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Each of the performers on Show 280 attended an Arts Leadership Orientation Workshop, where they explored their own personal leadership pathways. Learn how they are taking their music beyond the concert hall in their own communities:

Hannah Wang is reigniting an idea that she tabled in the fall. She plans to bring together local musicians for a jam session and instrument petting zoo at a local park or school in the spring or summer.

Clara Gerdes wrote us an email about her plans to visit a local assisted living facility:

“For an arts outreach activity, I would like to organize some friends and acquaintances with whom I often sing and play instruments to do a few informal concerts at a nursing home early next month.  We would present a variety of different styles of music, from classical to folk, and include some familiar songs the residents could sing along to–this is something I’ve noticed elderly people often really respond to and enjoy.  Also, I would like to go in the weeks after Christmas and New Year’s; many places seem to get a lot of attention before but not right after the holidays. “

Qing Yu Chen will be organizing a visit to a retirement home in New York City in the springand she hopes to involve other From the Top Alumni. Currently in the initialn planning stages, she is thinking over the goals and gameplan for her project as well as brainstorming the resources she would need to make it happen.

Olivia Staton has jumped into her own arts leadership projects since the taping. Through the music honor society at her school, she began assisting with an after-school music program in a local elementary school. The program, called Bridges, provides group music lessons and ensemble rehearsals. Recently, she demonstrated flute and assisted with one of their band rehearsals, and she envisions extending the program to other area elementary schools.

She said of the experience: “Until From the Top I had not really realized the significance of promoting classical music, and I had not really thought about what I could do to help, but now I am so excited to be doing more arts leadership activities.  Especially since there are opportunities for me to do so in my neighborhood!”

Olivia also performed in a student recital at a retirement home and took the lead in initiating an engaging conversation after the performance when everyone was afraid to speak. Following the performance, she said, “the audience seemed very engaged and happy to speak with all of the musicians and then they asked if we would be able to come back to give another recital!”


6 months ago | |
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ChristopherORiley_MamuyaWhat do you think audiences enjoy the most about From the Top?

The kids on From the Top are inspirational musicians who share wonderful performances and they also share their passions for all kinds of pursuits that make them outstanding human beings. That is very captivating for listeners across the country.

How did you first get involved with From the Top? 

When Co-Founders Gerald Slavet and Jennifer Hurley-Wales were first putting From the Top together as a radio show, they caught a CBS Sunday Morning interview with me in which I was talking about rap group Run-DMC. They realized that we shared a passion for the future of classical music and a connection to New England Conservatory (I am a graduate), and that I was someone who could relate to the young guests on the show.

I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of this project – I had noticed a decline in attendance in classical concerts across the spectrum of American cities and all venues, orchestral and otherwise, and I additionally noted the scattershot way that lots of arts organizations were seeking to revitalize interest in classical music, particularly with young listeners. My expectation of the show at that time was that it could be a vital and potentially transformative force in the music world, and after more than a decade on the air that expectation has been and continues to be soundly fulfilled.

Why do you continue to be part of From the Top after so many years?ChristopherORiley_Ellsworth

There’s an energy and excitement to playing with kids who are this fresh and excited about music. I find the collaborations with each of the young performers on our show to be some of my most rewarding performance opportunities.

In addition, over the last several years, From the Top has evolved to become more than a radio show. At each tour location, the performers on our show take part in an Arts Leadership Orientation Workshop where they explore their leadership pathways. They then put those new skills to the test in outreach events for audiences as varied as elementary school children and senior citizens, in venues from Boys & Girls Clubs to assisted living facilities. It is invigorating to be part of an organization that is always working to bring music to more people.

How do these talented young musicians inspire you?

It’s inspiring to be around the next generation of great musicians. From the young violinist living on a ranch in South Dakota, to the teenage soprano from upstate New York, there’s an extraordinary level of musicianship and musical training in every corner of this country. It’s exciting to see what the cohort of performers on each new show has to offer.

I’m also impressed by the performers’ dedication to promote classical music in their own communities. After they appear on the show and take part in the workshop, many of them are inspired to create their own way of using music to help others. Performers have created summer music programs, fundraised for tsunami victims, and played for retirement communities and senior centers.

What is the most surprising moment you have experienced while taping a From the Top performance?

That would have to be in preparing for a performance of a very difficult work by Paul Schoenfield with 13-year-old violinist, Bella Hristova, and noting that not only had she mastered and memorized the piece, but she could start at any measure number I could name. That’s scary (powerful) stuff.

