Arts Leadership Spotlight: Musical Diplomacy

This guest post is from Brian Kaufman and Michael Reichman, recipients of From the Top’s Margaret Stewart Lindsay Arts Leadership Award. It is the first of a series of updates about their project: Musical Diplomacy.

Brian Kaufman and Michael Reichman

Hi everyone!
Brian Kaufman and Michael Reichman here at New England Conservatory in Boston! We are both really interested in music and community projects centered on social issues. Last year we thought to ourselves: “Selves, how can we create an experience that grabs the listener and gets them thinking about music in a different way?” That’s when we came up with Musical Diplomacy an ongoing project bringing together leading policymakers, teachers, musicians, and concerned citizens for an inspiring evening of music and dialogue.

On May 14 in Boston we are hosting a “Concert and Discussion on Race and Culture in the Age of Obama” Continue reading

Tribute to Emily Stearns

Emily Stearns

This morning we were heartbroken to learn that one of our alumni, pianist Emily Stearns, lost her battle with acute leukemia. Emily touched all of us at From the Top with her passion, humor, quirkiness, and amazing musical talent.

A native of Butte, Montana and a recipient of From the Top’s Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, Emily appeared on our program in October of 2007 at the age of 18, beautifully performing the very difficult Feux d’artifice by Claude Debussy.

The audience fell in love with her spirited personality when she talked to host Christopher O’Riley about her “obsession” with duct tape, quipping, “It mends everything but a broken heart!”

She talked about creating all sorts of items out of the material, from a purse to a pair of boots. Then she presented Chris with a special gift – a duct tape wallet she crafted with a From the Top logo on it.

Emily performing on From the Top in 2007

Emily was a self-described hard-core environmentalist. “I recycle every bit of paper I can, even those little bits of paper from Hershey’s kisses,” she told Chris ­– before admonishing him for tossing an old copy of his script into the trash rather than recycling it!

Following the show, she helped us lead a school program for 500 elementary school students in Bozeman, Montana, where she charmed and inspired her young audience.

Emily was a bright spirit on our show, someone who stood out, not only for her musical chops, but for her good humor, generosity, and one-of-a-kind personality.

We are honored to have been able to work with her, and thankful to be able to share a bit of her gifts with our listening audience and assist in making sure she is never forgotten.

Our hearts go out to Emily’s family and friends, and all those who knew and loved her. Listen to her From the Top performance here.

The Montana Standard reports that a benefit concert is planned at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, May 9, at the Aldersgate Methodist Church with a variety of professional musicians — and friends of Emily — to perform.

Alumni Top International Competition

The Menuhin Competition was held last week in Oslo, Norway and as usual From the Top alumni came out on top!  The Menuhin is an international competition open to violinists of all nationalities under the age of 22 and is one of the most prestigious music competitions in the world.

Anna Lee took 3rd prize

In 2008 (the competition is held every other year), From the Top alum Chad Hoopes took first prize in the Junior Division (up to age 15) and Mindy Chen took third.

This year, we are very pleased to announce that alums 13-year-old  Stephen Waarts and  Anna Lee, 14, took second and third prizes in the Junior Division.  In the Senior Division (ages 16-22), second prize went to From the Top alum Nigel Armstrong.  He was the only American on the podium with the other winners coming from China, Australia and Korea. The Telegraph reported on the competition.

Alice Ivy-Pemberton

Alums Alice Ivy-Pemberton and Eric Gratz also competed strongly in the competition. This year’s competition celebrated the 200th anniversary of Ole Bull (1810-1880), a legendary Norwegian violinist. Alice, who as the youngest competitor placed in the top 8, fittingly played American luthier Douglas Cox’s Opus 609 “Ole Bull” violin, made in 2008.

Emma Steele was supposed to compete but could not make it to Oslo due to Volcanic Ash!

Congrats to all!

Arts Leadership Spotlight: Visit with the Andover-Lawrence String Program

From the Top visits the Andover-Lawrence String Program at Phillips Academy

Kids teaching other kids—what could be more powerful?

That’s exactly what happens every Wednesday afternoon at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, when elementary and middle school students from the Lawrence Family Development and Education Fund Charter School and the Leonard School in Lawrence, MA arrive for free instrumental lessons, taught by Phillips Academy students through the Andover-Lawrence String Program.

This inspiring example of arts leadership has been on our radar for quite some time—several From the Top alumni have been a part of this program over the years. So when Bobby Chen, an 18-year-old cellist and senior at Phillips Academy, spoke passionately about his involvement as a student leader in the program on our Boston taping in February, we seized the opportunity to collaborate!

On April 7, From the Top musicians traveled to Andover to share their music and experiences with the younger students. Joining Bobby were Gergana Haralampieva, a 16-year-old violinist currently attending the Walnut Hill School and Phuong Nghi Pham, a 14-year-old pianist from Dorchester, MA. The performance was hosted by another From the Top alum and Andover-Lawrence Program leader, cellist Rainer Crossett. Rainer has participated in many From the Top outreach events as a performer and noted, “It was a joy taking on more of a leadership role in this event.” We couldn’t agree more!

