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After an appearance on From the Top in 2008 (Show 192), violinist Ren Martin-Doike (now studying viola at the Curtis Institute) has been all about making connections with others through music. We’ve shared a number of these connections on our blog over the years, including a demonstration on the similarities between a string quartet and a rock band  for an eager class of 1st graders,  and a letter offering advice to young musicians on ways to prepare for the dreaded “college audition”. We just heard from Ren about her most recent adventure with the program “Kalikolehua” – the Hawaiian branch of El Sistema USA. A talented writer as well as an inspiring musician, Ren shared this beautiful reflection on her experience:  

Dear From the Top,

It is with great excitement that I share my recent experience with Kalikolehua, the El Sistema program in my home state of Hawai‘i.  Kalikolehua draws its name from two Hawaiian words: kaliko for bud, symbolizing the children or keiki of Hawai‘i, and lehua for the the volcano goddess Pele’s flower, which is the first plant to break through new soil after volcanic eruption. Auspiciously christened with powerful imagery, Kalikolehua was founded in October 2010 and is a burgeoning program serving to inspire the children of Hawai‘i to harness music as a vehicle to rise above poverty toward excellence and to grow a stronger sense of community through music.

A kindergarten classroom with a clear view of the ocean is where the music, and the magic, happens in Kalikolehua’s first nucleo at Ka‘a‘awa Elementary School.  From the moment I stepped foot into that classroom I could see how Kalikolehua was already bringing the Ka‘a‘awa community together through music.  On any given day in Mrs. White’s classroom there were bound to be curious visitors of all sorts.  Parents, siblings and classmates served as willing audience members for end of class impromptu performances daily and even the school’s principal Jennifer Luke-Paine often picked up a violin or recorder and learned along with the class.

The bright-eyed young musicians shared what they were learning freely and generously, from reminding each other to keep good posture to teaching their frequent guests all of the words to their songs.  It was quickly evident to me that these children were already serving their classroom and community as peer mentors.

It was this spirit of musical sharing that met me in Ka‘a‘awa on my first day as a young teacher with Kalikolehua.  After singing songs of cheerful greetings together, the students were intrigued to learn what instrument I had brought and why it looked so big.  When they learned that I played the viola they squealed with delight and broke into song.  And not just any song, but a viola song, sung to the tune of B-I-N-G-O, which teaches counting, rhythm and spelling.  Before long we were all having a great time learning and making music together.

After a short break where the children ran around in the grassy schoolyard alongside local chickens against a picturesque backdrop of beautifully green and jagged mountains, it was time to reconvene indoors for the last portion of class.  The children displayed their concentration and memory by playing through some of the pieces they worked on earlier in class for a gathering small audience.  When they heard the proud applause of their family the little musicians bowed instinctively.  It was so cute to watch!  As a treat for their good behavior, I would share some music I was working on while they sat on the floor wiggly, yet riveted.

Before I performed for them, we talked a little about the piece I was about to play.  I asked the class if any of them had heard of a composer named “Bach” before. A few hands flew up.  Some of students wondered what a composer was.   A small boy volunteered to explain that a composer is somebody who writes music.  To remember Johann Sebastian, or Papa, Bach’s name we decided to find a mnemonic close by – the “bawk” of the neighborhood chickens!  As soon as the air had cleared of gleeful “bawk, Bach!” noises, I announced that I was about to play was a type of dance from the time of Mr. Bach and asked the children to guess what kind of dance they thought it was.  I then put up my viola and proceeded to play the courante from Bach’s sixth cello suite.

“Happy!” a number of them shouted out.  “Fast,” added another.  I agreed, continuing that the name of the movement, courante, came from the French word for running.  “Did anyone hear any parts that were not so happy?” I asked.  Quizzical looks now flashed across the faces looking up at me.  “What about this part,” I asked before playing a more melancholy excerpt from the second half of the movement.  “It sounds sad,” one of the children observed.  “But after that it was happy again,” followed another.  After a fun first day of musical sharing it was already time for the young musicians to join their families and go home, yet the continual raising of their small hands showed that they were still full of questions.  I fielded many of the staples of outreach performances such as “when did you begin playing your instrument?” before we were down to one last question.  A smiling girl raised her hand and asked “can you play for us again?” to echoes of agreement from her classmates.  “I would love to,” I replied.