How would you compare your own experience of being a young musician with the performers featured on From the Top?

I look back on my childhood and think, man, I wish From the Top was around when I was growing up! I didn’t have these kinds of performance opportunities, or the contact with my peer musicians. I was playing classical piano, and although music was something that I wanted to do all the time, I had to shift a little bit, so in sixth grade I started a rock band – I thought maybe the girls would like me better. It didn’t help.

Music can be a solitary pursuit – you toil away in practice rooms and go to lessons and rehearsals. Many kids feel that they can’t talk to their friends about what they are doing. From the Top creates a needed community for these kids. They get to share their thoughts about putting this music together, why they think it’s great, why they think that other kids should enjoy this kind of music, and why it’s made such a difference in their lives.

How do you spend your time when you are not on the road with From the Top?

ORiley_TermineI spend a great deal of time on the road. Earlier this year, I performed at Yoshi’s in San Francisco in support of my latest release on Oxingale Records, O’Riley’s Liszt. The concert promoter brought in several From the Top alumni who surprised me with a performance. It was very touching!

I really enjoy the collaborative process and spend much of my time working with musicians around the country whom I respect. Cellist Matt Haimovitz and I collaborated to record Shuffle. Play. Listen. and toured extensively in support of that album. I’m looking forward to working with him again when we will return to the National Music Museum in Vermillion (where we taped From the Top in September) to record the Beethoven Cello Sonatas on some of their period instruments.

When I do have some downtime at home, I love spending time with my fiancé and our many cats. Each of my cats has a very distinct personality, and I find my time with them both relaxing and energizing.

If you could describe your experience with From the Top’s young artists in three words, what would they be?

Thanks for everything.


7 months ago | |
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The Blount-Slawson Young Artists Competition, offering a total of nearly $17,000 in prizes, will be held in Montgomery, Alabama, January 25 and 26, 2014.

Instrumentalists (except organ) in grades 7 – 12 who live and attend school in the United States are eligible to compete.

First Prize:  $10,000, an appearance with the Montgomery Symphony and an appearance on From The Top
Second Prize:      $4,000
Third Prize:          $1,000
Fourth Prize:           $500
Five Merit Prizes:    $250

Competitors may also use their performance in the preliminary round as their audition for the 2014 BUTI.  See the website for specifics.

New this year! Apply online: http://www.montgomerysymphony.org/comp_Blount_Application.htm

All of the details regarding the competition and the application process and forms can be found on at http://www.montgomerysymphony.org. Questions may be sent to montgomerysymphony@gmail.com.


7 months ago | |
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Wilfred Mamuya, Hilary Kassler, and Hope Baker celebrate together after the show. Photo by Caitlin Cunningham.

From the Top was on the road last month, hosting several special events for board members, donors, and friends.

On October 6, more than 100 guests joined From the Top performers and Christopher O’Riley for a private reception following a live taping in Boston at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall.

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Elizabeth Lodal, Sharon Percy Rockefeller, and Gail West enjoy an evening of music. Photo by The Documentist

On October 22, 65 guests gathered with Christopher O’Riley and From the Top alumni at the home of Jan and Elizabeth Lodal in McLean, Virginia. The event was co-hosted by From the Top corporate sponsor Glenmede, an investment, fiduciary, and wealth advisory firm. This was the seventh in a series of events that From the Top has hosted with Glenmede offices throughout the nation.

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Hosts Jan and Elizabeth Lodal with From the Top performers Sterling Elliott, Avery Gagliano, and Ren Martin-Doike. Photo by The Documentist

Guests enjoyed performances by From the Top alumni 12-year-old Avery Gagliano, 14-year-old Sterling Elliott, 22-year-old Ren Martin-Doike, and host Christopher O’Riley. Christopher spoke with Avery about how the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey has helped her manage an incredibly busy schedule. Sterling shared that, as the last child to be born in the Elliott family, the only instrument left in the family quartet was cello, hence, he is a cellist (and a pretty fantastic one). Ren talked about how her affiliation with From the Top for many years has helped her take music beyond the concert hall and develop mentorship programs for other young musicians, both in her hometown in Hawaii and at the Curtis Institute of Music.

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Pianist Brenda Kee and Wayne Brown, Music and Opera Director at the National Endowment for the Arts. Photo by The Documentist

That evening, guests included Stuart Haney of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and his wife Paula; Wayne Brown from the National Endowment for the Arts and his wife Brenda Kee; Sharon Percy Rockefeller of classical music and television station WETA, along with several members of the WETA Board of Trustees; and Arnold Polinger from the Howard and Geraldine Polinger Family Foundation and his wife Diane.

