Giving Back Through Music in Iowa – Part I

For the past two years, From the Top and Orchestra Iowa have collaborated on a project called Iowa Makes Music. One component of this residency is our Arts Leadership program, which provides high school age classical musicians with intensive arts leadership training and one-on-one mentoring to help them develop and lead their own music-inspired service projects in their home communities.  We are so impressed with the hard work that our participants have put into their projects. Here’s just one example:

Thomas Burrill, Freshman

When you hear the words “Alzheimer’s Benefit Concert,” you wouldn’t normally think of two high schoolers.  But this year Thomas Burrill (who’s father died over a year ago of the disease) and his friend Linda Xiong have been toiling over an intense project – producing a classical music concert and raising $5,000 for the University of Iowa’s Alzheimer’s research.

This dynamic duo teamed up a couple of months ago and charged full speed ahead with creating an exciting concert and raising $$$.  First order of business? They got the Englert Theater (where From the Top taped a show!) to donate space for the concert.  With one win in the bag, Thomas and Linda set out to create marketing materials, find sponsors, and raise money.

Linda Xiong, Sophomore

The final results? Over 130 concert attendees, 16 sponsors, and $5300 in donations – they surpassed their goal!  One concert-goer came up to Thomas after the show and thanked him for setting an example for “all the folks, young and old, in Iowa”

Linda posted some great clips from the concert and you can read more about how they made this project a success on the Iowa Makes Music blog.

Check back later to hear about some more projects from Iowa youth musicians!

Arts Leadership in Ames, Iowa

From the Top isn’t just about broadcasting phenomenal music.  An integral part of our program is the Arts Leadership Orientation, which follows every performance. What’s that, you ask? The performers gather with From the Top’s Education staff after the show to reflect on their experiences – what were they thinking before the show started? What were their favorite moments during broadcast? How are they feeling now that it’s over? This isn’t just a communication exercise; it really helps the performers bond with each other over their shared experience. And at From the Top, we’re all about growing community!

Aside from the reflection piece, the kids also get to learn more about From the Top’s mission of service and our Arts Leadership program.  As you read from Anna DeLoi’s blog, this can inspire the young musicians to take their talents to the next level and help others around them!

Check out the shout out video below, directed by the performers of Show #216. This group of kids aptly named themselves “Show Awesome” and in a quick 16 seconds you can tell how much fun they had with each other!

News from Hawaii

Kanu o ka ‘Aina, one of the schools we visited in Waimea, recently received a large federal grant from the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund’s Native American assistance initiative. The program supports native institutions that address the development and needs of native communities. Kanu o ka ‘Aina is a bilingual, Hawaiian-focused charter school that integrates outdoor ‘learning laboratories’ into its curriculum.

Gary Washburn, a music teacher honored on Show 209 in Waimea, notified us that the NAMM Foundation has selected Honoka’a High and Intermediate Schools as one of the “Best Communities For Music Education” in the nation. Congrats! Read more here.

Aloha Hawaii – 2010 Residency with Hawaii Public Radio

In January, From the Top partnered with Hawaii Public Radio to bring our radio show and education programs to the island of Hawaii. It was the first time a program like ours has been recorded on the Big Island for national broadcast, and we were greeted with open arms and that famous Aloha spirit.

During a whirlwind week, we taped broadcasts in Waimea and Kea’au, and visited five schools and one youth center in four different communities, sharing the performances and experiences of From the Top musicians with nearly 2000 community members of all ages. On the broadcasts, we highlighted four performers and one jazz band from Hawaii and brought eight others from the mainland.

Continue reading

BPS Students Share Music, Dancing & Opportunities

Last Friday, we gathered 3-5th grade students from our Boston Public School partners (Philbrick, Edison and Winthrop elementary schools) for a special concert at Boston’s Roland Hayes School of Music. The goal was to link the  elementary students who have participated in our three year program, Turn it Up!, funded by the Wallace Foundation, with opportunities to study music within the Boston Public Schools as they enter high school.

High school students from Roland Hayes School of Music and Boston Arts Academy performed a variety of music – a solo vocalist, young men’s choir, solo pianists, and a superb steel drum band – for about 160 students, faculty, and a few parents. There was a pre-concert tour of the Roland Hayes School for the entire audience led by four Roland Hayes students, as well as a Q&A session following the concert.

Two of our four From the Top/NEC Fellows Audrey Wright and Irineo Cabreros, who have been leading sectionals and providing inspiration for these budding young elementary school students, were on hand to join in on the event. In fact, Audrey planned the entire concert!

“We were as excited and inspired by the performance as the rest of the audience,” says Audrey.

And who wouldn’t be, with teachers, elementary kids, and high-schoolers all dancing together during the steel drum band’s finale of Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie”?

After the concert, there were some great questions, and a few kids even asked about the schedule at Roland Hayes School and how they could attend. One parent commented that since From the Top started visiting her school, her son has enjoyed listening and watching our shows and looks forward to the live radio tapings he’s been invited to attend at NEC’s Jordan Hall thanks to this partnership.

Margaret Stewart Lindsay Arts Leadership Awards Announced

We are pleased to announce the first recipients of the Margaret Stewart
Lindsay Arts Leadership Awards
, a new program that encourages high school and collegiate musicians to give back to their communities through the arts.

