Coming Soon: The Blount-Slawson Young Artists Competition

It’s that time of year again – The Blount-Slawson Young Artists Competition is accepting applications! Musicians in grades 7-12 can enter to win prizes including $10,000 cash, a performance with the Montgomery Symphony Orchestra, and an appearance on From the Top! String, wind, brass, percussion, and piano students are eligible to apply. Applications must be postmarked no later than December 7.

Click here for more information about the competition.

Evelyn Mo performs L’isle joyeuse by Claude Debussy on her From the Top appearance in March of 2012 after winning the Blount-Slawson Young Artist Competition.

All competitors will play one concerto movement in the preliminary round on January 26 at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama, and nine finalists will perform on Sunday, January 27. From the Top Music Producer Tom Vignieri is once again a member of the judging panel – click here to read his behind-the-scenes account of the competition!

We encourage all young musicians to consider this wonderful opportunity, so please share this information.

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.

Show 252: Listening Guide

From the Top’s broadcast for Show 252 was taped at the Tivoli Theatre in Chattanooga, TN on Thursday, April 26, 2012. We asked our performers to tell us about the music they performed on the show:

Jerry Feng, piano, 17
Etude Op.10, No.12 in C minor, “Revolutionary”
By: Frederic Chopin

I just really think this is a great piece. I first began learning it four years ago and I seem to always bring it back from the dead for various performances. Personally, playing the etude evokes memories of my own “hardships.” I know my “problems” are not nearly as serious as the Russian occupation of Poland, but I think it was Chopin’s goal to elicit this kind of bitter and desperate feeling.

I feel like the most unique aspect about this piece is the incredible amount of raw emotion placed into the short 2 1/2 minutes. That being said, I believe the most inspirational (and hardest) part to accomplish is really making the audience feel and understand Chopin’s outrage and sadness.

Post Show Reflection: My favorite memory was hanging in the dressing room before the performance. Performing on that stage was absolutely breathtaking, fantastically amazing, and unforgettable. But I really wish I got to spend more time with the other incredibly talented musicians there.

Music will bring people together.

John Burton, trumpet, 17
Fantasie in E-flat
By: Joseph Edouard Barat

This is such an interesting piece. It has an ominous fanfare that kicks off the piece and recurs throughout. Then it goes into a very lyrical melody that is voiced in different styles. For me, I don’t have a particular story in mind when I play this piece, but I do have certain moods I try to recreate as themes to come and go. It has dramatic, fluid, playful, and even jazz-influenced sections. The whole piece is very French. Overall, it is really neat to listen to!

This piece has a lot of character and it is really important to portray that. I am not worried about any technical sections, but being a brass player can easily prove otherwise! You never know how your chops will feel on a certain day! You could feel great one day and terrible the next. That is also another motivation to practice – nothing is ever perfect.

Post Show Reflection: It was fun hanging out with everyone in one of the dressing rooms before and during the show, and to play on the stage and see how “From the Top” does everything.

Music can bring happiness.

Continue reading

Connecting with Peers through Music in Potsdam, NY

We love having the chance to meet with other young musicians whenever we’re on tour for a show. This past April brought us to Potsdam, NY, where we were able to meet with two groups of high school music students. Performers John Lee (cello) and Margaux Filet (flute) joined us for these events. We first visited a class of orchestra and choir students at Canton High School, then traveled to Potsdam High School to meet with a group of students in band and choir. Both groups had really wonderful questions to ask after each program, from “what keeps you motivated to practice?” to “how do you spend your downtime?”

Our performers’ music and stories made great connections with these two audiences. Margaux opened the program with the wonderful Fantaisie by Georges Hue, then gave them a “sneak peek” of the piece she would be playing on From the Top the next evening: George Enescu’s Cantabile. She spoke about her appearance on From the Top as being a “dream come true” for her musical aspirations, and how hobbies like exercise and spending quality time with her family helps her to keep balance. Next was John, who performed Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3 and ended the program with a dazzling “Sacher Variation” by Witold Lutoslawski. John shared that, when not performing or practicing, he loves to play frisbee and hang out with friends.

We asked our performers to share their thoughts on the experience, which you can check out in the video below:

Alums study with Renée Fleming in upcoming HBO series

This May, two of our very own alums will be featured on HBO with critically acclaimed soprano Renée Fleming!

Mezzo soprano Samantha Hankey (a Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist from Show #226 in Boston) and baritone Sean Plum (Show #201 in Boston) will be featured in HBO’s “Renée Fleming: a YoungArts MasterClass,” revealing the ambition of four singers as  Renée herself guides them. The show will air on May 28 at 6 p.m.

