On the Road with Joanne Robinson: Show 263 Davis, CA

Performers from show 263

The performers sporting their From the Top medals after the taping

Late October found us in Davis, California where we taped an episode of the radio show at the Mondavi Center, a stunning concert hall on the campus of UC Davis. This show was full of interesting and talented kids, including three who’ve won major competitions.

Kicking things off was a very young violinist –12-year-old Alex Zhou, who played one of my favorite violin showpieces, Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen. He was followed by flutist Annie Wu,who not only played classical flute, but also a beatboxing piece (you’ve got to check this out in the sneak peek – it’s pretty amazing)!

17-year-old Alex Holcomb was up next playing Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude transcribed for classical guitar. Chopin on guitar is not something you hear every day, and he played beautifully.

We met pianist Phoebe Pan next, who actually first met Christopher O’Riley when he was one the judges at a piano competition she won. We had to have some fun with the fact that three of the kids on this show were competition winners by having them compete in a quiz called “A Competition Competition.” The winning prize was a fabulous, aluminum, deluxe, logo-emblazoned From the Top water bottle! Clearly there was a lot at stake.

Closing the show was a trio of teens, all new to the U.S. from three different countries, who performed from “The 4 Seasons of Beunos Aires” by Astor Piazzolla – an exciting ending to a great show.

Check out the sneak peek below, and don’t forget to tune in when the show airs the week of January 14!

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On the Road with Joanne Robinson: Show 262, Greensburg, PA

All of the young musicians posing with host Chris O’Riley after their impromptu performance!

Towards the end of October we were in Greensburg, Pennsylvania for a taping at the Palace Theatre. It was a great show and the young musicians really bonded and had fun together– as evidenced by what happened during curtain call!

In what has to be one of the most unexpected moments in From the Top history, the entire group of young performers decided to treat the audience to a little Gangnam Style.

Haven’t heard of that? Have no fear – I hadn’t either until being schooled by the kids! Basically, “Gangnam Style” is the name of a catchy pop tune with a video that features the singer doing highly comical dance moves, and it has become a huge Youtube sensation.

Anyway, right before the show was to begin, we were all backstage getting ready to go on ­– and in From the Top land, that generally means laughing and goofing around. There’s always an atmosphere of excitement and energy before the show starts, and on this particular occasion several of the kids were having fun showing off their “Gangnam Style” dance moves to each other. And then they came up with this crazy idea…

Flash forward to the end of the show. It’s curtain call and all of the young performers have walked onstage to take their final bows. They bow as per usual, and the audience cheers, and then, without warning, the “Gangnam Style” song comes on over the speakers, and all of the kids start dancing! It definitely made for a fun and unique end to one of our shows.

I found out afterwards that the kids had stormed the control room with their curtain call idea – and as one of them happened to have an mp3 of the song handy (and as our producers happen to be extremely cool), they made it happen!

Of course we managed to capture some of this on Flipcam, and you can see it at the end of this week’s sneak peek! Enjoy, and make sure to tune in when this show airs the first week of January 2013.

On the Road with Joanne Robinson: Show 261 Boston, MA

October was a busy, but wonderfully energizing, month. The weekend after our Troy, New York, show, we were back at our home base, New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall in Boston for a taping that featured a diversity of kids who expressed all sorts of new ways of looking at things.

For instance, 18-year-old recorder aficionado Bryan Duerfeldt  proved without a doubt that the recorder wasn’t just an instrument for elementary school classrooms! He talked about the perceptions people have about the instrument, and not only performed a gorgeous baroque piece, but also a contemporary jazz piece. Something that didn’t make it into the show was that, in part of the jazz piece, Bryan played two recorders at the same time! It was totally unexpected and cool, and of course, I made sure to catch it on video. Make sure to check our website when the show goes live to see him in action.

Another young musician whose story struck me was William Su, a teenage baritone originally from Beijing. He talked about having been kicked out of his school choir in China because his loud, low voice didn’t blend well with the others. This experience, while initially crushing, eventually led him to attend Walnut Hill School for the Arts, where his outstanding voice is now being appreciated and nurtured.

