Giving Back to the Arizona Community

DSC_0013We think music is powerful stuff and we love sharing that message with the different communities we visit on tour. While taping in Mesa, Arizona in February (Show 269), we had a number of opportunities to do just that.

It all started the day of our show with a morning trip to Archway Classical Academy in Phoenix. In two back-to-back sessions, we visited both the fourth and fifth grade classes at the Academy. Performers Adé Williams (violin), Austen Yueh (clarinet), Trey Pernell (composer), and Peter Eom (cello) were each able to share stories, talk about why they love music, and lead the students through some really fun activities. It was an inspiring way to start the day – you can check out some highlights in the video below:

Later that evening before the show, we welcomed a group of high school music students from  the Phoenix-based Rosie’s House to meet the entire cast backstage. The students had some really great questions, DSC_0018including the classic “Why did you choose your instrument?” to which Peter Eom jokingly said that his mother’s love for the cello gave him no choice. When another student asked, “How do you balance practicing and school?” the performers gave some really great tips and Adé pointed out “We all practice a lot, but still find time to have fun and be ourselves.” We took some fun group photos and offered tickets to the students so they could watch the performers “in action” for the live taping.

Be sure to tune in and hear our Mesa show the week of April 8th! Click HERE for our broadcast schedule.

Alum Stephen Feigenbaum Combines Theatrical Spectacle and Classical Music in ABYSS

In 2007, when composer Stephen Feigenbaum appeared on From the Top Show 152 at the age of 18, his piece “Serenade for Strings” was performed by a string quintet made up of local students. Later, the piece was was recorded by the Cincinnati Pops for the From the Top CD release “From the Top at the Pops!” He is now the talented composer of the well-received musical Independents and his newest musical, The Abyss, opens tonight.

Since being on the show, Stephen majored in music at Yale University and he is currently pursuing his master’s degree at the Yale School of Music. He has received a multitude of awards, which include the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award, winner of the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble competition, and, most recently, winner of the Albany Symphony Orchestra’s “Composer to Center Stage” young artist competition. Aside appearing on From the Top, Stephen has also performed on The Martha Stewart Show and NBC’s The Sing-Off.

Last summer, the original musical Independents, with music penned by Stephen, premiered at the New York Fringe Festival and received the coveted honor of Best Overall Production. The musical follows a group of teenage slackers living on a Revolutionary War-era tall ship in a coming of age story about friendship, late-night sing-alongs, and Revolutionary War-era fashion. The musical received rave reviews: read more about it on The Huffington Post and The New York Times, or get the story straight from the creative team on their Kickstarter page.

Stephen has built upon the idea of musical storytelling in his musical, The Abyss. Stephen says: “What I was really interested in was how something like a Beethoven symphony was able, about 200 years ago, to reach a massive amount of people, and I was really interested in finding a model that would allow this kind of music, which people are still writing today and which is really important to me, to reach people in this kind of visceral way that matches other kinds of entertainment that are popular today.” Stephen, along with his partner and director, Charlie Polinger, has integrated classical music into a theatrical presentation that explores a 21st century imagining of the end of the world with an ensemble of musicians, dancers, and actors. Set in an abandoned storefront, the team uses the space to assist in provoking their audience’s imagination, inviting them to participate in the theatrical experience.

A Kickstarter page for The Abyss launched on December 7th, 2012 and they reached their funding goal on December 31st, 2012. From the Top congratulates Stephen and the cast and crew of The Abyss for their hard work and creative innovation.

The Abyss premiers on March 28th and will run until March 31st at 278 Park Street in downtown New Haven, Connecticut. Tickets are free on a first-come first-served basis. For more information, visit http://www.abysstheshow.com or http://www.stephenfeigenbaum.com.

Show 263: Listening Guide

Alex Zhou, 11, violin
Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20
By: Pablo de Sarasate

My favorite part of the Zigeunerweisen is the fast, dancing section. I don’t really have a least favorite part of the piece. Christopher O'Riley and Alex ZhouWhen I play the first half/slow part of the piece, I try to think of homeless people dressed in bright red dresses begging for food. Then, in the fast section, I imagine them rising up from their weary positions and dancing and twirling to the sound of violins.

When I play this piece, I think the things I need to get across are the many runs and arpeggios in the beginning, and the harmonics, left-hand pizzicatos, and spicatto at the end.

Post-Show Reflection: Other than performing, I really enjoyed the pizza party and hanging out with the other performers. It was quite nerve-wracking to perform in front of a huge crowd, but it was also really fun and a great performance.

Music has the power to empower, inspire, and create change.

Annie Wu, 16, flute
III. Lively, with Bounce from Duo for Flute and Piano
By: Aaron Copland

The Copland Duo is one of Copland’s works that emulates his signature American style. He uses many different rhythms and moods overall, and creates a bubbly, upbeat last movement. Some parts are even quite jazzy, and reflect Copland’s great interest in that genre. In the last movement, he switches back and forth between an energetic tune and a slower, jazzy one Annie Wuthat reminds me of a drunken Cowboy. I especially love all the opportunities to explore articulations – some descending runs even sound like a hearty laugh to me – hahaha!

The Copland Duo is such a pleasure to play and perform because it truly is a piece of chamber music. There is a constant conversation between the flute and piano lines that makes every performance a new and exciting experience. The characters of this movement are also very distinctive and varying – I especially love exploring them and finding ways to connect everything together in just a few short minutes.

Post-Show Reflection: My favorite memory was definitely the performance – it was an amazing experience to play and then talk to Christopher O’Riley. The show was invigorating – there was such a huge and receptive audience.

Music has the power to bring out emotions in people and memories.

Alec Holcomb, 17, guitar
Prelude No.15 in D-flat Major, Raindrop
By: Frédéric Chopin (trans. József Eötvös)

There are very few pieces that fit well and sound decent on the guitar. Fortunately, this piece (which I heard my brother playing on the piano years ago and has since become one of my favorite pieces) does both. What’s interesting about this Alec Holcombpiece being played on the guitar as opposed to the piano is, as an intimate piece, the guitar has such a broad range of sounds and colors that can really tap into the mood(s) of the piece in a profound manner. The guitar, for the guitarist, is one of the most intimate instruments because the player can literally touch the notes, making this prelude all the more intimate. I like to think if Chopin, being as passionate about the guitar as he was, had decided to compose for guitar, he would have been hard-pressed to write a more fitting piece.

This piece was inspired by raindrops Chopin heard during a rainstorm (though he would not admit it). A few months ago in a competition, I could not have played this piece at a more appropriate time, as it was storming outside, and the raindrops were audible on the roof of the hall. I got a few comments on the irony of my music choice that day.

The range of dynamics on the piano, compared to the guitar, is much greater, especially on the forte end of the dynamic spectrum. The guitar, at its loudest, is still a relatively quiet instrument. One of the difficulties I had with this piece was creating the illusion of becoming ear-splittingly loud on the build of the B section (the storm-like section). To do this, I learned to manage my color and volume in a sort of process that accomplished this goal. One thing I introduced to this piece was setting piano as my normal volume, and when there was a need for more “oomph” I had plenty of room to crescendo, the immediately return to piano afterwards. I also learned to use the ponticello sound of the guitar to create a false crescendo, which gave me even more room to grow dynamically.

Phoebe Pan, 15, piano
“Soirée de Vienne” – Concert Paraphrase on Die Fledermaus by Strauss, Op. 56
By: Alfred Grünfeld

This particular piece is a very energetic and lively piece. It conveys a certain sense of lightheartedness, and being a waltz, it’s an easy piece to dance to. Whenever I play or hear it, I always think of a grand ballroom in Vienna and people waltzing Phoebe Panwith grins plastered on their faces.

The unique factor in this piece is that it’s a piano arrangement of an opera overture. Therefore, it’s slightly more difficult to convey the feeling of the piece. With an orchestra, you’ve got the power of the strings, the crystal clear woodwinds, and the rich sound of the brass section. So I somehow have to communicate all of that through one instrument: the piano.

Post-Show Reflection: I loved the competitive “quiz” after my performance ☺  I also really liked being backstage afterwards and talking to the other performers. The waiting part before my performance was a bit nerve-wracking, but as soon as I stepped on stage I was fine. It felt really good once I finished ☺

I believe that music has the power to change people’s lives and bring new opportunities to everyone.

The Angeles Trio
“Primaver Porteña” from The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
By: Astor Piazzolla

Kristina Zlatareva, 19, violin

I consider Piazzolla’s music to be very passionate and moving. Primaver Portena reminds me of a conversation between The Angeles Triotwo Argentinian tango dancers – while playing it, I can imagine the intricate steps that are involved in a tango, and the precise and specific movements incorporated in the dance. My favorite part of this movement is the violin solo in the slower section, which responds to the cello solo just before. I see the violin solo as the female elegance and beauty in a tango.

It is crucial that the precise tempos and rhythms are kept clear. It is also important to not let go of emotions while playing, because it can take away from the precision of the sound, tempo, and clarity. It is crucial that the cello and violin blend together.

Post-Show Reflection: I loved talking on the show with Christopher O’Riley, and spending time with the other wonderful and talented fellow musicians on the show. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life: being able to share my passion for music with such a broad audience was definitely a dream come true.

Music has the power to change one’s mindset and view on the world in a positive way – it has the power to soother, cure and inspire.

JiSun Jung, 18, cello

I imagine the love between a woman and a man, like they are having a conversation with each other. The Angeles TrioThe cello solo is like a man trying to attract the woman, and after that the piece goes back to the same them as the beginning.

This piece is divided into four seasons – we are playing “Spring.” Since this is a tango, the rhythm of this piece is really charming, and the cello solo is especially attractive.

Post-Show Reflection: My favorite memories were hanging out with/getting to know the other performers, the actual show, and the pizza party! The show was a new, fresh experience for me – I felt comfortable for both the interview and during the performance.

Music is something that makes people look inside, and feel passionate about their own power.

JiaYing Dong, 18, piano

This piece is about a dance called the “tango.” The music feels like it can be about a love story between a man and a woman. My favorite part of the piece is at the beginning – it’s the main theme.

This was the first time I ever played a dance piece, having never played tango music before. You have to capture the feeling right at the beginning.

Post-Show Reflection: My favorite memories were the actual concert and directly after, at the reception. The show was AWESOME! I felt really good, and it was so different than other performances I’ve done.

Music can bring pleasure to people, and make the world a better and happier place!

The Angeles Trio

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.

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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:

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