Soft Rains, Big Sounds

On a cool, crisp November day last fall, as the leaves completed their yearly makeover of the New England hills, painting them in swaths of red and orange, a rainstorm was brewing INSIDE of Boston’s Symphony Hall.

Some of the area’s best musicians had gathered on stage of the historic music venue along with From the Top’s Music Director Tom Vignieri to record a very special piece of music. Tom’s hauntingly beautiful piece “There Will Come Soft Rains” was commissioned by the Columbus Children’s Choir and by Deborah Price and the Chamber Music Connection – a music program in Ohio that has had many performers featured on our NPR show.

“There Will Come Soft Rains” was written using the text of Sara Teasdale’s poem (by the same name and written during World War I) about nature reclaiming a world devastated by war. In the video below, you can see many From the Top alumni and staff members, and hear them create a rainstorm with their voices and instruments. Enjoy!

 

From the Top Staff
Michael Dahlberg, cello
Shea Mavros, soprano
Erin Nolan, viola
Wendy Perrotta, soprano
Claire Shepro, alto

From the Top Alumni
Claire Bourg, violin
Jonah Ellsworth, cello
Brian Hong, violin
Anna Lee, violin
Laura Liu, violin
Taeguk Mun, cello
Clayton Penrose-Whitmore, violin
Haruno Sato, violin
Amelia Sie, violin
Kiyoe Wellington, double bass

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.

Notes from Aspen

Well, there’s no doubt that being in a place as gorgeous as Aspen gets the creative juices flowing. I mean, really, how can you not feel inspired when this is your view?

Mountains, pond, Aspen

Tonight (8/3/14), we’ll record a show of From the Top with host Christopher O’Riley. We’ll feature a host of incredibly talented musicians who are here at the Aspen Music Festival and School. Seriously, these kids will blow you away with their talent, and we’ll tell you more about them later on.

But today, what strikes me the most about this experience is being poised on the edge of something, and I don’t mean all the cliffs around here. We are surrounded by young people, at the top of their musical game, who are experiencing the ultimate training and music-making experience. And we grown ups are smack in the middle of the swirl of energy and potential, pondering how best to help these incredible young people bring their talents and viewpoints to a larger audience.

The folks from the “What Would Beethoven Do?” documentary crew have been following us around, asking us all kinds of questions about why classical music is relevant, how we can bring more people to it..all those questions that those of us in the classical music field tackle on a daily basis. Not surprisingly, we’re finding that the young musicians have some incredible answers.

Just a few moments ago, we heard flute player and From the Top alum Anthony Trionfo talk to the documentary crew about his experiences as a young musician.

Anthony Trionfo interviewed

Anthony, age 19, already a teacher and a young philosopher who believes that “music is about healing”, is full of ideas and thoughts on how classical music can make life better. Here’s my favorite quote of his, when he was asked how musicians can help bring more people to classical music. “We can play in parks, anywhere,” he says. “The world is (our) concert hall.”

Right now, 16-year-old cellist Lucy Ticho is telling us of her love for movie soundtracks, and how, when she’s in an angsty mood, she likes to listen to Shostakovich; it lifts her up. “Imagine if everyone had that,” she says. “Imagine if they could use classical music to change their mood.”

For anyone who has doubts about the intelligence and compassion of young people today, I wish you could be here with us, listening to these kids. They are inspiring, energetic, and thoughtful. Luckily, you can hear them on the week of October 6 on the radio, on our website, or via our podcast.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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