I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to become a part of this wonderful new musical community on my recent trip home.  Though I only had a few days to spend teaching, performing and learning with the little Lehua buds of Kalikolehua – El Sistema Hawai‘i this time, I look forward to playing as active a role as I possibly can with Kalikolehua in near future.  I cannot wait to visit the program again next year when it will have grown to include even more instruments and more keiki, or children, of Hawai‘i!

Aloha,
Ren Martin-Doike


1 year ago | |
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Being an arts leader to me means inspiring that “spark” in others so they can realize what they are capable of. It’s about empowering people to go after something they normally wouldn’t, or showing them a piece of their full potential and how easy it is to accomplish their goals. – Carson Marshall

When 17 year-old violinist and Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Carson Marshall appeared on From the Top (Show 245, Boston, Massachusetts), he gave a heartfelt account of his own difficulties with sight-reading music due to a learning disability. He never thought that his words and actions would have such a powerful impact, and quickly learned that sharing one’s experiences can empower others to realize their own potential.

An unexpected inspiration came through Classical South Florida’s Reach Out contest. Applicants to the contest were asked to write a letter to a recent From the Top performer, sharing what they loved about the performance and including three questions for that performer. Violinist Josiah Blanchette (also 17) was inspired by Carson’s story. He shared a similar struggle with sight-reading, and was encouraged to hear that there are other musicians out there like him. Moved by Josiah’s honesty and passion for music, Carson wrote the following letter in response:

A month later, Carson visited a class of middle school strings students from his hometown of Amherst, MA to help them realize their own potential. Seeing their engagement inspired Carson to talk more about his own struggles, and how determination and hard work helped him get to where he is today and envision a future in music. During the presentation, Carson focused on tone quality, demonstrating factors that can effect tone, such as bow speed and pressure, and how to apply these to actual music. He shares more on his goals for and learning from the experience below:

[I wanted] to teach younger children the basics and fundamentals of their instruments, and hopefully either inspire them to continue practicing or keep them from quitting. I also hoped to show these kids that even though it was hard for me to get to where I am today, I did have some fun along the way, and all they have to do is stick with it. My goal was to show these kids that they can be as good as they want to be, and there is nothing holding them back. I wanted to show them they can become great players with work, and that it’s possible (and quite simple) for them to make a good sound on their instrument. Overall, I felt like the kids responded well to the presentation, and I got a lot of great feedback. I think now that these kids know what is possible with their instruments, they will continue to seek that sound and become better players because for it.

About to start as a freshman at Rice University, Carson hopes to continue sharing his story to inspire and empower others. We can’t wait to see what he does next!


1 year ago | |
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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
General Martin Dempsey meeting our performers

A few weeks ago we were in Grapevine, Texas, where we taped an especially unique episode of the radio show featuring young musicians who’ve grown up in military families. Our show was part of the Military Child Education Coalition’s annual seminar, and our audience was full of the people who teach and support military kids.

Among the performers featured was a fantastic young clarinetist whose dream of playing in a military band was realized when he joined a quintet from the United States Army Band to perform a military march. The quintet featured a flutist who was herself a former From the Topper. We also met a 17-year-old harpist who played Gabriel Pierne, a 16-year-old pianist who introduced us to his large military family, and an 18-year-old violist who turned the tables on the violinists of the world by playing one of the flashiest pieces in their repertory – Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro.

After the show I met a family of From the Top fans from the island of Borneo (on the South China Sea). It was incredibly cool to learn that they listened to our podcast halfway across the world!

My favorite moment of all had to be at our dress rehearsal when we had the honor of meeting the highest-ranking military officer in the United States (i.e. the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and principal military adviser to the President) General Martin Dempsey, who sat in on our rehearsal. But not only did he watch it, General Dempsey, who is known among his colleagues for his love of singing, treated us to his rendition of “My Kind of Town” – and believe me when I tell you that the General has some serious stage presence! Of course I made sure we videotaped it for you, and you can check out a snippet at the end of this week’s Sneak Peek video. When the show airs though (the week of October 1) look out, because we’ll likely post the whole thing!


1 year ago | |
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I learned that it is extremely effective to have kids teach other kids. I think they were able to really connect with me in a way that you can’t connect with an adult teacher.