15-year-old Pianist Vanessa Haynes gorgeously performed the third movement of Beethoven’s “Appasionata” Sonata and then entertainingly went head to head with Chris O’Riley in a game of identifying film scores, and 13-year-old Sebastian Stoger, with his wonderfully infectious smile, performed Tchaikovsky’s Pezzo Capriccioso.

At the close of the show we were introduced to perhaps the teeniest musician who we’ve ever featured – 9-year-old violinist Elizabeth Aioki who played Sarasate’s Introduction and Tarantelle. She played it on a quarter-sized violin, but you would never know it by the huge sound!

Check out the sneak peek below, and make sure to tune in when this show is broadcast in mid-December.

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On the Road with Joanne Robinson: Show 260, Troy, NY

October is a busy month here in From the Top land. Last week we taped a show in Troy, New York; this past weekend we taped one in Boston; we’re off to Greensburg, Pennsylvania in a few days, and then we round out the month in Davis, California! But will I manage to post my blog in a timely manner during this mad rush of shows? That, my friends, remains to be seen.

Coolest cello case ever! It was hand-painted by cellist Miriam Liske-Doorandish.

But let’s start out on the right foot with a blog about our recent show in Troy! It was an all-cello extravaganza taped at the stunning Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. In addition to four phenomenal young cellists, we had the pleasure of featuring one of the master cellists of our time, Matt Haimovitz. He and Chris O’Riley are great friends and collaborators, and the two of them have been touring the country this year performing together. They also recently released an album called “Shuffle.Play.Listen.” which I encourage you to check out as it has quickly become one of my faves.

Like Chris, Matt is well known for stretching the boundaries of classical music, and he regularly performs in unexpected places to reach new audiences. In the spirit of that, we set up an impromptu performance at a local bookstore during lunch hour on the day of the show. Matt and the four young cellists surprised customers at Market Block Books with an electrifying performance of John McLaughlin’s “Open Country Joy” arranged for five cellos! We caught the whole thing on video, of course, and will post it when the show goes live. You definitely don’t want to miss it.

The taping that night was so exciting and full of truly remarkable cello playing, not to mention cello “drumming” (you’ll have to check out “Open Country Joy” to see exactly what I mean). Enjoy this week’s sneak peek – and don’t forget to tune in when the show airs the first week of December!

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Show 256: Listening Guide

From the Top’s broadcast for Show 256 was taped at the Palace Arts Center in Grapevine, Texas on Wednesday June 27, 2012 as part of the Military Child Education Coalition Conference. We asked our performers to tell us about the music they performed on the show:

William Hume, 16, piano
Rhapsody in B minor, Op.79, No.1
By: Johannes Brahms

I have enjoyed learning and interpreting the Brahms Rhapsody Op. 79 No. 1.  As I researched this piece, I was able to understand the music more and identify with the piece on a deeper level. I think that sometimes the vastness of the music stimulates certain feelings in the performer and the listeners that may be unfamiliar, such as anguish or longing for something special. I could imagine Brahms and the love and emotional conflict that he felt towards Clara Schumann, which I think is represented in this piece. I played this for several performances and competitions and each time I discovered new aspects of the piece. But the primary goal is to make the music sound as beautiful as possible when I play it, in hopes that the audience will appreciate it as much as I do. I love the dissonant harmonics in the bass at the very end of the piece.  The last few measures have a surreal quality and it is very exciting for me.  It is a real test of musicianship and professionalism for me to put as much enthusiasm and focus into each performance- making it a new and exciting experience each time.

The Rhapsody is a great piece because it is very expansive.  It includes contrasting themes and conflicting, varying emotions and characteristics in the different sections. It has everything that the audience loves to hear.  It is emotional, aggressive, lyrical, fast, loud, soft, strong, and sorrowful. This stimulates the performer and listeners to explore all of their own personal feelings.  It uses almost the entire keyboard with some of the lowest notes.  It is important to listen through the ends of the sections and phrases to transition into new ideas effectively.  For example, you cannot just jump into the softer lyrical section in the middle of the piece without listening very carefully to the end of the preceding phrase.  One of the more challenging aspects in the piece is maintaining the energy and pushing through to the fortissimos even as the chords are getting aggressive and physically demanding. You must maintain the tempo and build the energy through the climaxes of the phrases.  I also feel that it is important to understand what is behind the music you are playing, and what the composer intended. I think that giving a brief overview about this to the audience is helpful. Audiences seem to appreciate information about the background of the music that they will be hearing, and I think that this seems to promote a connection between the audience and performer.