A week later, From the Top was off to New York City for an event at the home of Bethany and Robert Millard. More than 45 donors and friends enjoyed performances by From the Top alums Elli Choi, Patrick McGuire, and Brian Ge on October 30.

12-year-old violinist and jetsetter Elli Choi had just returned from Switzerland, where she had been attending a music festival supported by From the Top’s Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award. Patrick McGuire, a 23-year-old cellist, shared how his passion for music, mentorship, and international relations has led to musical projects in Tanzania and Tunisia. 16-year-old Brian Ge talked about the important role music plays in his life, even though he plans to pursue other interests in college.

The evening’s guests included From the Top Artistic Advisor and President of The Juilliard School Joseph Polisi and his wife Elizabeth; From the Top Overseer and MSNBC President Phil Griffin and his wife Kory Apton; Jean Fitzgerald of U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management; Randy Harris from the Edward T. Cone Foundation; and Dr. Mark Siddall of the American Museum of Natural History.

From the Top’s most recent event followed a sold out live taping at Bing Concert Hall on the campus of Stanford University in California. On November 10, nearly 60 guests joined From the Top performers and Christopher O’Riley for a private reception  – generously hosted by Helen and Peter Bing – following the show.

To view photos from our event in Boston, Massachusetts, click here.

To view photos from our event in McLean, Virginia, click here.

Upcoming private events for donors and friends are planned in Boston, Massachusetts, and Southern Florida. With questions or for more information, please contact give@fromthetop.org.


8 months ago | |
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Vietnam was the unlikely location where violist and Princeton Sophomore Devon Naftzger (Show 256) of Lincolnshire, IL had a profound musical experience brought about when she played her viola for a classroom of Vietnamese students. This past summer, Devon participated in a three-week program called Coach For College which brought her to southwestern Vietnam and the rural village of Hoa An located in the Mekong River Delta region.

Devon performs for students in Vietnam, modeling how hard work can pay off in the long run.

Devon performs for students in Vietnam, modeling how hard work can pay off in the long run.

Devon taught everything from English to volleyball at a Vietnamese summer day camp where kids studied academics and sports. At the end of the day she loved teaching what they called a “Life Skills” class.

“I loved incorporating playing my viola into my teaching,” Devon recalled. “The Vietnamese children had never heard any stringed instrument played live and they had never attended a music concert. A lot of children worked in the rice fields with their parents when they weren’t at school, so none of my students had the time or money to pursue hobbies like music. We had a rowdy group of kids who were getting to the fun age where they like to challenge authority, but everything changed the week I brought out my instrument. They were completely silent because they were so intrigued to hear me play, and I gained so much respect after I played for them.”

In her Life Skills class, Devon launched a discussion on the topic of “setting little goals to achieve big dreams.” They discussed the perseverance and dedication it takes to reach those goals, especially when you have setbacks. “ I thought this topics related perfectly to my experience with music, so I did a little demonstration. The older Vietnamese college students, fluent in English, translated.  “You can’t just pick up a violin for the first time and expect to play the toughest concerto right away,” I explained. “Instead you have to start with baby steps and pick up different techniques through easier pieces.”  To demonstrate she played the first piece she performed when she was 5 years old: ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.’

“I explained that I started learning classical music, but had to take it slowly. I played Bach’s Transcribed Cello Suite No. 1 Prelude. They ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’.  Next I played a movement that was a little faster, telling them that I had to learn all kinds of different bow strokes and finger patterns before I could learn a piece that incorporated many of them: Paganini’s La Campanella.  After playing them a showy passage from Preludium and Allegro (which I performed on From the Top Show 256) I told them that after you’ve put in all the hard work, then you can play things simply because they are fun.  I finished with a fiddle tune, which they danced to excitedly.”

Devon also described how many hours a day she spends practicing, and how many years she’s played without giving up. She told them about competitions she lost which crushed her. “I turned those losses into a positive motivator that made me want to practice harder,” Devon shared. “That resulted in winning some competitions, achieving my dream of performing at Carnegie Hall, and getting into Juilliard. And it was all because I started slowly all the way back at ‘Twinkle Twinkle’!”

Back at Princeton this fall, Devon plays in the Princeton University Orchestra and last year she participated in a string quartet as well.


