Kristina Zlatareva Sparks Students’ Imaginations

“As a young artist and leader, I firmly believe that it is my responsibility to inspire and connect with the public through classical music.” 

After appearing on Show 263 in Davis, California, with The Angeles Trio, 19-year-old violinist and Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Kristina Zlatereva created a powerful musical experience for students at the St. Anne Catholic School in Santa Monica, California. Read her beautifully written account of the experience below:

Kristina AL Photo 4

Music — the Gateway to Eternity

by Kristina Zlatareva

Albert Einstein once said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” As a young artist and leader, I firmly believe that it is my responsibility to inspire and connect with the public through classical music. Art is a universal language, whose impact endorses every individual’s ideas, regardless of their cultural background, socioeconomic status, age or personal beliefs. Art abolishes class and race, and in its essence is hidden the idea of universal validation of every human’s imagination, no matter how different and unconventional it may seem in the eyes of society. Inspired by Einstein’s words, I decided to dedicate my Arts Leadership Project to working with children, and that led me to the music students of the St. Anne Catholic School in Santa Monica, California.

A K-8 school, St. Anne consists of more than 200 students from which the majority come from low-income families, who cannot afford to make art their children’s priority. The 40 music students whom I met with are so-called “lucky,” because they are permitted by the school and their parents to participate in the music program. Although they have an advantage to have music classes at their school, I found out that for them sitting in a classroom with eight to ten other kids for one-hour music sessions deprives them of individual attention which is needed to unlock their talent and potential. For many of the St. Anne students, learning an instrument seems like another ordinary activity at school.

Witnessing this, I decided to organize an informal event, where the children did not have to feel obliged to sit quietly and listen to music which they cannot understand, but where they could have their voices heard and opinions valued. Together with three of my musician friends, I performed a concert, including pieces for violin, piano, and cello from different classical periods.

Kristina AL Photo 2Before each performance we talked about the different composers and history of every piece and at the end we opened a discussion, where the students had the opportunity to share their individual comments — what they liked or disliked about the music, how it made them feel or what it made them think about. Lupita, a violin student, shared her honest opinion about the beginning of Chopin’s Prelude No. 15, Op. 28: “It’s like I could see a million bubbles floating in the sky. However, I liked it only until the loud part started in the middle. It should have been quieter all the way through, don’t you think?” How funny, I thought, that Chopin gave “Raindrop” as the title to the Prelude and Lupita imagined flying bubbles; and it was not coincidental, because music inspired a connection between a child’s imagination and an adult’s artistic vision. Despite the different eras they lived in and the differences in age and knowledge, I think Lupita felt the music the same way Chopin did. So, here is a proof that art is timeless — be it a painting, a poem, or a musical piece, it carries an eternal message that never alters throughout the ages.

I learned from the St. Anne students more than I could have ever imagined. They inspired me to see music in a simpler way, in a purer form, based solely upon human feelings. They reminded me that music is not always meant to be theoretically analyzed and critically evaluated, but its main purpose is to bring joy and emotional freedom to people. The main idea behind my project was not to teach dates or facts about composers and pieces, but to show that music and its power to give freedom can be trusted. I hope that the children will use it in the future as a tool for discovering inspiration and expanding their imagination. I truly hope that they will use music as their ally where words are powerless to resist the circumstances.

I have learned that in this material world, so fragile and filled with uncertainties, there is nothing more comforting than to know that music exists for the purpose of giving abundance to one’s soul and lifting one’s spirit. I have learned that music gives wings to the human imagination, thus breaking the boundaries of reality and allowing one’s dreams and ideas to flourish and come to life.

Kristina AL Photo 3

From the Top Makes a Big Impact in Athens, Georgia

While taping in Athens, Georgia, From the Top performers visited with 25 students from Clarke Middle School to share what they love about music. The experience greatly affected one performer, who was deeply touched by the students’ excitement and curiosity.

“The school visit had an emotional effect on me, and I am so grateful for the opportunity,” remarked 17-year-old violinist Maria Ioudenitch. The reaction of the audience – such as one little boy saying to her, “Listening to you makes me wish I never gave up the violin” – was inspiring and moving.

Hearing the students describe (as one does in the video below) how they felt when she played also demonstrated to Maria how much her music affects her audience.