Pianist Arianna Korting (Show 145, Boston, Massachusetts; Show 241, Washington, DC) is passionate about showing younger kids how enjoyable and fun classical music can be. As a sophomore in high school, she founded the Animato Project – an interactive series of programs for 4th graders from the West Geauga school district. She specifically chose to work with this grade from the district given their annual field trip to see one of the Cleveland Orchestra concerts. Arianna saw this as a wonderful opportunity to further their exposure to the genre in a peer-to-peer setting. She chose to work with two elementary schools: Lindsey Elementary in Chester, Ohio and Westwood Elementary in Russell, Ohio. Each 45-minute program combined performance with a variety of activities, from expressing musical reactions through drawing to listing as many orchestral instruments and composers as possible.  She worked with the administration at West Geauga High School (her high school) to guarantee the program’s continuation as she prepares to leave for college in the fall.

”[My goal was] to promote classical music to a young audience. Animato means animated, lively. This project is all about showing that classical music can be as cool as pop, country, or rap music!”

We asked Arianna to share more about her experiences with the Animato Project…

FTT: What were some memorable moments from The Animato Project?     

Arianna: It was great just watching the kids’ faces as I was playing etudes and scales on the piano – they loved it when I was able to show how fast one can play. When I asked them to name off some classical composers, a few mentioned Michael Jackson! One girl came up to me after a visit and told me she would go home and play on the piano right away! Another girl really appreciated the project, and I later heard that she developed a great interest in this genre of music. All I would like this project to do is touch the heart of at least one student, and show him or her a new perspective on music.

FTT: How did you develop the program?

Arianna: I came up with activities that would keep the kids’ minds going and show them that listening to classical music is really cool! Having fourth graders actively listening is much more interesting then just passively listening. Most 9 to 10 year olds are very active, and I knew that if I just played music for them they would probably think it was pretty boring. This way they were able to be active and also use their imaginations.

FTT: Were there any unexpected moments or challenges?     

Arianna: There were times when I was worried about losing the interest of the fourth graders. I constantly tried to find new ways to grab their attention. After I visited a school, I reflected back on the session and planned for a much more enjoyable approach for the next. Trying to get new students [from my high school] to participate was also a bit of a challenge; but this project really only needs one or two students to carry on every year so I think it will keep going.

FTT: What did you learn from this experience?

Arianna: When I started this project I was only six years older than the fourth graders. For them to see someone close in age that can play an instrument well gives them the encouragement that they can do it too! It also shows them that classical music isn’t some boring music just for adults. It is amazing what I was able to accomplish during these 45-minute periods because the fourth graders were hooked on the subject and looked up to me. I also believe that interactive programming is crucial in creating a fun and enjoyable learning environment for the kids.

FTT: What are your future hopes for the Animato Project?

Arianna: I hope that this project will continue in the hands of the underclassmen who have already taken part in it, and that they pass on the love for classical music to others in the years to follow. I am going to encourage the school’s music department to put this into their curriculum.

FTT: What do you think it means to be an arts leader? 

Arianna: Being an arts leader is showing and sharing my love for classical music to all in the community. This also means reaching out to those who may not have the opportunity to appreciate classical music and giving them a taste of how much fun it is to listen to; keeping classical music alive by introducing it to the next and newest generation of listeners.


1 year ago | |
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I learned that I can make an impact on kids’ lives regarding the arts, and realized how passionate I am about helping others. I would definitely do this again.

Having lived with a nonverbal learning disorder since age 4, now 17 year-old violist Alexia DelGiudice (a Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist) fully understands the struggles of those with learning disabilities. She has found music to be a powerful tool for expressing herself and making connections. Wanting to share this inspiration with others, Alexia visited with students involved in the Oliver Ames High School “Best Buddies” chapter – part of the nonprofit organization dedicated to support students with intellectual and developmental disabilities worldwide. She developed a three-part interactive program, tying together musical demonstrations with artistic expression.

She started with a brief concert in the school’s auditorium, asking the students to imagine a story for each piece she performed. Alexia then welcomed several of the students to join her onstage and try out a violin she had brought. They all traveled to the Art Room next, where Alexia asked everyone to make a drawing that represented their favorite piece from her performance. She found the overall experience to be a powerful way for connecting with kids who normally struggle to express themselves. She share her goals below:

I wanted these kids with disabilities to know that they are capable of doing whatever they want in life. The challenge does not need to prevent their dreams and talents from coming forward. My goal was to open up their minds and to let them express their emotions through music and art.