8 months ago | |
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 229Chason Goldfinger, 17, composer
String Quartet No. 1, Elemental, Op. 15
IV. Salamandrae (Fire)

Fire is very much about the element itself of fire. When I was thinking fire, and like fire, it has some semblance of order – it consumes, but not radially.  It expands and moves in different directions with the fuel  and so it also feels a little chaotic. To get that feeling, I created this little tiny motive that starts in the beginning and if the piece is played really well, the audience should feel the intensity of rushing really fast somewhere to get away from the burning sensation especially when contrasted with the movement before it.  That original motif goes a way and this sort of Gypsy like tone comes in for the middle section. That section first comes in with a high and graceful violin and it’s strange and it’s pulse is quickening. And with the fire, while you’re not touching it, you feel the fire stinging your face and you feel the heat and the light.  The light is as important as the heat in the movement.  If you’re approaching the movement coming out of the rest of the quartet, it has this nice element of surprise—with this jarring classical structure.  And then it should feel over before it’s happened.
Fire in particular, it is certainly fun to play.  I’ve played it.

A favorite memory or highlight:
There were so many but probably the SHOW! But something like the jam session was awesome!

What do you believe music has the power to do?
Music has the power to CHANGE LIVES!!

Sein An, 15, violin 120
Havanaise in E Major, Op. 83
By: Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921)

On the Saint-Saëns Havanaise
This is the piece I’ve always wanted to play from my childhood. It’s not as well-known as the other Saint-Saëns works, but it’s something I’ve always listened to before I was learning it because I loved the Spanish style. I’m so happy that I get to play this piece. I’m trying to communicate the rhythm of it –  it’s kind of dance-like, the style of it. I want to get the audience to listen to the style of it. The hardest part is getting the right mood and style. It’s technically challenging, so you want the technical part and the musical part to blend together.

A favorite memory or highlight:
This is very EASY for me to answer. Phone call from Janine Jansen. <3 Thank you!

What do you believe music has the power to do?
Music has the power to make you realize the beauty of everything, not only in music, but also in the life of Beethoven! Or just anything.

 75Patrick Pan, 15, piano
II. Scherzo: Allegretto vivace
from Sonata No. 18 in E-flat Major, Op. 31, No. 3 “The Hunt”
By: Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)

On the Beethoven piece he will perform on the show:
I picked up the piece a couple months ago and it’s really exciting. It’s the second movement of a Beethoven sonata and the entire sonata works with the title called The Hunt. It has a jovial character but also in some places has that signature of the Beethoven forte and it’s very representative of this cheeky and playful character. Of course that’s Beethoven’s signature style– intermixing of that genius with classical style.

A favorite memory or highlight:
Jam session just minutes before the show started.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
Music is truly a universal language that can make friends from enemies and really bond anybody.

Quartet Lumiére 221
String Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26
I. Un poco andante – Allegro molto ed agitato
By: Edvard Grieg (1843–1907)
AND
String Quartet No. 1, Elemental, Op. 15
IV. Salamandrae (Fire)
Chason Goldfinger (b. 1996)

On the Grieg String Quartet:
Rebecca Benjamin: I think definitely the piece that we most got into was the Grieg. It was so powerful. In rehearsal it was so big and grand, so it was really exciting to get to share that with everybody. It was a piece that we all really connected to and felt so strongly about.
Mira Williams: I think definitely the Grieg was kind of our showpiece. Exciting and powerful. There’s a bit at the end where Josiah has the solo, and me, Gallia and Rebecca have harmonics, or tremolos, and it sounds really cool and he comes in with the solo. The whole piece before that moment is very intense and dramatic, and then that part is dramatic too but in a very different way.
Josiah Yoo: I think since Grieg is kind of nationalistic folk music, the whole piece almost sounds like a superhero, action kind of story. At the beginning, and when the beginning comes back, I can picture a superhero over a town or something, and then when it gets to the second melody, it’s pleading and in pain and almost desperate. At that point, it’s kind of like the people are in distress, and they have no help and they’re kind of doomed. But the hero seems to come back in different parts of the piece.

On the Goldfinger Quartet:
Gallia Kastner: The fourth movement is really cool. It kind of reminds me of that modern, Shostakovich feel. It’s something really out there – it’s very cool. I’ve never played anything like it. It’s very interesting. Sometimes it gets a little wacky, a little weird in some places, but I think that’s what makes the piece stand out. This young composer, whoever he is, I think he’s amazing. He composed something this complex and this hard. Learning these notes is difficult, at least for the first violin part. I think it’s definitely really cool and I enjoyed learning it.
Rebecca Benjamin: I think it’s a very unique piece in really remarkable kind of style. It seems very quirky to me but at the same time it’s genius. The 4th movement which we performed is the fire element and I think Chason captured that very well in the piece. It’s kind of chaotic, very loud and harsh. It was really fun to play, and wonderful being able to work with the composer himself.