Post Show Reflection: This was a great experience!  The cast and crew of From the Top were so kind and ready to help at all times.  They were very well organized.  The From the Top family enhanced my experience and enjoyment of the show and I felt very comfortable playing and speaking, and I was ready to give a great performance.  I was also finally able to get my program from Christopher O’Riley’s concert autographed by him!  I had heard him perform in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in November of 2010.  It was also great to have a family photo taken with General and Mrs. Dempsey.  And the other performers, Dominic, Clarissa, and Devon, along with the members of The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own”, were really wonderful.  It was great to meet people my age who share my passion for music.  It was a privilege to be a part of the first show featuring performers with military connections!

Music can unveil the initiative and action that is present in every human being. It is a timeless art that preserves the complex emotions of human beings for generations to come. 

Devon Naftzger, 18, viola
Praeludium and Allegro
By: Fritz Kreisler

My teacher suggested that I learn Praeludium and Allegro because it’s a fun, showy, and athletic piece that suits my personality well. It starts off boldly and stubbornly and then becomes playful and dramatic in the fast section. I love the last part because it has an epic ending that makes me want to hold the last note forever.

To me this piece is all about conveying contrast in character. The allegro molto section is very note-y and busy in the left hand, but it’s the articulation of the bow that gives this piece its spice. This piece has a lot of tough section all strung together so it’s important that I have the focus and stamina not to lose pizazz.

Post Show Reflection: I had so much fun dancing backstage to the military band’s Sousa march with the staff members and the other performers! It was such an honor to meet General Dempsey and perform for him sitting three feet away.There’s nothing like performing on stage with Christopher O’Riley and the From the Top “On the Air” sign behind you! Everyone was so supportive at From the Top, so it wasn’t scary to perform at all – it was really fun!

Music has the power to change people for the better. It builds relationships, emotes passion, and connects others.

Dominic Giardino, 18, clarinet
3 Pieces for Solo Clarinet
By: Igor Stravinsky

For me, this piece of music invokes a feeling of controlled chaos. When I first picked it up about a year ago, I remember feeling very confused and frustrated. This was a piece of music I couldn’t sing and I had such a hard time hearing it the way I wanted to. Because of this piece, though, I have learned to find melody where I once believed it did not exist. In fact, I have grown to believe that this is one of the most beautiful and exciting pieces in the repertoire. It brings about beauty with its tragic first movement, and then attracts the audience with its wild second and third movements; it’s an adventure.

I have learned more from the Stravinsky 3 Pieces than any other piece of music. It started as a piece that was so brutally painful to practice, and has grown to be one of my most favorite and publicly performed pieces. The fact that this is an unaccompanied piece has played a huge role in its facility as a part of my repertoire. As a musician it has forced me to be the entire piece of music. To this Day, I have not stopped looking for ways to further bring out the technical and musical motifs. Stravinsky so purposefully wrote, “It is most important to truly ‘perform’”.

Post-Show Reflections: My favorite memory from these past three days was talking with the “Pershing’s Own” Wind Quintet in the green room the night of the performance. The energy of the audience was spectacular – you  could really engage as a performer. On the other hand, I needed some time to get used to the “studio feel” of recording.

Music has the power to build relationships, and ultimately build community. It has the power of supplying unlimited opportunity.

Clarissa McLaren, 17, harp
Impromptu-Caprice, Op.9
By: Gabriel Pierné 

Impromptu Caprice reminds me of mini vanilla cakes covered in marzipan and chocolate, with a cream and jelly filling. I used those as a practice treat and motivator – they are delicious! My least favorite part of the piece is the page of bisbigliandos. It is a lot of control work and getting my fingers not to buzz against the strings.

This piece is special to me because I’ve always wanted to learn it. It was on the first CD of harp music I ever owned, and I immediately loved the moving melody and accompaniment, fancy glissandos, and overall showy-ness. The hardest bits are the powerful octaves and left-hand chords towards the end.