Through this program, From the Top will provide grants and mentoring for three community projects this year. A shared grant pool of $2500 will support two existing programs -  Musical Diplomacy, a community initiative that inspires conversation about social issues through music, and the Andover Lawrence String Program at Phillips Acadamy – and launch a new after-school arts program in Boston. More information about the leaders and their work is available on our web site.

Gathering the Grantees

Brian Kaufman, Griffin Gaffney, and Michael Reichman at the orientation

On April 8th, grantees Griffin Gaffney, a From the Top alum and first year student at Havard, and Brian Kaufman and Michael Reichman, Master’s candidates at New England Conservatory, attended an orientation at our office. They introduced themselves and their projects, met the From the Top education team that will be supporting them along the way, and shared the individual stories and experiences that inspired them to pursue this opportunity.  The leaders also shared the challenges they face and helped each other brainstorm around these issues. Fellow grantee, Jacob Shack, who was unable to attend in person, was introduced through a video we recorded with him earlier in the week. Technology saved the day!

The orientation was an eye-opening experience for all and the first of what we hope will be an on-going conversation between these inspiring arts leaders! We plan to reconvene the full group before the start of summer and will document their efforts along the way.

Arts Leadership Spotlight: Alum Lauren Chipman & Danielle Belen Lead From the Top School Events

- by Lauren Chipman

“Look at her hair!”

“I think she’s in a rock band.”


I don’t look like your typical classical musician getting ready to work with a group of 4th grade violinists, but my appearance reflects who I am and what I do for a living.

I lead a very eclectic life as a musician – I play in symphonies in Los Angeles, am a member of two rock bands: The Section Quartet and The Rentals, and have a full teaching studio.  As I was finishing up my undergraduate degree at USC in Viola Performance, I learned to say yes to every opportunity that came my way.  I had never considered playing rock music but, after a phone call from Matt Sharp of The Rentals, I quickly discovered my love of playing viola in a rock band.  This opened up pathways that I had never even knew existed and I now compose music myself, in addition to recording and performing with famous bands and musicians all over the world.

From the Top recently asked me to visit two schools in Santa Barbara (Roosevelt Elementary School and Santa Barbara Junior High School)  to play and speak with students about all the different musical avenues that I pursue.  I drove up from Los Angeles with violinist (and BFF) Danielle Belen.  Danielle and I have been friends for almost 10 years and when we were at USC together, we formed a classical string quartet that toured internationally.  She has a really amazing career – in addition to being a faculty member at The Colburn School in Downtown LA, she recently recorded a solo CD with Naxos Records.  I think that our different musical paths really compliment each other and I was excited to share our different stories with the students.

Danielle started off by playing the 1st movement from Bach’s Partita No. 3  and then talked about what it is like being a professional classical musician as well as recording a classical CD. She then introduced me by saying, “You might have noticed that Lauren here has a mohawk, does that look like a typical classical musician?”  A resounding “No!” echoed through the hall.  After I played a piece called Chahagir by Alan Hovhaness, I talked about my career and the different types of music that I play.

I think that it’s really important for students to realize that they don’t have to feel constricted by music.  I always say: the instrument that you play shouldn’t dictate the type of music you play.  Continue reading

National Arts Advocacy Day

Today is National Arts Advocacy Day!

Our friends at Americans for the Arts have organized hundreds of dedicated arts supporters from across the country to come together in Washington, DC to tell Capitol Hill how important culture is to our communities, how much arts education means to our children, and how much the arts improve our daily lives.

No matter where you are today, it’s easy to tell your elected officials what you think about this issue. Visit Americans for the Arts’ E-Advocacy Center, where you can send a message directly to your Representative and Senators telling them why the arts are important to you and your community. They’ve even provided useful bullet points to include in your letter.

Go forth and advocate!

Honoring Great Music Teachers

The late Ellen Masaki conducts a five-piano ten-pianist arrangement of "Aragonaise" from Georges Bizet's Carmen on From the Top's show #170 in Maui. Mrs. Masaki passed away in the fall and is remembered on this week's broadcast.

On this week’s broadcast of From the Top, we honor Honolulu piano teaching legend Ellen Masaki and Honokaa High School Jazz Band (Hawaii) Director Gary Washburn. Tell us about a music teacher that has made a difference in your life. We’ll feature some of our favorite entries  right here on our Green Room blog. Send an email to with subject line “music teacher”.

From the Top visits the Boys & Girls Club of Palo Alto

From the Top visits East Palo Alto Boys & Girls Club

The day after our taping at Stanford University’s Dinkelspiel Auditorium, From the Top had the opportunity to visit the Boys & Girls Club of East Palo Alto for a special family performance. 16-yr-old cellist Nathan Chan, 16-yr-old pianist Jade Huang and 13-yr-old violinist Stephen Waarts , all performers on the show, were joined by local alum, 13-yr-old pianist Hilda Huang, to play for an intimate audience of parents and kids.

Because of the small audience size, two young boys had a very special experience.  James and Myles sat in the front row for the entire performance with wide eyes, asking great questions and sharing their reactions to the music.

James was one of the first audience members to arrive, and he got a special treat when the performers, who were all fooling around on the piano playing “Heart and Soul” invited him up to join them. Nathan started teaching him a simple left hand part while the others took turns playing the melody. After a couple rounds, James, who didn’t play the piano at all, was really starting to get it! Continue reading


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