For an hour, the students were treated to diverse musical selections from all three artists and the students, in turn, kept the performers (and Rainer!) on their toes with lots of great questions!  Rainer later noted, “The highlight of the event for me was working with Phuong Nghi on her second selection, Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu. I decided to show the two contrasting themes of the piece separately to the students, and to try to get them to feel the different emotions suggested in each theme.” It was a great approach. After Phuong Nghi played the agitated main theme, hands shot up in the air with excitement when Rainer asked the students to share the different images and emotions the music had inspired in them. Continue reading

Alumni Play Side-By-Side

Violinist Jenny Lee and violist Ren Martin-Doike, both of Bloomington, Indiana, are the two winners of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s Side-By-Side Concerto Competition. On April 21, Jenny will perform the fourth movement of Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy and Ren will perform the first movement of William Walton’s Viola Concerto with the ISO at the Hilbert Circle Theatre. They will also play Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations and Richard Wagner’s Overture to Die Meistersinger alongside ISO members. Jenny is a sophomore at Bloomington High School South and Ren is a home-schooled senior headed to the Curtis Institute of Music in the fall.

Jenny Lee

Ren Martin-Doike

Margaret Stewart Lindsay Arts Leadership Awards Announced

We are pleased to announce the first recipients of the Margaret Stewart
Lindsay Arts Leadership Awards
, a new program that encourages high school and collegiate musicians to give back to their communities through the arts.

Through this program, From the Top will provide grants and mentoring for three community projects this year. A shared grant pool of $2500 will support two existing programs –  Musical Diplomacy, a community initiative that inspires conversation about social issues through music, and the Andover Lawrence String Program at Phillips Acadamy – and launch a new after-school arts program in Boston. More information about the leaders and their work is available on our web site.

Gathering the Grantees

Brian Kaufman, Griffin Gaffney, and Michael Reichman at the orientation

On April 8th, grantees Griffin Gaffney, a From the Top alum and first year student at Havard, and Brian Kaufman and Michael Reichman, Master’s candidates at New England Conservatory, attended an orientation at our office. They introduced themselves and their projects, met the From the Top education team that will be supporting them along the way, and shared the individual stories and experiences that inspired them to pursue this opportunity.  The leaders also shared the challenges they face and helped each other brainstorm around these issues. Fellow grantee, Jacob Shack, who was unable to attend in person, was introduced through a video we recorded with him earlier in the week. Technology saved the day!

The orientation was an eye-opening experience for all and the first of what we hope will be an on-going conversation between these inspiring arts leaders! We plan to reconvene the full group before the start of summer and will document their efforts along the way.

Arts Leadership Spotlight: Alum Lauren Chipman & Danielle Belen Lead From the Top School Events

- by Lauren Chipman

“Look at her hair!”

“I think she’s in a rock band.”


I don’t look like your typical classical musician getting ready to work with a group of 4th grade violinists, but my appearance reflects who I am and what I do for a living.

I lead a very eclectic life as a musician – I play in symphonies in Los Angeles, am a member of two rock bands: The Section Quartet and The Rentals, and have a full teaching studio.  As I was finishing up my undergraduate degree at USC in Viola Performance, I learned to say yes to every opportunity that came my way.  I had never considered playing rock music but, after a phone call from Matt Sharp of The Rentals, I quickly discovered my love of playing viola in a rock band.  This opened up pathways that I had never even knew existed and I now compose music myself, in addition to recording and performing with famous bands and musicians all over the world.

From the Top recently asked me to visit two schools in Santa Barbara (Roosevelt Elementary School and Santa Barbara Junior High School)  to play and speak with students about all the different musical avenues that I pursue.  I drove up from Los Angeles with violinist (and BFF) Danielle Belen.  Danielle and I have been friends for almost 10 years and when we were at USC together, we formed a classical string quartet that toured internationally.  She has a really amazing career – in addition to being a faculty member at The Colburn School in Downtown LA, she recently recorded a solo CD with Naxos Records.  I think that our different musical paths really compliment each other and I was excited to share our different stories with the students.

Danielle started off by playing the 1st movement from Bach’s Partita No. 3  and then talked about what it is like being a professional classical musician as well as recording a classical CD. She then introduced me by saying, “You might have noticed that Lauren here has a mohawk, does that look like a typical classical musician?”  A resounding “No!” echoed through the hall.  After I played a piece called Chahagir by Alan Hovhaness, I talked about my career and the different types of music that I play.

I think that it’s really important for students to realize that they don’t have to feel constricted by music.  I always say: the instrument that you play shouldn’t dictate the type of music you play.  Continue reading

National Arts Advocacy Day

Today is National Arts Advocacy Day!

Our friends at Americans for the Arts have organized hundreds of dedicated arts supporters from across the country to come together in Washington, DC to tell Capitol Hill how important culture is to our communities, how much arts education means to our children, and how much the arts improve our daily lives.

No matter where you are today, it’s easy to tell your elected officials what you think about this issue. Visit Americans for the Arts’ E-Advocacy Center, where you can send a message directly to your Representative and Senators telling them why the arts are important to you and your community. They’ve even provided useful bullet points to include in your letter.