We asked Alexia to share more about her experience with the Best Buddies program…

FTT: Tell us more on what inspired you to connect with these students…

Alexia: Due to the fact that I have a nonverbal learning disability, I feel I can share and connect with other students who are facing the same challenges. Music and viola have allowed me to express myself and see the world around me as an open book, not as a world where my disability rules my life.

Passion is what drives me and helps me to achieve any goal I set for myself. My consistent improvement and abilities are not blocked by the challenges I feel at school. I am competing only with myself as a violist when I practice. The pressure I face at school does not exist.

FTT: What were some memorable moments?

Alexia: When I was letting the kids try a violin, this one kid named Andrew was so excited about it that he ran up onto the stage and tried to grab the violin! Even though he was being a little rough, I knew how to calm him down. He loved the sound and didn’t want to stop playing it. The second person to try the violin was a tiny girl named Erin. When she stepped onto the stage, she started stretching like she was about to run a race. It was so cute! She had so much fun trying the violin that whenever she made a bad sound, she crinkled her nose. It is moments like these that I will never forget!

FTT: What do you believe the students took away from your visit?    

Alexia: I believe that the kids really enjoyed this experience! Not only did they get to hear classical music, but the art portion and hands-on segment also showed them how amazing music can be! I feel that now, after experiencing all of this, they might start to dabble in the arts.

FTT: What do you think it means to be an arts leader? 

Alexia: Being an arts leader means helping others realize the power of music and excel in the arts. I hope to show everyone that they are capable of doing anything they set their minds to!


1 year ago | |
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Here at Crossing Strings, I am teacher, friend, and mentor.

After having the chance to work with younger kids at a summer music festival, violinist Jisoo Kim was inspired to start a lesson program in her own neighborhood. She created Crossing Strings: a program for aspiring young violinists that meets once a week at the Ridgefield Public Library. With eight students currently involved, Jisoo has discovered a passion for teaching and mentoring kids in music. She’ll be heading to college this fall, but wants to continue her work wherever school and music may take her. Check out the following video to see the Crossing Strings students in action:

We asked Jisoo to share more with us about Crossing Strings…

FTT: What inspired you to create this program?

Jisoo: I decided to start my very own violin program because of a particular experience I had during the previous summer. I had worked as a mentor to the younger students that played string instruments (violin, viola, and cello) at a local summer music camp for community service hours.

It was really my first time in the position of a “teacher.” I had always been the student, listening and following my own teacher’s directions. Because the role had switched for me, it turned out to be quite intriguing. I was eager to develop my own program to gain more insight into the rewarding perspectives of being a teacher.

FTT: What was it like making the switch from “student” to “teacher”?

Jisoo: The first few weeks were truly a new learning experience for me. I had to take so many other factors into consideration in teaching – patience, responsibility, and creativity. Since I was not used to such a different atmosphere, I admit I was overwhelmed. It made me realize that I was much more familiar working independently while living the life of a musician. I had always considered myself primarily as a soloist. Other than participating in chamber music or orchestra, I never really took in…what it takes to work with others as a teacher. I was exposed to an entirely new light.

FTT: What do you believe it means to be an arts leader?

Jisoo: To me, being an arts leader is, in one word, incredible. As a violinist, I feel that Crossing Strings has not only affected my students but also me both musically and personally. When one of my students would successfully play through “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” to the end and immediately look up with a proud, hopeful look, I would feel just as accomplished. In those moments, I realize the appreciation that I have for my very own teachers.

Program from the Final Concert with the Crossing Strings’ students


Crossing Strings Spotlight
1 year ago | |
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“I think that performing and sharing is crucial for young people like us. This concert definitely showed the parents and the greater Interlake community that its musical scene is full of life.” Dong Won (pictured above at his From the Top appearance in Washington D.C – Show 241)

After receiving notice that the Interlake High School music department was in need of financial support, pianist Dong Won Lee decided to take action. The program’s band director David Kim would be taking a leave of absence while his wife underwent critical surgery, and sent an appeal to all students for help with raising funds to hire temporary music clinicians. Dong Won was so inspired by Mr. Kim’s dedication to the band that he decided to organize a benefit concert.

