Meet the Artist: Chelsea Kim

Music is often referred to as the “universal language.” 17-year-old violinist Chelsea Kim knows this is true. Having moved several times throughout her childhood, Chelsea performed in retirement centers, hospitals, and churches in every new community. This gave her a sense of music’s power to connect people, a theme that would become very important to her life’s path.

At an early age, Chelsea’s younger brother Daniel was diagnosed with middle-intensity autism. One of his challenges is that while he feels emotions, he finds it difficult to express them. Daniel would always listen to Chelsea as she practiced, enjoying the sounds that emanated from her instrument. But it wasn’t until he began to hum along with her playing that Chelsea and her family realized that not only had he memorized entire concertos, but that he was communicating his emotions. They have since cherished this unique opportunity to connect as a family.

In 2013, while a high school student at the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, Chelsea appeared on From the Top with Host Christopher O’Riley Show 267, recorded in Boston’s WGBH Fraser Performance Studio.

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Chelsea Kim performing on Show 267 in WGBH’s Fraser Performance Studio

In addition to appearing on From the Top, Chelsea received the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, a $10,000 scholarship given to extraordinary young musicians with financial need. Everyone who receives the Award is required to do an extended outreach project that brings their musical gifts out into the community.

Knowing the power of music to communicate with her brother, Chelsea decided to use her arts leadership project to bring music to other children with special needs. Shortly after coming on the show, Chelsea began her undergraduate work at Juilliard and quickly became a member of a string trio.

Her fellow trio members decided to join her in her mission. After researching several possible venues – from special education programs to community centers – Chelsea and her trio decided to reach out to Kidzone TV at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Kidzone TV produces live programming three times a day for pediatric patents and families on a dedicated channel within the hospital.

In her own words, Chelsea describes the experience of doing a live performance on the station:

We were led through the back door of the hospital. This was the section of the hospital for children who were extremely sick and had such vulnerable immune systems that they were not allowed outside contact.

Before we were recorded, there was an ‘advertisement’ section of the program. The ad featured the fragile young patients waving their hands and counting down for the program to start. Seeing this changed our dubious attitudes. We played our hearts out, just as if the children were right in front of us.

After the performance, the general manager of the Kidzone program had some words of affirmation for the trio.

“Thank you so much,” she said. “You have no idea how much our children love when musicians such as yourselves come and play for them. Even though it may be through the screen, the children’s blood pressure dropped as they heard you. The music you guys play creates miracles for our patients.”

Chelsea describes the impact of the visit:

This experience gave me tremendous insight and more assurance that music is a communication source for all kinds of people. Despite the fact that my trio members had never seen the patients, and vice versa, the music was our connection point.

As we go find a tissue, we also applaud Chelsea’s success in this project, and look forward to how she continues sharing music’s transcendent powers.

Chelsea Kim

Beyond the Concert Hall – Conservatory Lab Charter School Residency Part 2: Connection Through Music

This post is Part 2 of a three-part series about From the Top’s Fall 2014 residency at the Conservatory Lab Charter School (CLCS), an elementary school in Boston with a music-intensive curriculum. Read Part 1 here

On a windy fall afternoon, From the Top’s arts leaders arrived for the second day of their chamber music residency at Conservatory Lab Charter School (CLCS). On their shoulders, they carried their high school backpacks while in their hands they carried their instrument cases. Stepping through the school doors, these young musicians were going from being students to being teachers, a transition that was beginning to feel more comfortable with each day. There were only five days to prepare the younger CLCS students for their performance before the school community, and they were all up for the challenge.

Today, getting acquainted felt a little easier, more productive, and more fun. CLCS student violist Chavez’s very colorful socks became a topic of discussion and connection between him and his coach Claire.

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For each of the four pairs of teachers and students, the differences in age were starting to melt away. They were getting to know each other by connecting through every day life topics, and building their relationships by playing music together.

The arts leaders’ plan for the day was to explore communication through music with their mentees. Teaching the CLCS musicians how to cue and communicate while playing together in a chamber group was the name of the game. Sitting in a circle, instruments lifted, it was time for the arts leaders to demonstrate this for the younger students. After watching their mentors, it was their turn to try it out for themselves. With some trepidation, the group looked around the circle at each other, lifted their instruments, breathed together, and began to play. With some newfound confidence and skills to communicate, they moved their bodies and instruments connecting with each other throughout the rest of the piece. They were really starting to sound like an ensemble!

