On the Road with Joanne Robinson: Show 220 Davenport, Iowa & A Special Stop in Parkersburg


Mississippi River in Davenport


Hi everybody! I’m writing to you from backstage at the Aplington-Parkersburg High School in Iowa where we are about to go onstage for the show. We taped a show last night in Davenport, and then went on the road to bring the same show to Parkersburg, a small town in central Iowa that sadly experienced a devastating tornado a few years back, but have recently rebuilt their high school and this great auditorium! Right now, the Parkserburg Big Band is entertaining the crowd as they file into the house, and swing dancers are living it up onstage. I’m waiting in the wings with Chris and our first performer, violinist Michael Ferri, and in just a minute or two, we’ll be going on. I’ll catch up with you afterwards.


Good morning From the Top fans! I’m continuing my blog from a breakfast nook at the Cedar Rapids airport where the co-mingled smell of cow manure and breakfast bacon is wafting through the air. Last night’s show was truly wonderful, as was the one the night before. The artistry was uncanny; each and every musician delivered something special and memorable. Here’s a little run down so you can know what to look forward to when the broadcast airs:

Opening the show was Michael Ferri, who performed the Allegretto Moderato from Bartok’s Rhapsody No. 1, a virtuosic piece, which Chris described as phenomenally evocative. Next up was Justin Moser, who not only played a mean sax, but also showed off his vocal chops and teen idol potential by reenacting his audition for “American Idol.” 12-year-old pianist Sherry Tang took the stage next, playing Mendelssohn with a sophistication that far exceeded her young age. Next up was Quartet Danae, this year’s gold medal winners of the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition, who treated us to an amazing, wild movement of Prokofiev’s String Quartet No. 2. Closing the show was a spectacular treat – two marimba players from Chicago’s Percussion Scholarship Group, John Ringor and Marcelina Suchocka – performed “Octobones,” a musical duel of a piece, which required a lot of jumping around, not only physically, but also on each other’s marimbas. I almost injured myself during dress rehearsal when I tried to flip cam them while standing atop a high stool so I could look down and capture the mallets flying!

For your viewing pleasure, here’s a little montage of the performers in action, plus a bit of post-show fun. Make sure to tune in when the show airs on the week of November 1st.

Transitioning to College – Article by Alum Caeli Smith

From the Top alum and Roving Report Caeli Smith recently wrote a great blog for Juilliard’s Office of Admissions. Caeli’s a first-year violinist at Juilliard, and in this piece she talks about the transition from pre-college to college.

Caeli on From the Top. Photo credit: Stefan Cohen/WGBH

Below is a short excerpt. To read more, click over to the Office of Admissions Blog.

During my last two years of high school, I was a student in Juilliard’s Pre-College Program, which meant, among other things, getting up at 6 AM every Saturday morning to travel to 65th and Broadway from my hometown, Philadelphia. Despite the early mornings and the four hours spent on the New Jersey Turnpike each week, I absolutely loved Pre-College. I adored my teachers and made tons of new friends that shared my passion for music – and getting to spend part of my weekend in New York City wasn’t bad either. Like many of the other seniors in my Pre-College class, I hoped to be accepted to the college division and continue my studies at Juilliard.

Read the rest of the article here!

John-Henry Crawford Performs at City Center Academy in Philadelphia

John-Henry in St. Paul, MN

This past May From the Top alum and cellist John-Henry Crawford (Show 206 in Dallas, TX and Show 219 in St. Paul, MN) performed with Dr. Hung Sung, a collaborative pianist for the Curtis Institute of Music, at the City Center Academy (a high school) in Philadelphia, PA.

John-Henry said “I wanted to do this because hardly any of the students there have exposure to classical music., especially played by someone their age!” Dr. Sung and John-Henry performed the Rachmaninoff Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor, Op. 19.

I was shocked when [the students] came up to me and said “That was beautiful!” because this was a far cry from the hip-hop, rap, and other music they normally listen to.  It made me look at music in a new light- always keeping the audience in mind. They were hearing this music for the first time-a blank slate- while I had been playing it very often.

Check out the video clip below of John-Henry’s performance:

I explained that while Rachmaninoff had suffered depression, he was able to turn around and still compose this beautiful piece.  Whatever sadness they are going through, there is always hope, a new day to start over again. I think that the students took away a new-found reverence for music in general, seeing that all music: classical, jazz, “you-name-it”, can change the way you feel, which is what music really is, changing people’s moods through sound.