Post-Show Reflection: My favorite memories were partying and dancing backstage right after the performance, and meeting General Dempsey at the dress rehearsal the day before.  Performing wasn’t as terrifying as I imagined it to be, and the cast, crew, and musicians were fantastic! The opportunities to share my music and inspire others makes all of the practicing worth it.

Music can change people from the inside, and change society overall. It can inspire, create emotion, and give people a passion. 

General Dempsey Joins From the Top in Recognizing Military Connected Youth!

In this week’s episode of From the Top, we teamed up with the Military Child Education Coalition to celebrate the talented and hardworking children of America’s service men and women. These fantastic performers shared the ups and downs of military life, from living on US bases in Germany and Belgium to dealing with a parent in combat. We also got to reconnect with From the Top alum Elizabeth (Diener) McGinniss who has chosen a wonderful career in music and the military as a Staff Sergent in the Pershing’s Own United States Army Band.

What’s more…while taping this episode in Grapevine, Texas in June, we met the Honorable General Martin E Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“In June, I had the pleasure of meeting some very talented young musicians, the sons and daughters of U.S. service members, as well as some members of ‘Pershing’s Own’ Army Band — one of whom is a ‘From the Top’ alum,” said Gen. Dempsey. “We watched them rehearse for a concert, and boy, are they gifted!  Music is such a powerful  tool, and it’s been a big part of my life since I was a kid.”

After greeting cast and crew, the General treated us to a fabulous performance of Sinatra’s “My Kind of Town”.

Check it out:

Meet one of this week’s performers: Dominic Giardino, an 18-year-old clarinet player, whose father is a recently retired Navy helicopter pilot and has a brother in the Marines. Dominic shared with us his passion for military musical reenactment and military bands!

Don’t miss this episode!

On the Road with Joanne Robinson: Shows 258 and 259 in Beijing, China

The From the Top crew at the Great Wall International Music Academy in Beijing

Never would I have imagined when I joined From the Top over a decade ago, that there would come a day when our crew would travel all the way to China to tape our radio show, but earlier this summer, we had the amazing opportunity to tape not one, but two episodes of our radio show in the incredible city of Beijing!

As exciting as it was for all of us, taping our show outside of the U.S. posed some unique challenges. For example, we wanted to make sure the shows featured several native Chinese musicians (why else go all the way to China after all?) yet still produce the program for an American broadcast audience. While some of the young musicians were very comfortable speaking English, others were less familiar, so it was especially important for us to take extra steps to make sure everyone understood what was happening and felt totally comfortable. We also performed our show using a reduced stage set and local electronic equipment because we were unable to ship some of our items abroad, and to complicate matters one step further, one of the key members of the sound team suffered an injury a day before we left and was unable to make the trip! Thankfully, he is doing just fine.

Despite the challenges, both tapings went off without a hitch and were very well received. Our host was the Great Wall International Music Academy founded by the violin pedagogue Kurt Sassmannshaus. All of the young performers featured were studying there this summer, and the artistry we witnessed was astonishing. I was especially taken with 13-year-old Beijing native Ji Bolin who played the traditional Chinese ehru with incredible expressiveness, and I also just loved 9 and 10 year old violinists Christina Nam and Skye Park from the Cincinnati area, who played Bach.

And did I mention the delicious food in China? Or the awesomeness of the Great Wall? Fantastic music-making and extraordinary scenery definitely made this trip one to remember!

Enjoy this sneak peek of both shows, and be sure to tune in when they hit the airwaves in November!

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On the Road with Joanne Robinson: Show 257, Chautauqua, NY

Performers, alums, and BFFs
Laura Park and Allie Switala

We have had an unusually busy summer here at From the Top. We were in China very recently (look out for a blog about that adventure next week!), but right before leaving the country we taped a show at the famous Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, New York. What a gorgeous place to spend the summer! It’s a lakeside village that comes alive each year with tons of arts and education programs. Several of our alumni were there studying music.

When we first arrived I immediately ran into alums Laura Park and Allie Switala, who would be participating in our taping. They are both so bubbly and fun, I loved reconnecting with them. I also ran in to another From the Top alum, sax player Justin Moser who was on our show a year and a half ago. He was working part-time at the Athenaeum Hotel and looking very official in his bellhop uniform.