Gallia Kastner, 16, violin

A favorite memory or highlight:
Coming back to the show with my quartet and playing Chason’s piece

What do you believe music has the power to do?
It has the power to save lives. Changes someone’s perspective about classical music and their own life.

Rebecca Benjamin, 18, violin

A favorite memory or highlight:
The opportunity to be together with my quartet again and play together on the show was an experience I’ll never forget. It had always been a dream of mine to be on From the Top and I can’t imagine a better experience than I had with my quartet.

Jamming backstage before the show was so fun!

Playing Chason’s piece on the live show was amazing.  There was so much energy and enthusiasm that night. I had never played a modern piece when the composer was present – LOVED the experience!!! It made me want to do more of that in the future.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
Music has the power to change lives. It can bring so much encouragement and joy to others.

Mira Williams, 15, viola

A favorite memory or highlight:
-our performance of Chason’s piece
-the mini jam session backstage

What do you believe music has the power to do?
-connect anyone and everyone
-evoke intense emotions…

Josiah Yoo, 15, cello

A favorite memory or highlight:
Improv just before the show ?

What do you believe music has the power to do?
Change a life.
Change every life.


8 months ago | |
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Our alumni are making waves all over the world! Here’s our latest round of alumni updates, keep them coming! You can submit your update to: alumni@fromthetop.org.

Alexi Kenney

Alexi Kenney (Show 200) was named a 2013 Concert Artist Guild winner in New York last week. The Concert Artists Guild provides management support “to a roster of talented artists during a critical and formative time: between completion of formal studies and the achievement of an established career.” Past From the Top alumni winners include Sebastian Baverstam and Steven Lin.

Soprano Nadine Sierra (Show 95, Show 213) won the XIII International Montserrat Caballé Singing Competition in Zaragoza, Spain, and the Neue Stimmen 2013 International Singing Competition in Gütersloh, Germany. Among other appearances, she will be singing Rigoletto in March with Boston Lyric Opera.

Violinist Anna Lee (Show 152, Show 204, TV Season 2) won the Bernhard and Mania Hahnloser Violin Prize this summer at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland. She attended the Verbier Festival Academy, which is comprised of a select group of young artists (piano, violin, viola, cello, ensemble, voice). “The Verbier Festival Academy enables the best young soloists in the world to work under the watchful eye of great artists, following a rigorous selection process.  For three weeks, the stars of tomorrow benefit from a number of masterclasses, which are open to all, and have many occasions to demonstrate their talents.”

The U.S. representatives in each instrumental category were almost exclusively From the Top alumni. Piano: Alice Burla (Show 174, Show 224, TV Season 2); Violin: Chad Hoopes (Show 171, Show 189, TV Season 2), Sirena Huang (Show 188), Anna Lee (Show 152, Show 204, TV Season 2); Viola: Vicki Powell, Arianna Smith (Show 197, Show 228); Cello: Sarina Zhang (Show 112, Show 163, Show 236); Ensemble: The Calidore String Quartet, 2011 Fischoff Grand Prize winners and recently signed Opus 3 artists, featuring From the Top alumni Jeffrey Meyers and Ryan Meehan (Show 164)

Ibanda Ruhumbika is a member of Jon Batiste and Stay Human

Tubist Ibanda Ruhumbika (Show 155, Show 169, TV Season 2) released his first CD as a member of “Jon Batiste and Stay Human,” a modern jazz ensemble noted for their world-class music, high energy, and uplifting spirit. They performed at the From the Top Gala in May 2013 and are touring now in support of their “Social Music” album release.

Teddy Abrams (Show 69) has been named the new music director of the Louisville Orchestra.

Alum and Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Umi Garrett (Show 211, Show 217) just performed eight community concerts in 17 days throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Virginia. She also performed Chopin’s Fantasy Impromptu for the soundtrack of the Steve Jobs biopic “Jobs.” Read about Umi in the Huffington Post.