Having never organized a concert by himself, Dong Won reached out to the school’s orchestra director: Dr. Shira Katsman (pictured below with Dong Won). She helped him secure a venue, organize a music program, and contact the various performers from the school. The music department rallied to support the cause, with nearly 40 musicians joining Dong Won for the event! The program showcased a variety of instruments and genres, from saxophone ensemble to string quartet. Held at the Interlake Performing Arts Center, they raised $2,000 for the music program! All proceeds went towards the Interlake Music Parents Association’s Clinician Fund (created by Dr. Kim). Dong Won shares why he chose to organize this event:

“I wanted to help the music students at my school, and had always wanted to be a part of the music program (the piano doesn’t really belong to any group), so the opportunity to stage this concert came to my mind.”

We asked Dong Won some questions to learn more about his efforts with the event…

FTT: Tell us more on how you first heard about Mr. Kim’s efforts:

Dong Won: In mid-January of 2012, my parents received a newsletter from my high school’s Music Department: it was about the band director’s wife, and how she was receiving treatment for a malignant tumor. In the newsletter was the band director’s personal request for help in raising money for musical clinicians who would come to school while he was on leave taking care of his wife.

What moved me most about his request was the fact that he still had the energy to care for his music students, despite the personal hardship he may have been suffering due to his wife’s sickness. 

FTT: What inspired your musical choices for this program?         

Dong Won: At first, this benefit concert was going to have only string and piano players. But as an organizer trying to engage an audience, I wanted to include all types of student musicians. We had “The Mavudraman Percussion Ensemble” slamming away, and a science-music duo called “The F&H Doppler Effect Flute Duet” playing some fantastic flute music. There was also the “Seaweed Six Vocal Ensemble” singing some traditional Gaelic songs. There was just a lot of cool music!

FTT: What were some of the challenges in organizing this concert?   

Dong Won: Organizing a concert is certainly different from performing. It made me work a lot harder to make music seem approachable for an audience. The greatest challenge was responding to all the emails, and not letting down the people I was working with. The level of support that I received from the music department was amazing – I would not have been able to stage the concert without the faculty’s help.

FTT: What impact do you believe this concert had on those involved?  

Dong Won: Although I don’t know how much the money will be of help to the students in the long term, I believe that the concert gave them another chance to perform on a stage. It sounds trivial, but I think that performing and sharing is crucial for young people like us. This concert definitely showed the parents and the greater Interlake community that its musical scene is full of life.

FTT: What do you think it means to be an arts leader? 

Dong Won: To me, being an arts leader is making sure that the arts do not die out. There is a lot of talk today about how classical music is outdated (which is partially true), but my job as an arts leader would be to present classical music in ways that can make it more popular and appreciated.


1 year ago | |
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I have now been cancer free for 11 years. Music played an enormous part in my own healing process and has continued to be an incredibly important part of who I am. I can’t imagine my life without it.

Hannah’s From the Top performance

In January of 2001, six-year-old Hannah Moses (Show 241) was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphona. While being treated at the Cleveland Clinic, she found her cello to be a source of both comfort and happiness. Fast forward to 2012 – Hannah, now cancer free, wanted to share the healing power of music and highlight its importance as a method of therapy. She traveled to the Cleveland Clinic with friend and violinist Haruno Sato (Show 241), where they performed for guests and patients in the clinic’s lobby. She was then invited to attend a Cleveland Clinic Child Life staff meeting to share her own personal struggle with cancer, and how music became a powerful tool in helping her cope with recovery. She says the following about the visit:

Our goal was simply to share our music and demonstrate the important role that music and art play in healing.”

We asked Hannah a few questions to learn more about her visit to the Cleveland Clinic…

FTT: What was it was like having to stay for months in a hospital at such a young age?

Hannah: The hospital can be a scary place for anyone, but I remember it being especially confusing and foreign to me as a kid. The first thing I noticed was the constant noise – pagers going off, the beeping of the IV’s, nurses coming in and out of my room to check my meds; it never seemed to stop, not even at night. I never fully got used to all the sounds – which made for a lot of sleepless nights over the next several months.

FTT: What role did music play in helping you cope with this?