The presentation made a big impression on the kids from Clarke Middle School as well. Clarke teacher Eunice Kang said, “Having the chance to hear a live performance by such amazing young musicians is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the majority of our students and you all made it even more captivating by allowing the students to ask questions and interact with the performers. It was really awesome.”

As part of every radio show taping, From the Top is committed to bringing our performers into the community. The opportunities provide an outlet for the young musicians on our show to put into practice the training they receive in From the Top’s Arts Leadership Orientation Workshop. Past From the Top performers have visited elderly living centers, public and private schools, colleges, community music programs, and hospitals.

Making Peer Connections in Davis!

Annie Wu Davis High

(photo courtesy Ruth Rosenberg)

The day after From the Top’s taping at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in Davis, CA, we traveled to Davis High School to meet with students involved in the school’s orchestra program. Performers Annie Wu (flute), Kristina Zlatareva (violin), JiSun Jung (cello), and JiaYing Dong (piano) joined us for the event. In addition to playing some of their favorite pieces of music, our performers also shared some of their own musical experiences and gave helpful advice for staying motivated.

Check out the video below to see some highlights!

Nikita Annenkov on Why Musicians Should be Flexible

I think it is very important for musicians these days to be flexible and able to do many types of jobs in the music world aside from playing an instrument. 

Cellist Nikita Annenkov (Show 238) had a really unique experience this past summer at the Chamber Music Connection’s (CMC) Summer Music Festival – he was a teacher, a mentor, and an arts administrator. Nikita reflects on his experience at the festival below…

I have been with Chamber Music Connection (CMC) since 2007, which was when I moved to Ohio from Uzbekistan. I was a recipient of the Chamber Music Columbus Scholarship and was also a part of the CMC Fellowship Program. My chamber music experience comes mostly from CMC – I grew to love the program as it guided me on the path to be a well-rounded musician over the years. I attended CMC’s 2012 Summer Festival as a returning alumnus, where I assisted with chamber ensemble coachings and helped advertise CMC to the community. I think it is very important for musicians these days to be flexible and able to do many types of jobs in the music world aside from playing an instrument. It is well known that times are tough for young musicians, so being a well-rounded musician with many skills, including administrative, will provide more opportunities to succeed in the field of music.

This summer I experienced what it can be like in the “real professional world”. As part of promoting CMC, for example, I had to contact local businesses and find advertising opportunities. At first I was very nervous, having not had much experience talking to business people – I was officially representing CMC and had to be professional. After the first few places I visited, it started to become much easier – by the end of an hour of meetings, I had talked to a number of business owners who were happy to host a chamber music group’s performance during the festival week. One business even offered to host a small fundraiser and donate a portion of the profits to support CMC. I learned that it is as important to be able to represent yourself and make a name for yourself as knowing how to play your instrument; talent and skills will not mean much when nobody knows about you. Being engaged with musicians but not actually performing made me think of other career choices I might like if it doesn’t work out with cello performance. I have thought about other career choices and I found that I would enjoy other subjects, such as teaching theory or becoming a music critic. When the festival started, I would take a group to downtown Worthington everyday at lunch to play in front of a local business. Of course, since the program was mostly made up of younger musicians, Graeter’s Ice Cream became the favorite place to play. This year CMC celebrated its 20th anniversary, but there were still people from the community who had never heard of the program – they quickly came to enjoy the “Classical Music – Ice Cream Afternoon Special”.  I also got a chance to coach a chamber music orchestra, which was very interesting. I haven’t had much experience coaching young musicians before, so I had to adjust and find ways to make the rehearsal interesting and productive.

The whole experience of being an alum, as well as being a part of CMC, but not as a performer, definitely made me feel more professional and responsible. My task of promoting CMC may not have been a difficult one, but it was very rewarding. I had to make decisions, take charge, and be on time – all tasks worth having as a performer. I am very happy that I had an opportunity to challenge myself this way and have such a productive summer.

Alex Nelson and the Gift of Music Therapy

[Music] is such an underrated resource, yet people use music every day. We have it in our cars, on our phones, in the grocery store – it is everywhere we go and it is used to alter or encourage our own moods. My hope is that people will be able to recognize music not only as an art form, but as a tool to help others overcome obstacles in their life.