Michael Thurber (Show 125), one of the creative forces behind the popular YouTube channel CDZA and an accomplished composer in his own right, was in London this fall working on music for “Antony and Cleopatra,” a new production of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Public Theater. The show debuts in Stratford-upon-Avon, England in November, before coming to Miami in January and New York City in February and March.  Michael is also part of the creative team behind “Goddess,” a new musical that was workshopped at the Eugene O’Neill Musical Theater Conference. Wearing his other hat, Michael will join his CDZA colleagues to perform at the first-ever YouTube Music Awards on November 3.

Charles Yang (Show 74, Show 160, Show 230, TV Season 1), a frequent collaborator of Michael Thurber’s and CDZA will also perform at the upcoming YouTube Music Awards. But don’t think he’s left the classical music world behind! Charles just performed Tchaikovsky and a premiere with the Peoria Symphony and will accompany American Ballet Theatre’s performance of Twyla Tharp’s “Bach Partita”  in New York (as featured in The Wall Street Journal).

“I am not a rock star” follows eight years of alum Marika Bournaki’s life.

A film following eight years of the life of alum Marika Bournaki (Show 181) entitled “I am not a rock star” is making the rounds at various film festivals. Her From the Top appearance in 2008 was filmed during the documentary project.

Violist Daniel Orsen (Show 246), from Pittsburgh and currently a sophomore at Oberlin Conservatory of Music, was one of only three finalists in the junior division for viola at the 2013 American String Teachers Association (ASTA) National Solo Competition in April at the Kaufman Center’s Merkin Hall in New York City. This past August, Daniel completed his fourth summer with the Perlman Music Program Summer Music School in East Hampton, New York on Shelter Island.

Chase Dobson

Composer Chase Dobson (Show 265) was named Composer in Residence at the Avante Chamber Ballet in his hometown of Dallas and was commissioned to write his first short ballet, “Faces of the Sun” for horn, violin, and piano. Chase spent his summer at Boston University Tanglewood Instiute and is currently a senior at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas. To learn more about Chase Dobson, visit his website:  www.chasedobsonmusic.com.

Four From the Top alumni – Aaron Bigeleisen (Show 254), Peter Eom (Show 269), Hilda Huang (Show 180, TV Season 2), and Annika Jenkins (Show 234) – were among 20 high school seniors to receive the U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts in Washington, D.C. in June.

Aaron Bigeleisen also won first place in Classical Singer Magazine’s High School Vocal Competition and participated in Ottimavoce, a program in New York City run by Dr. Karen Parks of the Tisch School at New York University this summer. Aaron is a freshman at Eastman School of Music and the University of Rochester in their double degree program for Vocal Performance and German.

After graduating from Vanderbilt University in 2007 with a double degree in Classical Guitar and English Literature, Jennifer McNeil (Show 50) became a managing editor at Thomas Nelson Publishing Company in Nashville, Tennessee. She decided she missed music and completed her Master’s in Music at New England Conservatory with teacher Eliot Fisk this past May.  Jenni is currently studying classical guitar performance under Antigoni Goni at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels.


8 months ago | |
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By Jon Corin, 18-year-old saxophone player from Sarasota, Florida

Jon Corin performs on From the Top

Jon Corin performs on From the Top

When I first heard From the Top on the radio, I was in awe of the musicians who were just around my age. My favorite part of the show is how real it makes its performers, bringing them down to earth for the listener and giving an insight into the lives of these young musicians beyond the practice room. When I learned that I would have the opportunity to perform on the show, I was excited that I would be able to share both my music and who I am with the From the Top community.

It’s hard to pick just one moment that I’ll remember most when I think back to my From the Top experience. Many of my memories come from moments that were not even part of taping the show. I will always remember discovering the Gamelan with such an amazing group of musicians (who were equally confused by the instrument at first as I was). I’ll also never forget the dynamic of the green room before the show. Although we all experienced some normal pre-performance jitters, I was struck by the poise and comfort of the group.

From the start of the weekend, the From the Top staff amazed me; making the organizational machine run so incredibly smoothly, constantly maintaining a smile, and meeting every one of the performers’ needs. For me, one of the most profound aspects of the show is the sense of community and love for the arts that is so clear amongst the group. I know that I will take that feeling with me for the rest of my life, and I will try to bring it to all of the environments, musical and otherwise, of which I am a part.

Listen to Jon on this week’s episode of From the Top, taped at the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota .


8 months ago | |
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 135Maya Buchanan, 13 , violin
Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major
Op. 24, “Spring”
By Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

The 1st and 4th movements are my favorites. I worked on this piece this summer while at Aspen Music Festival and playing it there reminds me a lot of Aspen’s natural setting. When I play this piece, I think of the flowing water and the shimmering Aspen trees. Beethoven is really big on dynamics, so there’s lots of subito pianos so that makes it challenging.  In the opening, it is very lyrical, calm and simple and other times becomes dramatic.  The dynamics are probably the hardest part – it crescendos up to a really big forte and then suddenly you have to be really soft.  I love Beethoven’s music!

 A favorite memory or highlight:
Having a tour of the National Music Museum in my home state with the FTT crew and fellow musicians.  There were really amazing, cool, unexpected instruments inside.  The Nickelodeon was my favorite. I also enjoyed spending time in he warm-up room getting acquainted with all the other musicians.

What do you believe music has the power to do?

People of all cultures and ages express themselves through music. This form of communication can be understood all over the world and inspires and positively changes the way we feel about each other.  And it happens like “POW!”  I don’t know of any other other “language” that affects people this way.   That’s the power of music.

Evan Lee, 15, piano 157
Trancendental Etude No. 4, “Mazeppa”
By Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Any time my teacher gives me Liszt, I’m happy.  I like this piece.  She said, “why don’t you play this?”  And I’m like, “this is cool!”  There is a story behind it- I believe it’s about this prince that gets strapped to a horse and the horse is left to run free- it was because he did something, I’m not sure what it was, but the prince was being punished.  He almost dies but then returns victorious and becomes king.  Liszt tries to make the sound of a horse galloping throughout the piece.  First, I try to focus on hitting the right stuff.  Liszt is a programmatic composer, he puts titles to things and his own story.  There’s no alternative story that I have in mind.  This piece is always in motion so it’s hard to put together and not make it sound like a bunch of noise.  It’s easy to do that considering the technique is pretty hard.  The final variations are pretty large jumps, and it’s hard to get them light.

A favorite memory or highlight:
Trying all the harpsichords/old keyboard instruments at the Music Museum.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
I think music has the power to bring people together, start conversations, and make people happy.

 221Jon Corin, 18, saxophone
Fantasia for Saxophone
I. Animé
By Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)

I’ll be playing the first movement of Fantasia by Heitor Villa-Lobos. It’s a piece that I’ve been playing for a long time; something that I’ve come back to numerous times.  I love the melody and the evocative contrast that occurs over the short span of this movement. When I first put this piece together with piano, it gained a whole new meaning for me. It came to life right before my eyes, like an old friend who just revealed something brand new about himself (thankfully it was something good). Since then, every time I play the piece I try to take something new from it, hopefully giving something new to the listener.

A favorite memory or highlight:
Playing the gamelan with the whole group of kids. Finally hearing everyone play.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
I believe it can bring people together, forming amazing relationships. Music can empower people to help others.

Henry Johnston, 16, guitar 187
Sonata No. 3
III. Allegro non troppo
By Manuel Ponce (1882-1948)

I’m playing the Ponce piece on the show. I’ve been playing it for a pretty long time. I learned the second movement first about three years ago, my dad suggested the piece for me and I took to it immediately. I learned the third movement about two years ago. I’m working on the first movement now. I really like the movement I’m playing. In the context of the piece, it seems like a pretty triumphant movement. It’s got a recurring theme, a real big strummed chord. Sometimes you expect it and sometimes you don’t, so it manages to keep an audience guessing. It’s got a beautiful middle section full of moving chords, which is fun as a guitar player to get to play because it really forces you to make decisions about the voicing of the chords, which notes you want at the forefront and which ones you want to lay back a little bit more. Pianists spend all sorts of time thinking about that, emphasis within a chord, but with a lot of guitar players it goes unnoticed.

A favorite memory or highlight:
Visiting the National Music Museum, the setting of the show really enriched the whole experience for me and created some great new connections within the music world.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
It’s got the power to bring people together and expose you to new things.

 121The Luna String Quartet

Anna Humphrey, 17, violin I

A favorite memory or highlight:
The actual performance was a lot of fun. Where the dress rehearsal seemed stressful and serious, the performance was light hearted and exciting.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
I believe music has the power to promote peace around the world. It brings people together as a universal language.

Emma Richman, 15, violin II

A favorite memory or highlight:
Spending time with the other musicians and getting to know them better was one of my favorite parts. We got along extremely well and I feel like I’ve known them for much longer than three days. It was also amazing to meet more talented musicians from all over the country.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
Music has the power to bring people together. People from all different backgrounds can get along simply because they all speak the same language of music.