Hannah at the Cleveland Clinic Child Life staff meeting

Hannah: I remember one day my dad brought my cello to the hospital and my mom practiced with me like we did every day at home. Being able to have my cello there with me helped me block everything else out – not just the constant noise, but also the reality that was cancer.
It gave me a sense of something normal to hold on to, and some days that was the only thing that kept me going. A lot of people don’t realize how much children understand. I may have been only six, but I knew what was happening to me, and music was my way of coping. Because of the cancer, I could hardly walk, and because of the chemo I had very little control over my body. Being able to express myself through music was something that couldn’t be taken away from me; it was something that was still mine.

FTT: Tell us more about your recent visit to the Cleveland Clinic with Haruno: 

Hannah: It was really nice to perform at the hospital, regardless of whether people stopped to listen or not. The atmosphere of a hospital can be very rushed and frantic, and adding our music made it feel brighter – whether we were taking turns playing Bach or laughing our way through the Handel-Halvorsen, it was a great experience all around!

After we played we were escorted to the Child Life staff meeting, where my mom and I spoke about my own battle with cancer 11 years ago and the impact music and art had on my healing.  The Clinic is trying to expand their music therapy program and they have weekly scheduled performances in the main lobby.  The staff we spoke to were very responsive and enthusiastic, and the session turned into a casual, friendly discussion. 

FTT: What do you believe it means to be an arts leader?

Hannah: Being an arts leader means looking beyond the physical flaws and seeing the potential and the beauty that is in everyone; seeing the determination, vitality, passion for living, and capacity to love that everybody has, and celebrating that.


1 year ago | |
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The Filarmónica Joven de Colombia

A few weeks ago we had the incredible experience of traveling to Colombia to make our international debut in Bogota. Our trip was profound in ways we could have never anticipated. Rather than giving you my usual play by play, I’m going to ask you to click here for a blog that tells the story wonderfully.

I do have for you a sneak peek video of the show. It’s a long one (as there was so much awesomeness to capture!) but make sure you watch until the end. The Filarmónica Joven de Colombia (Colombia’s national youth orchestra) have a tradition of closing concerts with the folk tune “Colombia Tierra Querida,” during which they joyfully dance as they play.  It’s like a big festive celebration, and we were all taken with it. Please excuse the shakiness of the camera – I was up there dancing with them!

This episode of From the Top is dedicated to the memory of Maestro Matthew Hazelwood, and will premiere the week of September 24, 2012.

-


1 year ago | |
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From the Top’s broadcast for Show 253 was taped at the Newmark Theatre in Portland, OR on Sunday May 6, 2012. We asked our performers to tell us about the music they performed on the show:

Simone Porter, violin, 15
III. Allegro Animato from Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor, Op.45
By: Edvard Grieg

I had the great privilege to perform the 3rd and final movement from Grieg’s 3rd sonata in c minor for violin and piano with Christopher O’Riley on From The Top in May. This sonata is certainly a favorite of mine. The third movement alone incorporates passionate melodies, elements of Norwegian folk music, overarching long lines, and excellent dialogue between the violin and the piano! I think the 3rd movement very operatic; it alternates between Nordic themes that feature exchanges between the violin and piano, which I consider flirtatious conversation amongst my opera characters, and passionate melodies which I imagine to be arias, declarations of love. Grieg employs many syncopated rhythms throughout the 3rd movement, which makes the music agitated and anxious at times, but in the end, the music takes a sweeping turn into C Major, and ends in celebration.

This sonata is all about human communication: most obvious is the interaction between the violinist and pianist performing, but I think that the connection between the performers and audience is just as essential. While I was in Portland with From the Top, we talked alot about music’s power and influence. I brought up the idea that music is a universal language that doesn’t acknowledge any prejudice, and invites everybody to join the conversation. I hope that with this performance, I successfully invited and engaged the audience in a lively discourse.

Post Show Reflection: Rather than a specific experience, my favorite memory is the way friendships developed between the performers over 3 days. We entered (mostly) strangers and left with new friends who will keep in touch and meet up when our paths inevitably cross in the future. Performing for a live audience and imagining how that performance will reach so many more was so wonderful! I loved collaborating with the brilliant Christopher O’Riley, all the people at FTT, and being with the fantastic and supportive Portland audience!!

