How Music Heals

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?

Meet the Artist: Gregorio Lopes

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.

Taking Over Classical Music, One Competition at a Time

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:

Sterling Facebook

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.

Playing It Forward in Tennessee

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.

Arts Leadership Plans from the Performers from Show 280, Wingate, North Carolina

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!”

Get to Know Host Christopher O’Riley

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.

Application Deadline for Blount-Slawson Competition this Friday, December 6th!

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.

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