aspen, Colorado) were 2014 Sphinx Competition Junior Division Semi-Finalists in the recent Sphinx Competition, held in Detroit, Michigan. Sterling Elliott, who will be appearing on our upcoming show in Norfolk, Virginia, won the title of First Place Laureate in the Junior Division Finals. We loved his recent posting on Facebook:

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Blount-Slawson Competition, Montgomery, Alabama

In Montgomery, Alabama, our friends at the Montgomery Symphony held the Blount-Slawson Young Artists Competition in late January. This year’s competition was especially poignant, as the leader of the competition and longtime friend of From the Top, Helen Steineker, passed away in December. We know she would have been pleased with the high level of competitors this year. From the Top alum Yaegy Park (Show 185, San Antonio, Texas), a violinist and recipient of our Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award from Pasadena, Texas, placed second with her performance of the first movement of the Prokofiev Second Violin concerto. First prize winner 14-year-old pianist Elisabeth Tsai is the younger sister of From the Top alum Eric Tsai (Show 227, Opelika, Alabama), and will be following in her big brother’s footsteps when she appears on the show on a date to be determined.

And more!

We’ve also heard from 15-year-old organist and pianist Michael Jon Bennett (Show 281, Costa Mesa, California) from New York City, who will be making his Carnegie Hall debut after receiving the gold medal in the International Young Gifted Musicians Festival – Passion of Music 2014, sponsored by the American Association of the Development of the Gifted and Talented and first prize in the American Protégé International Piano and Strings Competition 2014.

Are you an alum with a recent competition win to your name? Keep us up to date on your activities by emailing Robin Allen LaPlante, Marketing & Communications Manager, at rlaplante@fromthetop.org.


4 months ago | |
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The healing power of music.

This is a phrase we hear a lot these days. Throughout history, music has been a source of inspiration, comfort, and support in many circumstances.

We are always amazed at the poise and achievement of our young performers on From the Top. The dedication, hard work, and passion that they share gives us hope for the future. Yet even these high-achieving young people deal with hard times, and many of our musicians share stories about how music has helped them (and others) heal. Sometimes we share those stories on air, and sometimes we choose not to.

In our recent taping recorded at Jordan Hall in Boston and aired the week of March 10 on NPR stations nationwide, the young ladies of Quartet Noce opened up to our host and live audience about the challenges they have faced in their lives so far, and how music has helped them through those challenges. They felt it was important to share this part of their story, and the response to their courage has been remarkable so far.

Quartet NoceWhen we interviewed them before they appeared on the show, the quartet struck us as a tight-knit group, with the girls operating as a group of best friends rather than only musical accomplices. They are very encouraging towards one another, and are comfortable discussing serious topics as well as lapsing into giggles when they remember a funny moment from rehearsal. Each of the girls has used music to help them cope with some tough situations in their young lives, which they shared with us on the radio show.

17-year-old violist Sloane Wesloh is a passionate advocate for people with Type 1 Diabetes, an autoimmune disease that she was diagnosed with at age 12 after playing classical music  for seven years. She says, when she received the diagnosis, that she wanted to quit playing. “I felt like it was pointless to be playing an instrument and focusing on passion and music when I was simply trying to stay alive,” she says, “then I came back to it about a year later when I realized that when I play music I don’t feel the needles or think about diabetes, so it’s really the only time when diabetes isn’t the main focus in my life.”

When 18-year-old cellist Drake Driscoll’s father passed away, she was only 2 years old. While she may have already had some Obsessive-Compulsive tendencies, she explains that when she was in second grade, they noticed symptoms of severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. She explains, “I was worried about my mom, and going to check on her at least 10 times a night – I was worried for her safety.” At that point, she entered therapy, but she credits music as one of the things that helped her. She says that music is a way for her to escape what she’s feeling and achieve some control over her OCD.

17-year-old violinist Rose Moerschel and her twin sister have both struggled with anorexia in their young lives. While Rose has been able to get her disease under control, it can be really difficult for her to watch her twin sister, who is still struggling. She says that music has helped; “It lets me escape from that whole lifestyle.”

When 18-year-old violinist Joy Kuo came to Walnut Hill School for the Arts last year, she really missed home. While many of the boarding students at Walnut Hill can contact their parents and family quite easily, Joy’s family is in Taiwan where the time difference makes it difficult to find a good time to connect. While she misses her family very much, she says she uses practice time to help her take her mind off of it. She says, “I just go to practice and I think that if I play well or do great, they are proud of me, that my family can be proud of me.”

We would like to hear from you about this. How has music helped you get through a tough time?


4 months ago | |
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Thomas West had quite the experience when he appeared on our live taping of From the Top in 2012.

Thomas West on From the Top 2012

While singing to a sold-out audience for a live radio taping was a highlight for him, one of the most remarkable moments was a smaller, more intimate performance at Dalewood Middle School. From the Top’s education staff organized an outreach event at the Chattanooga middle school for the performers to put their arts leadership training into practice. There, Thomas and his fellow performers witnessed first-hand how arts programs struggle to stay alive in many schools.

Thomas remembers the experience vividly: “It was there that I saw a room full of girls and boys eager to learn about and play music, but hardly anything to accomplish this desire. It tore at my heartstrings to see so many kids only a few years younger than me never getting the same opportunities I had to play music on a day-to-day basis. I realized then that something needed to be done, and I had just been handed a chance to champion that need.”

That realization sent Thomas on a journey to make a real difference in his own community. He quickly recruited three friends – Ralston Hartness, Megan Daniel, and McKenna Quatro – to become part of his project called “Let Beauty Awaken.” Their idea: give other teen artists in the Chattanooga area a chance to help by sharing their talents on a CD that would be sold to raise funds for local schools’ music programs.  The team even planned and sold tickets to a CD release party at the Chattanooga Theatre Center as an additional fundraiser.

Let Beauty Awaken

Fast forward to 2014. We featured Ralston Hartness in a guitar quartet on our recent taping in Chattanooga, and he and Thomas brought us up to speed on their amazing work in the area.

Thomas and Ralston

After raising over $14,000 for local schools with “Let Beauty Awaken,” the teens created the non-profit organization ReGenerate, an arts leadership program for and by students in Chattanooga. The organization is training other young arts leaders to find their own pathways to make a difference in their community. They are continuing to fundraise for arts programs and making the decisions about how best to fund local arts programs.

Ralston and the other From the Top performers visited East Lake Elementary School and Calvin Donaldson Elementary School the day after their performance at the Tivoli Theatre. Ralston found the experience as impactful as Thomas had found his outreach visit back in 2012. Ralston tells us he is inspired to redouble his efforts with ReGenerate: “My hope is to pour into ReGenerate and Chattanooga schools so that when I leave, the efforts can continue with students here for years to come. I’ve been excited about giving our money out to schools, but never more than now. Now that I have seen the programs at East Lake and Calvin Donaldson Elementary Schools I really want to give out the money!”

You can hear Ralston’s guitar quartet’s performance on From the Top’s broadcast during the week of February 24. Visit www.fromthetop.org to listen online or check your local NPR listings.

For more on Thomas West and the ReGenerate project, visit Thomas’ website, or check out the ReGenerate facebook page.


4 months ago | |
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