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

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.

Taking it Beyond the Concert Hall: From the Top at the Boston Children’s Museum

It’s that time again! The leaves are changing color, the air is getting crisper, and Boston’s young musicians are in the midst of another academic year. Lots of music is yet to be made, some in a formal concert hall, some out in our community. We find it’s the unexpected encounters with music that often have the most meaning.

If you live in Greater Boston and would like to introduce a child to a musical instrument for the first time, or see a talented From the Top arts leader perform up close, we have a great program for you! Young musicians from our Center for the Development of Arts Leaders will perform and present at the Boston Children’s Museum on selected Fridays at 6:00 PM and 6:30 PM. The two short programs will delight you and your kids, and be a perfect compliment to your museum experience.

We are excited for the second year of this partnership between From the Top and the Boston Children’s Museum! For From the Top’s arts leaders, it is one of the most meaningful ways to share their music with the community. For many of the children in the audience, it will be their first experience with live music or a musical instrument.

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Above: Cellist and From the Top alum Lev Mamuya performing last year at

the Boston Children’s Museum

“Collaborating with Boston Children’s Museum is a great way to help our young arts leaders share their music and passions,” said Linda Gerstle, From the Top’s Director of Education & Community Partnerships. “We hope that the kids and families at the Museum have fun, and that our musicians experience what it means to inspire a new audience.”

Join From the Top’s arts leaders at the Boston Children’s Museum on these dates this season: November 14, 2014, January 16, 2015, February 20, 2015, and April 17, 2015 at 6:00 PM and 6:30 PM. 

For additional information on the series and on the Boston Children’s Museum, visit www.BostonChildrensMuseum.org

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Exploring Arts Leadership with the National Youth Orchestra of the USA

On July 16, we recorded a show with the National Youth Orchestra of the USA (NYOUSA). Our friends at Carnegie Hall bring this orchestra of amazing young musicians together each summer, and the result is pretty incredible. (You can listen to the show here, if you’d like. We highly recommend it!) The next day, From the Top staff took the entire orchestra through our Arts Leadership Workshop, led by Director of Education & Community Partnerships, Linda Gerstle. We asked Linda to share some of her favorite moments.

PS: It’s worth noting that normally, a From the Top Arts Leadership Workshop has less than 20 young musicians involved. This time, there were a few more.

NYOUSA Arts Leadership Workshop July 2014
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REQUIEM! Classical Music is Dying in America!

120 members of the National Youth Orchestra of the USA debated this with conviction – from strongly agree to strongly disagree with shades of gray in between. A chorus of voices engaged with the big issues at play in their world – what it means to take it beyond the concert hall as 21st century musicians, how an orchestra can be a resource to a community – an apt illustration of the overall tone of the arts leadership workshop for Carnegie Hall’s NYOUSA.

Orchestra member (and From the Top alum) Audrey Chen summed it up best:

It was amazing seeing everyone speak out and voice their opinions. The whole orientation really went so far to show that all of us can not only play great music but can also communicate our ideas really well!

Exploring the ways music can transform lives – as individuals, small and large ensembles – was viewed from many perspectives, using an array of From the Top alumni examples. Whether raising dollars to benefit a rare blood disease like alum Stephanie Block, or mobilizing an entire community to address the gap in musical opportunities across a district’s schools like alum Thomas West, it was inspiring to watch pre-collegiate musicians tell their stories to empower others. Michael Dahlberg, an alum of the radio show and now a member of From the Top’s education team, narrated his personal journey, helping the audience to define their own version of success for themselves, envisioning the possibilities in their lives.

NYOUSA Arts Leaders at work

This workshop was just the beginning; with outreach opportunities built into the five week NYOUSA tour schedule, each participant was asked to take a question or thought from the orientation that they wanted to explore throughout the course of the tour. One of From the Top’s primary goals for the arts leadership workshop was to leave orchestra members feeling as excited and curious about the opportunities outside the concert hall as those that lie within. Many expressed an eagerness to take a next step – and we look forward to showcasing their leadership moments that we know will inspire current and future audiences.

In the meantime, check out the incredible array of thoughtful responses to a simple question:

“Music has the power to…?”

 

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In addition, here are some other quotes from the participants about the arts leadership workshop:

One of the highlights for me from the From the Top workshop was definitely the emphasis put on thinking outside the box… I think the whole workshop was very eye-opening for a lot of us.”
–Lily Honigberg

“I have always had the general idea that I wanted to use music to create positive change in the world, and the orientation helped bring focus to my ideas… A lot of what my colleagues said I had not considered yet, in examining the question, and I was glad to broaden my understanding of something so key in what I am choosing to do with my life… There was a lot of variation in how the material was presented, and we were all engaged.”
–Josephine Stockwell

[the orientation] really left a strong impression on me, and also got me thinking about what I could begin to do in college, and how I could build upon and put into action the big and small ideas I previously had on this topic of community engagement for artists.”
–Soyeong Park

 

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PS: Editor’s Note – It’s pretty clear that classical music is alive and well thanks to these young people.