“The group of kids were amazing and always ready to learn and try new things,” said arts leader Julia Churchill.

After running through the piece ­– as a group, the arts leaders then broke off into pairs to work individually with their respective students. It was during this one-on–one work when the relationships between the older and younger students really blossomed; the safe place where they found new ways to connect with music and each other.

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Arts leader Corinne Auger coaching CLCS student José Fuentes on his violin part

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Arts leader Emma Churchill coaching CLCS student Yannik Dzialas on his cello part

“The one-on-one time worked really well. That is where I noticed the students were most comfortable and responsive,” Emma said.

Arts leader Julia Churchill working with CLCS student Margarit on her violin part

Arts leader Julia Churchill working with CLCS student Marguerite Greene on her violin part

Arts leader Claire McEwen working with CLCS student Jose on his violin part

Arts leader Claire McEwen working with CLCS student Chavez Singletary on his viola part

“My biggest takeaway was seeing Chavez open up, relax, and smile,” Claire said.

After the individual lessons, everyone came back together to run through the music again. It was evident that they had learned a great deal in a short amount of time and the great work they had done in their small groups began to impact the sound and dynamic of the group as a whole. Everyone played as a chamber group, cuing and communicating with their eyes and as they played through the piece together. Notes, intonation, and rhythm had also made significant improvements.

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As the young musicians put their instruments down, there was excitement in the air. They knew how far they had come. Though there was still much work to be done, the day ended with anticipation and excitement for the things they would accomplish in the next four days.

Arts leader Corinne Auger was surprised by “how much they all grew, even after one night’s practicing.”

Based on the development of these young musicians thus far, how do you think cueing in music mirrors the relationships and connections we make in real life?

Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series for the conclusion and overview of From the Top’s residency at the Conservatory Lab Charter School.

Be Yourself: Musical Connections in Washington, DC

Backstage at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium, 8-year-old pianist Oscar Paz-Suaznabar has his head bent over a cell phone, launching angry birds at stubborn pigs, and From the Top alum Clifton Williams reaches over to show him a trick. Clifton has recently graduated college and moved to Los Angeles to build a career composing and playing piano, but this weekend he has become a superstar to young Oscar, who watched intently each time Clifton took his seat behind the piano. Around the corner in the dressing rooms, you can hear soft giggles as 15-year-old Kiarra Saito-Beckman and 17-year-old Taiga Ultan, who only met a few short days ago, recount their performances on the stage. Over the stage monitor beats the super cool rhythm of Christopher O’Riley’s break piece, a version of Aphex Twin’s produk 29 [101], which is being performed by Christopher, joined by alum Marcelina Suchocka and her all-girl percussion ensemble “Excelsis.” These From the Top musicians have had an amazing week in Washington, DC, filled with musician-to-musician interactions that are the start of new friendships.

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The recording of From the Top with Host Christopher O’Riley, presented by Washington Performing Arts, was the final event in a week-long residency in Washington, DC, sponsored by The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. The recording lauded the 15-year anniversary of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and celebrated our ten-year partnership – which has resulted in over $2 million in scholarships for amazing young musicians with financial need. All of the performers on this show received From the Top’s Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, a scholarship to be used on instruments, lessons, travel, or other essentials needed to further their musical education.

The whole experience began at a middle school half an hour away from George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium on Tuesday, October 21. There, the performers met face-to-face for the first time in the auditorium at River Bend Middle School in Loudon County, Virginia. They gathered around From the Top’s education program staff to see videos of how some of From the Top’s alumni are taking their music beyond the concert hall. Inspired, they got down to business, planning and rehearsing an assembly that they would present to the seventh and eighth grade students the next morning. They practiced what they thought they might say to the young audience before turning to the school’s teachers for advice, who smiled and told them “Be yourself.” As they made their way back to Washington, DC, the performers were ready.

FromtheTopDC 76The next morning, the fresh-faced bunch performed their assembly to thunderous applause. The performers made their way into the audience to greet their new fans. High fives were given generously and grins adorned each performer’s face. As the last audience member made their way out the door, the young musicians peeled off into a row of classrooms where eighth grade music students would visit for mini-master classes with From the Top’s mini-masters.