Having seen music’s restorative power through her own experiences, bassoonist and Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Alexandra Nelson (Show 243) wanted to explore ways that music can inspire others beyond the concert hall setting. She decided to connect with several music therapists from her hometown, and wrote the following essay to share her experiences:

What Music Can Do 

It was once said that music is what feelings sound like. For the average person, we would all agree that music can transform our attitudes, change our perspectives, set a mood, help us from feeling alone… the list goes on. But how does music affect someone who has mental or physical disabilities?

This has been something that I have been more interested in as I have grown older. Given my own difficult family situation, I used music as an escape. Practicing became a way to disappear out of the discomfort in my household and focus on something beautiful. What about people who are uncomfortable in their own body or their own mind? I soon began to question if music would have the same effect on people other than me, other than just musicians.

Music therapy embodies this very idea. On the website for the American Music Therapists Association, it is defined as, “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” These goals can be anything from opening oneself up emotionally to distracting someone from intense pain to encouraging verbal communication. Therapeutically, the benefits are endless. I have quickly learned that, not only is music enjoyable and mood altering, but it is a growing resource for therapists dealing with people who suffer from any type of disability or disorder.

When I sought out the music therapist, Eve Montague, at the South Shore Conservatory in Duxbury, I was just looking to have her shed a little light on this topic. She was able to share many stories with me: a patient with serious physical problems regaining use of her fingers and toes, a premature infant’s heart and breathing rate stabilizing immediately after birth, a burn victim becoming seemingly immune to the pain while having his dead skin removed – all through music therapy. It seemed unreal. I knew that music was powerful, but could it really have that much of an effect on people? I’ve experienced it myself, but never to this degree.

In my excitement, I began to participate in an adult chorus with Eve at the Conservatory, working with mentally delayed adults to sing and make music once a week. It was a place where people could socialize, learn about music, and most importantly, grow as a person. There was a woman who was nonverbal but still able to make sounds. Throughout the year, I soon realized that she was mouthing the words and actually quietly singing along. A young boy who shyly kept to himself before chorus was a new person when it came time to sing – yelling the words, jumping for joy at the climax of a song. This was all through music.

Another therapist who works with Eve, named Kari O’Brient, travels to several locations offsite for her therapy sessions. When I asked to observe her at a local elementary school, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that I wanted to see music therapy first hand, in all of its glory, to better understand how it really works in an everyday setting.

I traveled to the Hatherly School, an elementary school in Scituate, one afternoon with Kari to work with two special education classes. We arrived, signed in at the office, and headed down the hall, our arms full of drums and scarves, with a guitar on Kari’s back and a bag filled with who-knows-what hanging off of my shoulder.

When Kari walked into the room ahead of me, the room erupted. The kids could no longer focus on their math or reading – it was music time! We headed into one corner of the small room with a bright colored rug, bulletin boards creating a space around us, and a chair for each of the students, Kari, and me. I sat down anxiously and waited for the therapy to begin.

Instead, Kari quietly took the guitar case from off of her back while asking the kids how their vacation was. However, after a soft bitter mumble from the few kids around us, Kari laughed off their negative reaction and started to strum. Soon, her chatty words turned to song, “Why hello there, you guys! I know I’m happy to be here. Hmm mmm, hello, hello!” The energy in the room suddenly shifted back to excitement. We all sang the hello song, each of us having a chance to say our own name and say hello to the rest of the class. Not only was this song encouraging friendly greetings, but it was teaching the kids to say their name and “hello” loudly and clearly. For anyone with a social disorder, such as autism, even saying hello to someone can be a challenge. Kari, though, with her bright smile and upbeat guitar playing, had everyone doing this with ease. The next song was a variation on “Head-Shoulders-Knees-and Toes,” with Kari’s own musical spin. The students stood, did the dance moves, and some even took a turn leading the song.

I really noticed at that point that, despite the necessary therapeutic value these songs had for these kids, they really enjoyed this! It was a break from their school day. Especially for someone with disabilities, even the simplest of tasks can seem daunting and overwhelming. Music therapy was a care free and light hearted time set aside where they could simply be themselves, but still be absorbing necessary lessons like verbal skills and physical coordination.

The lessons continued – more songs, more dancing, more swaying back and forth, more singing – the fun went on, and so did the therapy. The next class was more of the same – excited children, each eager to listen and play while still taking part in the therapy. I left the school feeling excited, rejuvenated, and encouraged at the idea that music had such an impact on these kids. Not only did they have a great time playing and singing with Kari, but they were reclaiming themselves as fun-loving children, able to let go of whatever troubles they were having in school earlier that day, and just enjoy the therapy for all that it was.