Music can establish connections and dissolve boundaries in a world that can be so divisive. Music is the universal language and we invite everyone to join the conversation; art doesn’t recognize any prejudice. From the Top encourages a discussion in which everyone is accepted and welcomed, regardless of race, gender, age, sexuality, opinions, etc. Musical education brings peace and hope and light to society; the educators and educated benefit from the experience.

Ruta Kuzmickas, piano, 16
Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 34 No. 1
By: Frederic Chopin

In my opinion, this piece is very optimistic, energetic, and indeed very “grand,” as the name suggest. Overall, it’s just plain fun to perform. Aside from the optimistic characters in the piece, there’s also a melancholic cry towards the middle, although it is very short-lived. After that briefly dramatic moment the happy “character” returns with its original flamboyant thematic elements.

This piece is both musically and technically demanding. What I love about it is that there are so many different themes, yet they repeat so many times, making it fun to play around with ways to change every repetition and make each one unique. That alone was one of the most difficult things to get across, although in some ways Chopin has given the pianist a lot of space for creative thinking and interpreting.

Post Show Reflection: A favorite memory from the past three days was getting to see the other’s performances during the recorded rehearsal. It was interesting to see a variety of personalities, interpretations, and ideas. It was such an honor to be on the show. Performing on stage felt fantastic. So much work went in to preparing for the performance, so I knew I could relax and just let it happened. My main goal was to portray the spirit of the piece from my point of view, and I’m hoping it came across well.

I believe music has the power to heal, bring happiness and most importantly, connect people and bring them together. Music inspires, empowers, creates, and relates. Music is for everyone, regardless of race, gender, age, or identity.

The Aries Trio
II. Scherzo: Allegro from the Horn Trio in E-Flat Major, Op.40
By: Johannes Brahms

Jisoo Kim, violin, 18

The Brahms Horn Trio is special because this piece is for an unusual combination of instruments – piano, violin, and horn. One would think that the issue of balance might create problems, but it is incredible in how Brahms weaves these different instruments together to make beautiful music.

I have actually never worked with another brass instrument before (in terms of chamber music), so this experience was quite unique. I was always used to playing with either string instruments or the piano, so I had to adjust to a whole new setting. 

Post Show Reflections: My favorite memory from the last three days was the live performance and interview. The audience was wonderful, and I had an unforgettable experience with trio in Portland, Oregon. I grew closer with my trio and met so many inspiring people. I am so lucky to have experienced this FTT performance. We gave a great performance ,and the interview process with Christopher O’Riley was fun as well. From the Top provides such an incredible moment for performers everywhere, and I am thankful to have come to Portland and experience it again!

Music has the power to bring people together. It is inspiring and truly makes a difference in so many people’s lives.

Roy Femenella, horn, 18

Brahms wrote his Horn Trio after the passing of his mother, and so one of the primary emotional themes of this piece is grief. Because of this, the trio begins with a slow movement, and is one of very few works of this scale to do so.  The second movement, which we play on the show, exudes a tremendous feeling of renewal and possibility after the initial, sad first movement.

The second movement is very striking due to its different forms of contrast: emotionally, rhythmically, dynamically, etc.  Because of this, this music is very challenging, both individually, and as an ensemble.

Post Show Reflections: Playing on the show was definitely a favorite moment for me.  The radio aspect presented a different environment from other performances, and was very exciting

T.J. Tario, piano, 18

The story or image that the Brahms Horn Trio evokes for me is of a hunting scene on horseback/ My favorite part in the Scherzo is when I am starting the piece because I feel as though I set up that element of surprise when the horn and violin come in. Another favorite part of mine is in the middle section of the Scherzo when I’m alternating with the violin. It’s just a wonderful energetic conversation!

What I feel is unique about the piece of music is how Brahms took 3 individualistic instruments and innovatively meshed their sounds together. It would have been, I bet, revolutionary at the time, and I feel it sort of is still in today’s contemporary music standards. I’ve only performed in Piano Trio with violin and cello, so performing with a brass instrument is fairly new.

Post Show Reflections: A favorite memory was prior to the taping, we were all just chilling backstage in the green room and talking about everything basically under the sun: all our mutual friends, future goals, schools, and music festivals. The performance was so exhilarating because I haven’t really performed on that big of a venue since I lived in Hawaii. The Newmark Theatre was just such a wonderful hall and the audience seemed to have responded well to the performance. I also found it exciting as well because I get to start out the Brahms Horn Trio movement and there’s no pressure, but overall I had so much fun playing it with my chamber group!