FromtheTopDC 17In the band room, Marcelina selected kids to play the marimba, shakers, and wood blocks, while she laid down a groove on the congas. Next door, Clifton gave the kids a lesson in networking usually reserved for young professionals, “Be kind, be assertive, and be yourself” he told them. Kiarra used Bach to demonstrate how classical music employs repetition, as popular music does. And finally, Taiga and Oscar encouraged students to explore how the experience of listening to classical music changed when they were lying down, or facing the wall, or doing anything but sitting quietly in a normal concert hall.

This day of outreach was a huge learning opportunity for our performers. Asked to speak for a group of donors later on in the week, Kiarra told us that she wouldn’t have known how to tell her story prior to the education experience with From the Top.

But that was only the beginning. They still had to record an episode of the most popular weekly one-hour classical music program on public radio. Now that they had planned and presented such an involved program for such a discerning audience – middle-schoolers! – this team of performers had experience and confidence that would support them in their From the Top radio recording.

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You can hear their show the week of November 17, by listening on your local station, downloading the podcast, or streaming the show at www.fromthetop.org.

Beyond the Concert Hall: Olivia Cosio

Olivia Cosio on Show 278

Olivia Cosio on Show 278

Sometimes, music can express what nothing else can. 17-year-old mezzo soprano Olivia Cosio, who appeared on Show 278 in Boston’s Jordan Hall, understands music’s power to transcend. Growing up in San Francisco’s notoriously dangerous Tenderloin neighborhood, Olivia turned to music for the creativity and expression she needed to overcome adversity.

In addition to singing on From the Top, Olivia received the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, a $10,000 scholarship given to extraordinary young musicians with financial need. Each recipient of the Award is required to design and complete an outreach project using their musical gifts.

For her project, Olivia chose to develop her ongoing work at San Francisco’s Breakthrough Collaborative, an after school mentoring and support program, teaching a two-month weekly music course to a group of middle school students.

I’m interested in exposing young people to classical music because I am not sure where I would be today if I had not found my passion for singing. I was fortunate enough to be inspired by music at a young age, so I feel it is my duty to introduce others to the joy music can bring.

During this experience, Olivia was often surprised by what she encountered. Teaching music to those who were learning about it for the first time required her to explain it in new and different ways. As a result, she gained a new level of understanding as well. In addition, she learned a lot about her students.

I was consistently blown away by their ability to quickly and fully absorb complex musical concepts in short periods of time. It was encouraging to witness their engrossment in the music lessons and excitement about performing. It proved that everyone has the capacity to love and learn about music!

As the students learned to read and perform, they also became more focused, open, and confident. Olivia felt that the class left each student with a lifelong love for music.

For the final performance, the students sang “Let it Go” from Disney’s “Frozen.”

My favorite moment from my project was watching their first run-through of their set. Their joyous performance of a song, which was already popular amongst them before the class, showed their feeling of accomplishment and pride from performing music.

As a result of this experience, Olivia got clarity about her future.

I am certain that I want to make an impact on the arts community and keep a love for music thriving in communities everywhere.

Olivia is now a student at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, which was her first choice school. We are thrilled for Olivia, and look forward to how she’ll continue to take her music beyond the concert hall!

Watch this clip of Olivia teaching at the Breakthrough Collaborative.

Beyond the Concert Hall – Conservatory Lab Charter School Residency Part 1: Beethoven & New Beginnings

This post is Part 1 of a three-part series about From the Top’s Fall 2014 residency at the Conservatory Lab Charter School (CLCS), an elementary school in Boston with a music-intensive curriculum.

Each year, From the Top’s Center for the Development of Arts Leaders partners with organizations around Boston, making way for extraordinary young musicians to take their music beyond the concert hall and out into the community. These partnerships are incredibly meaningful for the audiences, many of whom experience music for the first time because of From the Top. Likewise, when our arts leaders make positive and lasting impacts on their communities through music, they learn lessons and have experiences that significantly shape their futures.

This fall, four high school-aged From the Top arts leaders are participating in a week-long chamber music residency at Conservatory Lab Charter School (CLCS) in Dorchester, MA, where they will perform, teach, and be coached both by CLCS teachers and From the Top’s Education team. At the end of the residency, both the arts leaders and the elementary school students will perform for the school community.

On October 27, From the Top arts leaders arrived for the Introductory Day of the residency. 18-year-old sisters Julia and Emma Churchill (violin and cello), 16-year-old violinist Corinne Auger, and 16-year-old violist Claire McEwen walked into the school with instruments in hand and nerves running high. Coming straight from their own respective high schools, the students were about to take on a new role…as teachers.