Bridging Generations with Arts Leadership

“Arts Leadership” is an important phrase at From the Top. But what does it mean, really? For 33 members of the Center for the Development of Arts Leadership (CDAL), it has meant a year of sharing music with different generations, and learning valuable lessons along the way. Through CDAL’s Community Performance Series, our young musicians/leaders have reached more than 1,400 people of all ages throughout the Greater Boston area.

18-year-old cellist and From the Top Arts Leader Lev Mamuya recently played at the Boston Children’s Museum. For many youngsters in this audience, Lev’s performance (or those of his fellow musicians) was their first encounter with live music.

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“It was really cool to see such little kids, of all backgrounds, totally engaged,” Lev said about his performance.

18-year-old pianist Phuong Nghi Pham had a similar experience.

“To be able to see in their eyes the joy and curiosity of learning about something really cool and interesting for the first time was absolutely amazing.”

In other parts of the community, CDAL musicians experienced a broader range and diversity of listeners, including cancer patients at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and senior citizens at the Goddard Assisted Living House in Brookline.

During 19-year-old Nick Tisherman’s recent oboe performance at the Goddard House, many of the listeners sang along. Afterwards, some of them even came up to play the piano. It was a powerful experience for young musicians to see how music transcends generations.

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As we watch the young arts leaders share their music through these community performances, it’s clear they benefit as much as their audience. Seeing the excitement of their audiences reminds them of why they play music in the first place.

“Music is so powerful,” said 16-year-old pianist Yoo Jin Ahn. “Music united us in that moment despite our differences of age and background.”

From the Top is now accepting applications for the 2014-2015 Arts Leadership Program. Click here to learn more.

Meet the Artist: Mira Williams

NAME: Mira Williams
AGE: 16
HOMETOWN: Chicago, Illinois
INSTRUMENT: Viola
PERFORMED ON: Shows 277 and 287

Mira Williams is a dedicated and passionate young musician with strong beliefs and a firm commitment to improving her music. In April, she stepped up to the microphone at the New World Center in Miami Beach, Florida, and stunned audience members with a powerful performance of Fantasie by Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Her interview was peppered with humor as she discussed her “viola rights” efforts – “It’s honestly one of the most beautiful instruments ever and it’s so underrated,” she told us – and she spoke eloquently about increasing diversity in classical music.

Yet Mira really lights up when talking about improving her playing and sharing her music with others. She studies at the Music Institute of Chicago, where she plays in the string orchestra and in a chamber group called Quartet Vox. She comes from a musical family; “I honestly can’t name one person in my immediate family that doesn’t play or sing or something,” she says.

After recording their show at New World Center, Mira and her fellow performers spent two intense days visiting local schools as part of From the Top’s arts outreach efforts. She was particularly inspired by her visit to Miami Northwestern Senior High School, where she and the other performers met with an after school band group. She was impressed with the band musically, as well as their dedication to music, and says she learned “to make sure the outreach experience is beneficial to all parties involved. I can bring my music to others, but they also have lessons to share with me.”

After returning to Chicago, Mira was invited by the Rembrandt Chamber Players to visit the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School, an all-girls public school in Chicago dedicated to empowering young women to transform their lives through education. Mira spent the afternoon with a flute player from the Rembrandt Chamber Orchestra in a visual art classroom. As Mira played, the students drew what the music represented to them. While nervous at first, Mira became more excited as she heard from the students. She tells us: “It was nice to hear people who aren’t classically trained talk about what they heard and cool to see how my music looked visually in their artwork.”

Later, Mira returned to the school with her ensemble, Quartet Vox. Many of the students remembered her from her first visit to the school and cheered for her. She said, “Having the whole quartet there allowed me to show how my viola sounded in relation to the other instruments. The students really seemed to enjoy the music; several said they wanted to learn how to play, so we referred them to music schools.”

Mira has received From the Top’s Jack Kent Cooke Young artist award and plans to use the $10,000 scholarship to purchase a new viola and continue her studies at the Academy of the Music Institute of Chicago.


Mira performed on Show 277 in Bowling Green, Ohio as part of the Quartet Lumiére and most recently on Show 287 at New World Symphony in Miami Beach, Florida.

From the Top Alum on Good Morning America on Thursday, May 1!

UPDATE! Here’s the clip of Yuki on GMA this morning. We had so much fun and are so proud of Yuki!

Tune in to Good Morning America between 7:30–8:00 AM on Thursday, May 1, to see From the Top alum Yuki Beppu talk about Lady Gaga, classical music, and how she is on a mission to put them together!

Here’s Yuki’s amazing video mash-up of Lady Gaga and her own music:

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