Music has the power to empower, inspire, and bring joy to others. It also has ability to connect people!

Noah McKee, marimba, 17
Tambourin Chinois
By: Fritz Kreisler
(Arr. George Hamilton Green)

Post Show Reflections: My favorite memory was the first rehearsal and meeting everyone. The performance itself was very intimidating it was the largest crowd I had ever played a solo for.

I believe music has the power to express emotions that otherwise could not be expressed through words.

Gemini Shortcake Duo
Fantasy on George Gershwins’s Porgy & Bess for Two Pianos
By: Percy Grainger 

Alison Chang, piano, 17 

The first time I performed “Porgy and Bess” was as part of a TEDx talk at my school on how anyone can fall in love with classical music and how two piano ensembles are a great way to bring orchestral works to all sorts of audiences. When I play these songs, I think about the characters that are singing (the brave Porgy and the beautiful Bess) and try to capture the style of different instruments- lyrical violins and shimmering flutes.

“Porgy and Bess” is much jazzier than most of the pieces we play. I’ve learned to relax both physically and rhythmically to fully convey the jaunty tone of “Oh I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin” and the jubilant declaration of “O Lawd, I’m On My Way.” Serina and I even watched the opera so that we could better understand the attitudes of the individual people and the community as a whole.

Post Show Reflections: My favorite memories were getting to know the other performers, watching rehearsals (both interviews and music), and hanging out backstage. The performance was a lot of fun- I was less nervous than I’d expected, and the audience was so warm and receptive (even though I couldn’t actually see them!). Thanks to the taped dress rehearsal, I didn’t need to worry about perfection and could just enjoy the music.

Music can bring people together and help them communicate to overcome differences. It can heal pain (physical and psychological) and make people happier.

Serina Chang, piano, 14

“Porgy and Bess” and I have come a long way. It’s definitely an unusual piece for me, especially considering my mostly classical repertoire. As a result, there were parts of it I had trouble understanding. For example, there is sudden mood and melody switch in the middle of “Oh I got Plenty O’ Nuttin” labeled cantabile which used to baffle me because it seemed out of the blue. It wasn’t until last week when I watched the scene in YouTube that it started to make sense. In Porgy’s voice it sounded natural as he explained optimistically that he is just happy to be alive. I saw his smiling face when I played this section again, and found the unique transition enjoyable and I smiled along with Porgy.

I find that the most unique but also hardest part of playing “Porgy and Bess” is accurately capturing the essence of the complex opera with only two keyboards and five minutes. Without words or images, Alison and I are given the task to paint the scene of Catfish Row [the African American neighborhood in which the opera takes place], communicate changes in plot, and express the personalities and emotions in this fast-paced version from the jaunty I get “I got Plenty O’ Nuttin”  to the good yet somber “Lord, I am On My Way”. But these challenges are what make the piece so rewarding to play. Creating the characters and their world is literally at our fingertips.

Post Show Reflections: The entire three days were amazing! Honestly I don’t have a favorite memory but there were a couple of things that stood out. The closeness and light bantering of the staff was something I really liked and in some ways, they made me too feel like part of the FTT community immediately as they broke the ice with their jokes. The other performers were of course very talented, but also I was delighted with how comfortable it was backstage to talk to them. The performance was great and exciting! I really enjoyed the reception because I could individually connect with the audience members and see the stage through their eyes.

The performance was just so, so much fun. I love performing – I actually began piano for the sake of performing, but the From the Top show went so far beyond a performance. There was the obvious change from typical performances – there was an interview and, as a result, the atmosphere was completely different for both the performer and audience. I felt much closer to the audience and when I sat down on the bench to play, I felt like I was simply sharing a funny story with a friend.

Music has incredible power: it can excite, calm, unite, rally, and really do anything to any group of people. History has countless examples of arousing national anthems chanted as soldiers march into wars or as rebels risk their lives. It has the power to incite spirit and this spirit can be transformed into action. The reason the spirit is so strong is that when people sing together or even just feel the same beat, they are literally “in sync” and thus feel like a unit.




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