This [event] related to my development as a musician because I wasn’t having to worry about all the details my fellow musician friends would be listening for,  and I could just focus on the music and share my emotions with them. This is something that Curtis encourages us to do also “To learn by doing,” and to go out into the community. I think that Curtis, like From the Top, wants us to go out into the world rather than keep classical music in some sort of closed society. Last year ten of us from Curtis got together and hosted a benefit concert at Tenth Presbyterian Church to raise money for a Haitian orphanage after the earthquake there. In one night 10 students raised $30,000 through the generosity of the listeners.

John-Henry was recently asked to play a recital this coming March for the Belz-Parker Ascending Artists Concert Series at Baron Hirsch Congregation in Memphis, TN.  He says, “I feel privileged to be on it since historically they have contracted many teenagers long before there became well-known. Some of the very recognizable names are: Itzhak Perlman, Gil Shaham , Hilary Hahn, Misha Dichter, and Daniel Barenboim.”

We’ll fill you in on details of this performance when we get closer to March!

Spotlight on Violist Nadia Sirota

Photo Credit: Samantha West

Today we’re turning the spotlight on From the Top alum and violist Nadia Sirota. Nadia initially appeared on From the Top during our first season - Show 013 to be exact – which we taped at Symphony Hall in Boston on March 4, 2000.  She performed the Viola Sonata, Mvt. Impetuoso by Rebecca Clarke.

Later that same season, Nadia appeared on Show 022 in Lake Buena Vista, Flordia.  She performed with The Capriccio Quartet, a Fischoff Championship Quartet. They performed the first movement of the Ravel String Quartet “in a way that has been unmatched since,” according to From the Top music producer Tim Banker!

Since performing on From the Top, Nadia has received both her Bachelors and Masters from Juilliard and in 2007 she won the Juilliard Concerto Competition, even though she messed up her piece – “I had a memory slip in the 2nd or 3rd movement in my audition in the final of the competition… I wasn’t too depressed. I was like, ‘Look if I don’t win, I know why.’ I mean, it’s nice to have something that tangible to blame failure on.  But then I won. It didn’t factor into their decision.” Continue reading

The Parents’ Perspective: Practice, Practice, Practice!

Welcome to our third installment of the Parents’ Perspective – a mini blog series for parents, by parents, to lend advice, share stories, and more about raising musical children. You can also read past posts on music resources and musical beginnings.

Today’s topic is on practicing: How’d you get your kids to do it? What schedule worked best for you? Was it easy or difficult to get your child to practice? We received a wealth of feedback from parents, and also had guest blogger and piano teacher Maria Rainier weigh in. Enjoy!

Patrick McGuire

A structured practice schedule is helpful!

Roberta McGuire says: “On weekdays, when people have to rise early for work the next day, finishing practicing before 10pm at the latest worked best in our household.  Sometimes, Patrick would practice in between the starting of other subjects’ homework – Practicing seemed to serve as a break from the homework.”

Susie Wuest remembers “Eric would race home from school to practice then and often again after supper.  I think he was bored in school, and the violin presented him with a challenge.  Eric was very athletic and liked to be busy — gymnastics, tennis, baseball, or just playing with friends.  I always made sure that time was saved for practicing everyday.”

Continue reading

Show 219: Listening Guide

This week’s From the Top show was taped in Benson Great Hall at Bethel University during the Young Artists World Piano Festival in St. Paul, MN on Tuesday July 13, 2010. We asked our performers to tell us about the music they performed on the show:

William Yang, 9, piano
Scherzo No. 1 in B minor, Op. 20
By: Frédéric Chopin

I like how Chopin starts off the piece with 2 grand chords. I think of the first chord as a person shouting something, and the second chord as a response. What I also like about the chords is that the first one is at the top of the keyboard and the second at the bottom. My favorite part in the piece is the middle section. It is my favorite part of the piece because it has a sweet, singing melody. The coda gives me an image of a very noisy place because it has chords labeled. This piece is unique compared to other pieces I’ve played because it is probably the most complicated. The hardest thing for me to nail down in this piece was, and still is, playing the right notes on the right beat.

Kenny Broberg, 16, piano
I. Allegro vivace from Sonata No. 2 for Cello & Piano in F Major, Op. 99
By: Johannes Brahms

I think about the heroic nature of the piece. The ending is my favorite part because of the subito ending; the suddenness of it is very effective. It’s unique to me because I don’t get to play chamber music very often and the interplay between the piano and cello as two unique individual voices is very important to convey.