Making their way to the classroom, the arts leaders wound through hallways plastered with art of musical instruments, photos of students, and musical quotes. A cacophony of scales and practicing emanated through the walls.

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A few moments later, four wide-eyed elementary school students tiptoed into the classroom. They quietly sat down next to the arts leaders and set up their instruments. Shyness and trepidation was thick in the air.

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After introductions, the whole group then proceeded to sight-read Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

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Lifting their bows to finish, the group exchanged giggles and glances. While it was clear that there was much work to be done, the week ahead was sure to be life-changing for everyone involved. The group had already begun a wonderful relationship through the universal language of music.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series to see what happens with our arts leaders at the Conservatory Lab Charter School.

Beyond the Concert Hall: David von Behren

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David von Behren on Show 273

19-year-old David von Behren appeared on Show 273 in El Paso, Texas. In addition to being an organist, he is also an accomplished violinist, and played trumpet in his high school band. He was even voted Homecoming King in his hometown of Falls City, Nebraska. Each of these traits led From the Top to give him the “Stereotype Smasher of the Year” award. David’s creative accomplishments as a young adult were a preview of others soon to come.

In addition to performing on From the Top, David also received the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, a $10,000 scholarship given to extraordinary young musicians with financial need. For his associated arts leadership project, he was able to fulfill a childhood dream that began when he was just 3 years old.

“I remember when I was a student in my mother’s preschool class, enjoying all the activities with the other kids. Outside of school, I was also drawn to music, and there weren’t any group music programs in our area for young children. I wished there was a way, in my little town, to learn music alongside other kids my age.”

From the Top’s Arts Leadership Orientation provided David with knowledge and tools to start the “Little Stars Summer Music Program.” In the summer of 2013, 20 children between the ages of 3 and 6 arrived at his mother’s preschool, many of whom were about to experience music for the very first time.

“My mission with this project was to get both children and their parents really excited about classical music.”

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At the beginning of each day, the children would hear recordings of well known classical works ranging from Mozart to Shostakovich. While listening, they would do activities to both understand the music and also express their feelings about each piece. One such activity involved coloring to music.

“One of my six-year-old students said Mozart’s ‘Lacrymosa’ made him choose green because it sounded ‘creepy’ and ‘scary.'”

In addition to the interactive activities, the kids learned fundamentals of music theory such as beat values, notes, rests, solfeggio, rhythm, and pulse.

“It was absolutely amazing how quickly this age group soaked up the concepts I presented to them each day.”

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David made sure that the parents were educated, too. Each day, he gave parents his lesson plans so they could keep up with the material. At the end of each week, he provided a “Parent Listening Guide” with recordings, videos, and other tidbits for the families to engage in over the weekend.

From this experience, David learned a great deal about teaching and the way young children learn.

“Sometimes, I think teachers assume that concepts are too beyond youngsters, and don’t give them a chance to try something challenging. The students’ memory retention from one session to the next was beyond what I expected. The biggest thing I took away from this project is to never underestimate the creativity in children and music!

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By the end of the three-week program, new children had already signed up for the following year’s summer music program; there was so much demand that David would add another section for children aged 3 to 6, as well as an additional session for children aged 7 to 11.

Now a student at the Cleveland Institute of Music, David returned to Falls City this past summer to run the Little Stars Summer Music Program. In an area where these types of musical opportunities are few, the huge impact of this program can be seen in how well it is growing and thriving.

“The Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist project helped me to get classical music into many homes. Thanks to From the Top’s support and inspiration, my childhood dream has become a success!”

Bravo to David for giving back to his community in such a significant way. With this kind of passion and entrepreneurial spirit, we look forward to seeing how David will take his music beyond the concert hall in the years to come.

Beyond the Concert Hall: Sebastian Stöger

13-year-old cellist Sebastian Stöger from New York City appeared on Show 261 back in 2012. In conjunction with his performance on From the Top, Sebastian also received the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, a $10,000 scholarship given to extraordinary young musicians with financial need.

Each recipient of the award is required to complete an arts leadership project, an outreach activity during which they use music to give back to their community. For Sebastian, this was an opportunity to explore teaching. With the guidance of his own teacher, Sebastian decided to coach and be a practice mentor for younger cello students at the Kaufman Center Special Music School, where he himself is also a student.

Watch his video below to see his journey towards becoming a true arts leader. With this kind of success and insight, we can’t wait to see what Sebastian does in the future.

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