We taped the show in the huge outdoor Amphitheater to one of the largest audiences we’ve ever had. What a thrill to look out into the crowd and see such a huge sea of faces. And the musicians certainly rose to the occasion; every one of the performances was top notch. I was particularly floored by 18-year-old soprano Emily Helenbrook. When she began to sing at our music rehearsal the night before, my jaw dropped.

I enjoyed this show so much I made an extra long sneak peek video for you! Check it out, and don’t forget to tune in when this show airs the week of October 22.

Carson Marshall Aims to Inspire

Being an arts leader to me means inspiring that “spark” in others so they can realize what they are capable of. It’s about empowering people to go after something they normally wouldn’t, or showing them a piece of their full potential and how easy it is to accomplish their goals. – Carson Marshall

When 17 year-old violinist and Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Carson Marshall appeared on From the Top (Show 245, Boston, Massachusetts), he gave a heartfelt account of his own difficulties with sight-reading music due to a learning disability. He never thought that his words and actions would have such a powerful impact, and quickly learned that sharing one’s experiences can empower others to realize their own potential.

An unexpected inspiration came through Classical South Florida’s Reach Out contest. Applicants to the contest were asked to write a letter to a recent From the Top performer, sharing what they loved about the performance and including three questions for that performer. Violinist Josiah Blanchette (also 17) was inspired by Carson’s story. He shared a similar struggle with sight-reading, and was encouraged to hear that there are other musicians out there like him. Moved by Josiah’s honesty and passion for music, Carson wrote the following letter in response:

A month later, Carson visited a class of middle school strings students from his hometown of Amherst, MA to help them realize their own potential. Seeing their engagement inspired Carson to talk more about his own struggles, and how determination and hard work helped him get to where he is today and envision a future in music. During the presentation, Carson focused on tone quality, demonstrating factors that can effect tone, such as bow speed and pressure, and how to apply these to actual music. He shares more on his goals for and learning from the experience below:

[I wanted] to teach younger children the basics and fundamentals of their instruments, and hopefully either inspire them to continue practicing or keep them from quitting. I also hoped to show these kids that even though it was hard for me to get to where I am today, I did have some fun along the way, and all they have to do is stick with it. My goal was to show these kids that they can be as good as they want to be, and there is nothing holding them back. I wanted to show them they can become great players with work, and that it’s possible (and quite simple) for them to make a good sound on their instrument. Overall, I felt like the kids responded well to the presentation, and I got a lot of great feedback. I think now that these kids know what is possible with their instruments, they will continue to seek that sound and become better players because for it.

About to start as a freshman at Rice University, Carson hopes to continue sharing his story to inspire and empower others. We can’t wait to see what he does next!

On the Road with Joanne Robinson: Show 256, Grapevine, TX

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
General Martin Dempsey meeting our performers

A few weeks ago we were in Grapevine, Texas, where we taped an especially unique episode of the radio show featuring young musicians who’ve grown up in military families. Our show was part of the Military Child Education Coalition’s annual seminar, and our audience was full of the people who teach and support military kids.

Among the performers featured was a fantastic young clarinetist whose dream of playing in a military band was realized when he joined a quintet from the United States Army Band to perform a military march. The quintet featured a flutist who was herself a former From the Topper. We also met a 17-year-old harpist who played Gabriel Pierne, a 16-year-old pianist who introduced us to his large military family, and an 18-year-old violist who turned the tables on the violinists of the world by playing one of the flashiest pieces in their repertory – Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro.

After the show I met a family of From the Top fans from the island of Borneo (on the South China Sea). It was incredibly cool to learn that they listened to our podcast halfway across the world!

My favorite moment of all had to be at our dress rehearsal when we had the honor of meeting the highest-ranking military officer in the United States (i.e. the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and principal military adviser to the President) General Martin Dempsey, who sat in on our rehearsal. But not only did he watch it, General Dempsey, who is known among his colleagues for his love of singing, treated us to his rendition of “My Kind of Town” – and believe me when I tell you that the General has some serious stage presence! Of course I made sure we videotaped it for you, and you can check out a snippet at the end of this week’s Sneak Peek video. When the show airs though (the week of October 1) look out, because we’ll likely post the whole thing!

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