The first MasterClass Series featured artists such as Placido Domingo, Edward Albee, and more.

Like the other students, Samantha and Sean are both graduates of the YoungArts program in Miami. Samantha is continuing school at the Juilliard School and Sean is at the Curtis Institute of Music.

Congratulations to Samantha and Sean and be sure to tune in to HBO!

Classical Guitarist Chaconne Klaverenga Receives Her Own Concerto from Cleveland Baroque Orchestra’s Rene Schiffer

Renowned classical guitarist Chaconne Klaverenga premiered the Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra by Rene Schiffer earlier this month, a performance the Lafayette Symphony Orchestra commissioned for her.

Chaconne most recently performed a piece set for her in a sold-out concert with the Lafayette Symphony. Photo courtesy of

Klaverenga, who appeared  on Show #194 in Buffalo, New York at age 16, received the piece as a gift from Mr. Schiffer (a member of Cleveland Baroque Orchestra’s ensemble Apollo’s Fire) and performed for over 1,000 people in a sold-out concert.

Since performing on From the Top in 2009, Klaverenga has also been featured in American Public Radio’s Performance Today, honored by the Indiana State House of Representatives, and named first-place winner in numerous competitions.

She has also performed numerous solo concerts across her home state of Indiana, including a performance in the Purdue Convocations Discovery Concert Series.

We’re happy to hear Chaconne is doing so well as she studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music!

Reaching Out in Carmel, IN


Towards the end of March, we taped a show at The Palladium – a beautiful, acoustically-ideal concert hall that’s part of the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, Indiana. We had taped a show at the Palladium just last year and the excitement behind our return allowed us to make a number of connections with the community. Two weeks before we even arrived, local bassoonist Tom English (Show #233) was busy promoting our return to Carmel. He traveled to the Prime Life Enrichment Center, where he performed several solo works and spoke about his experience on our show last year.

On the day of the show, a group of sound engineering students from Crowne Point High School drove all the way to Carmel (nearly two hours) to attend our dress rehearsal and get a behind-the-scenes look at a live recording session. After the rehearsal, they met with our sound engineer, Berred Ouellette, who explained the process of taking the show from live concert to radio broadcast. Berred also treated the students to a backstage tour to see and experience our recording equipment.

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Check Out a Video of Music Producer Tom Vignieri’s “Haec Dies”!

For many around the world Easter is an important date on the religious calendar. And for music lovers it’s an opportunity to experience some of the most beautiful music ever written. Perhaps above all, the St. John and St. Matthew Passions of Johann Sebastian Bach. Recently our music producer, Tom Vignieri, added a work of his own to the canon. He set the Easter text “Haec dies” or “This is the day” (Psalm 118:24) for chorus, organ & trumpet to help inaugurate a new era for the Boston based Metropolitan Chorale of Brookline. And together with From the Top friend and videographer Eleanor Dowling they produced the following music video. Enjoy, and a very happy Easter and Passover season from all of us at From the Top.

Education Update: Check out our Crews

New York Crew in New Jersey

Brian Ge (left) and Patricio Molina (top) at the Belmont Runyan School

Brian Ge (left) and Patricio Molina (top) at the Belmont Runyan School

We just wrapped up another year in our partnership with Young Audiences New Jersey (YANJ) to bring From the Top alums into Newark schools through a grant from the Prudential Foundation. In addition to implementing a Make Your Own Radio Show program in three schools, we started a new program called “From the Top Times Two”. This new program includes a one-day, two-visit performance and workshop for the schools, with a From the Top alum accompanied by a YANJ teaching artist. From the Top recruited five New York area alums, including Brian Ge, Patricio Molina, Dasha Bukhartseva, Hannah Ji, Julian Langford, and co-led a one-day training session with YANJ staff to prepare the young musicians for their school performances.

This pilot program reached 4 Newark schools this spring and was a huge success among teachers, students and performers alike. Continue reading

Another Year of Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Awards

Flutist Douglas DeVries performing at our Aspen live radio taping.

Young Artist Douglas DeVries performing at our Aspen live radio taping.

Our live radio taping in El Paso, TX last month marked the fantastic milestone of more than $1,000,000 in scholarships awarded through our Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award program. To those not familiar with the program, every year the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award is given to twenty-five promising young artists from around the country with financial need. Although they come from diverse backgrounds, the Young Artists share one thing in common: passion for classical music. The select few are each given $10,000 to help with their musical development. In conjunction with the award, they perform on a live taping of From The Top and receive Cultural Leadership training that encourages them to share their talents and knowledge of classical music with their communities.

The following are some quotes from this year’s recipients about receiving the award, their experiences on the radio show, and giving back to their communities:
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