Alexandra Sophocleus, 18, viola

A favorite memory or highlight:
Getting to know the other musicians on our episode was a huge highlight. It is always so awesome to meet other people our age with our interests from other parts of the country.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
Music has the power to help people express what words cannot. It gives people something to relate to and helps people make connections to others. My strongest friendships are the ones based around musical experiences.

Nora Doyle, 17, cello

A favorite memory or highlight:
Playing the gamelan! Seeing the museum and the experimental instruments. Also the pizza party and meeting everyone.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
Music can give people confidence and a sense of self-worth, connect people from different cultures.


9 months ago | |
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It’s 7:30 AM on a Monday morning at the Columbia Campus of Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Kids grades K-8 have filed into the gymnasium for their usual morning meeting. Sitting in rows with backpacks and coats still on, they suddenly hear a saxophone above them play, “Oh When the Saints, Go Marching In…” The song continues with violin, melodica, cello, and voice as four teenagers come on stage to join the saxophonist above them in the crow’s nest.

Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

Surprise concert at the Columbia Campus.  Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

This was the kick-off to From the Top’s residency at Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy, an elementary school located on multiple campuses in the Dorchester and Mattapan neighborhoods of the City of Boston. The residency was comprised of a series of assemblies and concerts at three of the school’s four campuses, bringing the power of music to 1,000 kids.

Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

Chad Lilley kicks off the assembly. Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

Thanks to a grant provided by the Free for All Concert Fund, From the Top was thrilled to visit this school in our hometown, especially since the school is so committed to music education. 600 Pope John Paul II students participate in an after-school string program. From the Top’s visit with five performers from our October 6 radio taping at NEC’s Jordan Hall served to inspire this school full of budding musicians to embrace music and keep practicing.

Mary Swanton, Music Director at Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy, opened the assemblies by telling her students that the From the Top performers left her speechless!

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Performers following their radio show taping at NEC’s Jordan Hall on October 6.

The interactive assemblies drew inspiration from the stories and talents of our From the Top performers – 17-year-old saxophonist Chad Lilley from Olney, Maryland; 17-year-old cellist Lev Mamuya from Newton Highlands, Massachusetts; 16-year-old pianist Niu Niu from China but now living in Natick, Massachusetts; 17-year-old mezzo-soprano Olivia Cosio from San Francisco, California; and 16-year-old violinist Yuki Beppu from Lexington, Massachusetts.

Students imagined what colors and images they heard in Lev’s performance of a Debussy Cello Sonata – purple, black, red, and rainbows.

Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

What do you imagine?  Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

They chose sound effects for Chad to play on the saxophone from a long striped hat – such as circular breathing, playing two notes at once, and slap tongue. Watch the game here:

Yuki shared her dream of making more kids listen to classical music and after an intense performance of Ysaÿe, she played her violin along with a track of Lady Gaga’s “Applause” to the delight of the dancing and cheering audience.

Photo by Caitlin Cunningham.

Singing along with Lady Gaga.  Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

Olivia joined a middle school chorus from Pope John Paul II’s Mattapan campus in a performance of Beyonce’s “Halo” and then led the entire audience in a round of vocal exercises.

Niu Niu shared how hard it was to move to the United States from China and then had jaws dropping as he played Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude.

Niu Niu commented that “Watching all these kids in schools laughing and screaming and their happy facial expressions when listening to the music was amazing.”

Photo by Caitlin Cunningham.

Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

Check out how some of the students got into the music here:

The day long residency was every bit a learning experience for our From the Top performers as it was for the students at Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy and provided a very real set of challenges and opportunities for their Arts Leadership Orientation Workshop.

“One of our main goals at our experience at PJPII was to inspire the students with music and share our love for it. I think all of us were really looking forward to seeing how they would react to our assemblies, and what they took away from the whole experience,” says Yuki. “However, something I took away from the outreach was confidence and to embrace spontaneity. When we got there, we were all forced to be somewhat spontaneous and throw ourselves out there like a pebble into a pond, and just watch the ripples forming. This applied to both the musical portion and the speaking portion as well. But with the energy of the kids and their enthusiasm, my hesitation and worries completely disappeared. So all in all, I think not only did the kids benefit from what we did, but we as performers benefited greatly as well. This was a very mutual experience, and something I will never forget.”

You can hear Chad, Lev, Yuki, Niu Niu, and Olivia in their From the Top radio episode the week of November 18.

From the Top performers with PJPII leaders.

From the Top performers with PJPII leaders.

Learn more about the Free for All Concert Fund.

Check out our photo gallery.


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