Despite all of my wonderful exposure to music therapy, there is just one problem that I always come across when I leave the conservatory atmosphere: no one I know seems to respect music as a valid source of therapy. I learned quickly that this was because they didn’t understand it, but that’s no reason to dismiss it.

This is why I am writing this piece today: through my own experiences, I have learned and will continue to learn more about music therapy so that I can share it with my peers. It is such an underrated resource, yet people use music every day. We have it in our cars, on our phones, in the grocery store – it is everywhere we go and it is used to alter or encourage our own moods. My hope is that people will be able to recognize music not only as an art form, but as a tool to help others overcome obstacles in their life. As the author Berthold Auerbach said, “music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” no matter what that dust may be.

Alex is currently pursuing a dual degree in Bassoon Performance and Music Education at Northwestern University.

From the Teaching Journal of Gloria Ferry-Brennan

(credit: Michele Stapleton)

“[Teaching] is one of the most important and gratifying professions, and I plan on continuing my new-found passion!”

When violinist and Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Gloria Ferry-Brennan appeared on our show this past February (Brunswick 247), she took us on a magical spoken tour of her hometown: the colorful and picturesque Whidbey Island (off the coast of Washington state). She also spoke about her teacher Linda Good (pictured below) who co-founded the island’s Suzuki music program Island Strings. This past summer, Linda asked Gloria to join her in teaching two local violin students who were unable to afford lessons on their own. Gloria worked with the two boys over the summer, capturing her experiences and learning in a personal journal. Not only did she grow as a teacher, but also as a performer – she shares one of her journal entries below:

I walked into Linda’s cozy home and saw a newspaper clipping on the wall about my appearance on From The Top. Two young boys followed me in: one was about 7 years old and had deep, dark brown eyes. Immediately I knew there was something special about him and that he would be a pleasure to teach. The younger one was a small delicate boy with loads of energy. He was enthusiastic about music and I could tell that he was a natural performer. We all got out our instruments and I showed them how I set up the violin and bow. This might seem like an easy task, but it took a lot of concentration to make sure I showed them the perfect technique. It has become rather second nature for me to set up my instrument. However, thinking about it made me more aware of what I was doing and how I could improve. Linda asked the students to try to copy me, and together we set them up just right. We sang little songs to help us remember how to hold the bow; songs that I had sung more than 10 years ago in that very same house. It was amazing to see how much I still remembered. It made me a little nervous to be teaching in front of my former teacher but I got the hang of it quickly and the nerves turned into enthusiastic excitement over the boys’ progress. The older boy was using a violin that was too big for him. His mother asked me if I thought this was a problem and I expressed my concern. I explained that comfort was one of the most important aspects of playing the violin and discomfort could cause injury later on in his life. After the lesson Linda asked me to play a few songs for the boys. They were very impressed and when I left that day I felt like I had reached my goal of inspiring them to make beautiful music. Later I got an email from the oldest boy’s mom telling me how I had made such an impression on her son and she said that he keeps talking about how “really, really, really, really good that girl at Linda’s house was at the violin!”

Stay tuned as we continue to follow Gloria’s teaching experiences with Linda and Island Strings! 

Sandra Bailey Inspires Students to Pursue their Dreams

“(This event) made me realize what kids can accomplish when given the necessary support from role models in their community. I feel honored to have had the opportunity to enrich the lives of…youth in my own community.”

Sandra Bailey with Atlanta Preparatory Academy students

Bassoonist Sandra Bailey understands the value of outlining goals to help achieve one’s dreams. Wanting to share this message with younger students in her hometown, she visited a 6th and 7th grade music class at the Atlanta Preparatory Academy, where her younger sister is a student.

After challenging the students to write down their goals, Sandra talked about the steps she took to make her own dreams become a reality, from getting her first bassoon, to appearing on From the Top and being selected as a Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist (she was on Show #232 and will be part of our upcoming gala!).

Sandra dazzled the students with a range of musical selections, from Bolero to the SpongeBob theme, and encouraged them to explore their own musical potential. She created a special pamphlet with musical opportunities in Atlanta for the students to take home and share with their parents.

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