Go forth and advocate!

Show 211: Listening Guide

From the Top’s broadcast this week was taped at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara, California on January 27, 2010. We asked our performers to tell us about the music they played on the show:

Jonathan Miron, 17, violin
“The Foundation of Arethusa” from Myths, Three Poems for Violin & Piano by Karol Szymanowski

“When I think about this piece, what stands out to me is the utmost variety in color and character. The music allows the performer to demonstrate his virtuosity in creating different sounds and moods that envelop the audience and leave them in a unique state of mind.”

Kara Sainz

Kara Sainz, 17, soprano
“Voie Che Sapete” from The Marriage of Figaro
by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Voi che sapete was the first aria I learned, so it’s a unique and special piece of music to me. The aria is sung by Cherubino, a page boy, who is experiencing overwhelming feelings of ‘love’ for every woman he sees.

When I sing this aria I feel that the most important thing to get across is the emotion within each melodic phrase. Since Cherubino experiences so many rapid mood changes, each line must be expressed differently. One challenging aspect of the piece is maintaining the mindset of an adolescent male character. This is difficult for me because I essentially have to suppress my feminine mannerisms. Ultimately, what makes this piece special to me personally is that I have learned so much about characterization and acting by singing it.”

Kevin McAtee, 17, flute
I. Allegro maestoso
from Concerto No. 1 in G major, K. 313 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

“I like this piece because it’s so open-ended. Every flutist plays it differently. My interpretation is a collage of different ideas from my teachers and my peers, as well as my own ideas. I love this piece because it is like a window into each flutist’s soul.

The piece is unique because of how deceptively simple it is. It is very difficult to turn something like the allegro maestoso into an interesting piece of art while keeping it light and simple in the true Mozart style.”

Soleil Trio
Verano Porteño (Summer) from The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
by Astor Piazzolla, arr. José Bragato

  • Rieko Tsuchida, 15, piano: “I love the cool vibe of the Latin style in this piece. It was hard for our group at first because we had to move away from the usual classical style we were accustomed to and take more risks with the music. None of us got the Latin tango style at first, but watching YouTube videos of the famous dance group ‘Tango Fire’ really helped me. We had a lot of fun improvising off the music and adding ornaments and embellishments for extra flare. When our trio was rehearsing one day, we decided to make up a story to go along with the piece. We ended up with a story about how one big, lazy Argentinean man spends his excruciatingly hot summers. We got pretty creative with it.”

    Kenneth Renshaw

  • Kenneth Renshaw, 16, violin: “This movement invokes the image of a dark, smoky bar in Argentina during the summer time—when the heat and stickiness are nearly unbearable. My favorite point in the piece is near the end, when the dark, smoky bar image gradually gives way to a lively and rhythmic rush of sound, sweeping to the exciting, climactic finish. Being able to find the right pacing in the overall scope of the piece can be a challenge because it’s very difficult to switch characters between the dark, smoky section and the more exciting rhythmic section.”
  • Will Chow, 16, cello: “‘Verano’ means ‘summer’—not a happy summer when you go to the beach, but a hot summer when you don’t want to do anything except sit and wish it wasn’t so hot. The piece has to make both the performer and the listener feel like the paint is peeling off of the walls because it’s so hot.”

Umi Garrett, 9, piano
“Gnomenreigen” (Dance of the Gnomes) by Franz Liszt

“The story I made up about this piece begins with gnomes dancing peacefully at a party. Soon, an evil witch finds out about the party and she is very angry that there are gnomes in the forest. This bad witch thinks she is the only person who is allowed to live in the forest, so she plans to kill the gnomes. When the witch arrives at their village, the gnomes are very scared. Suddenly, the good witch magically appears in the forest and protects the gnomes. The good witch sends the bad one out of the forest forever. The gnomes start celebrating the day by going on a rocket and flying to space. They look at many, many bright shining stars in the universe.

I had a funny experience with this piece when I was in Vianden, Luxembourg. I was playing so energetically on stage that suddenly I pushed my chair backward. When it slid back I couldn’t stay on the chair any more, so I continued performing standing up. The next time I performed there, they taped the chair down to the floor so it wouldn’t slide!”

Alums play with Royal Philharmonic for Charity

Simone Porter and Nathan Chan in rehearsal with Alexander Prior.

Last week, From the Top alums Nathan Chan, 16 (Radio show #207) and Simone Porter, 13, (radio show #165 and From the Top at Carnegie Hall‘s Episode 206) performed with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of 17-year-old conductor Alexander Prior.  The concert was held at the Barbican in London and raised money for the charity Children With Leukaemia. Simone and Nathan met Alex during the filming of a British documentary called “The World’s Greatest Musical Prodigies.”

The big concert didn’t seem to affect Nathan’s priorities. He tweeted after the performance, “barbican done. homework? aww” (@nathanchancello).

Before heading off to London, Simone was featured in her hometown of Seattle by KIRO-TV. Watch the news clip.

Great job Nathan and Simone!


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