John-Henry Crawford, 17, cello
I. Allegro vivace from Sonata No. 2 for Cello & Piano in F Major, Op. 99
By: Johannes Brahms

Brahms had the Black Forest in Germany as his inspiration, but when I play this grand opening, I think of the sun rising over a beautiful swamp in Louisiana. More specifically, I feel myself riding on one of the longest bridges in the world, overlooking the largest swamp in the U.S., the Atchafalaya Basin. The soaring melodies are like the tall cypress trees and peregrine falcons, and the relentless string crossings are like the murky waters filled with swamp, vegetation  or Spanish moss. When I was little, I used to listen to a recording of Jacqueline Du Pre playing this piece and it was one of my favorite pieces.

Post-show reflection:

This performance was very different from other performances for me because I got to learn more about another species of musician—the pianist! I’m so used to playing with other string players that I never really thought about how pianists view music, how they practice, etc…. Although I’ve played with many pianists, until this show I never really looked at things from their perspective. I think this realization can be put into a larger context. No matter what kind of musicians we play with, we should always put ourselves into their minds and think about the way they approach music.

I enjoyed working with both Chris and Kenny. Although I was outnumbered two to one, the coaching went extremely well and I learned a lot about what to listen for and how that affects the solo line. In his clever and miraculous way, Chris helped Kenny and me intertwine our parts together into a cohesive unit.

This was very different from my previous From the Top show because I was surrounded by pianists of ALL ages!

Continue reading

Building Schools in Afghanistan, One Concert at a Time: Part 2

Last week we introduced you to Leeza Ali’s concert series that is raising money for P.E.C.A. – Partnership for the Education of Children in Afghanistan. Below you can read about the second and third concerts that she’s put on so far. You can listen to Leeza’s performance on From the Top at the Young Artist World Piano Festival here.

[The second year of the concert series,] I took a leadership role in organizing the concert, even with Nora gone at Harvard. I helped pick the date and location, and was happy that many of my musician friends were excited to take part.


Trio Lumineux


My friends Sarah Grimes (violin), Heather Anderson (cello), and I form Trio Lumineaux (we have now been playing 5 years together), and we played several trio pieces from a variety of composers, and even created some special trio arrangements of familiar pieces that the younger audience would enjoy,  like “Clair De Lune” by Debussy.  My teacher Dr. Paul Wirth and Chamber music coach Tom Rosenberg helped tremendously with rehearsals for our repertoire. When the night finally came, alternating between solos, duets (with my good friend Reed Tetzloff – also a From the Top alum), and chamber music, I played for the entire one hour long concert. It was exhausting but so much fun to play with my best friends. The experience brought us all so much closer together, and motivated us to keep on giving these concerts each year since then. Continue reading

Young Concert Artists Series – Featuring From the Top Alums!

We are proud to announce that the 50th Anniversary Season of the Young Concert Artists Series (YCA) will include two From the Top alums!

Photo courtesy of YCA.org

Violinist Caroline Goulding, who’s appeared on three From the Top radio broadcasts as well as an episode of From the Top at Carnegie Hall, will be performing at the Gala Opening Concert of the YCA Series on Tuesday, October 12 at 7:30pm. The concert takes place at Merkin Concert Hall in New York and also includes performances by Shuai Wang (piano) and Scott St. John (violin). Caroline will also perform during the YCA’s Gala Concert on Tuesday, March 29 2011 at 7pm at the Rose Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center. Caroline was a winner of the 2009 Young Concert Artists International Auditions.

Photo courtesy of YCA.org

From the Top alum Charlie Albright (piano) will perform at The Summis Auspiciis Concert on Tuesday, March 8 2011 at 7:30pm. This concert will also be held at the Merkin Concert Hall. Charlie was a winner of the 2009 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, and a recipient of YCA’s Paul A. Fish Prize, among other awards.

On Saturday, February 19, our radio show host Christopher O’Riley will also be hosting a segment of the YCA’s Musical Marathon. This event is held at Symphony Space from 11am to 11pm and has free general admission! Christopher will be hosting the fourth segment, which begins at 8pm. Christopher will be performing at this same event at 6pm, and Charlie will perform a piano piece at 3pm.

Tickets for these events are on sale now at the Merkin Hall, Alice Tully Hall, and Jazz and Lincoln Center Box Offices or through YCA at 212-307-6656. Prices $10-$40.

Good luck to Charlie, Caroline, and Christopher!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 61 other followers

%d bloggers like this: