How Music Heals

The healing power of music.

This is a phrase we hear a lot these days. Throughout history, music has been a source of inspiration, comfort, and support in many circumstances.

We are always amazed at the poise and achievement of our young performers on From the Top. The dedication, hard work, and passion that they share gives us hope for the future. Yet even these high-achieving young people deal with hard times, and many of our musicians share stories about how music has helped them (and others) heal. Sometimes we share those stories on air, and sometimes we choose not to.

In our recent taping recorded at Jordan Hall in Boston and aired the week of March 10 on NPR stations nationwide, the young ladies of Quartet Noce opened up to our host and live audience about the challenges they have faced in their lives so far, and how music has helped them through those challenges. They felt it was important to share this part of their story, and the response to their courage has been remarkable so far.

Quartet NoceWhen we interviewed them before they appeared on the show, the quartet struck us as a tight-knit group, with the girls operating as a group of best friends rather than only musical accomplices. They are very encouraging towards one another, and are comfortable discussing serious topics as well as lapsing into giggles when they remember a funny moment from rehearsal. Each of the girls has used music to help them cope with some tough situations in their young lives, which they shared with us on the radio show.

17-year-old violist Sloane Wesloh is a passionate advocate for people with Type 1 Diabetes, an autoimmune disease that she was diagnosed with at age 12 after playing classical music  for seven years. She says, when she received the diagnosis, that she wanted to quit playing. “I felt like it was pointless to be playing an instrument and focusing on passion and music when I was simply trying to stay alive,” she says, “then I came back to it about a year later when I realized that when I play music I don’t feel the needles or think about diabetes, so it’s really the only time when diabetes isn’t the main focus in my life.”

When 18-year-old cellist Drake Driscoll’s father passed away, she was only 2 years old. While she may have already had some Obsessive-Compulsive tendencies, she explains that when she was in second grade, they noticed symptoms of severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. She explains, “I was worried about my mom, and going to check on her at least 10 times a night – I was worried for her safety.” At that point, she entered therapy, but she credits music as one of the things that helped her. She says that music is a way for her to escape what she’s feeling and achieve some control over her OCD.

17-year-old violinist Rose Moerschel and her twin sister have both struggled with anorexia in their young lives. While Rose has been able to get her disease under control, it can be really difficult for her to watch her twin sister, who is still struggling. She says that music has helped; “It lets me escape from that whole lifestyle.”

When 18-year-old violinist Joy Kuo came to Walnut Hill School for the Arts last year, she really missed home. While many of the boarding students at Walnut Hill can contact their parents and family quite easily, Joy’s family is in Taiwan where the time difference makes it difficult to find a good time to connect. While she misses her family very much, she says she uses practice time to help her take her mind off of it. She says, “I just go to practice and I think that if I play well or do great, they are proud of me, that my family can be proud of me.”

We would like to hear from you about this. How has music helped you get through a tough time?

Listening Guide: Show 276, Vermillion, South Dakota

 135Maya Buchanan, 13 , violin
Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major
Op. 24, “Spring”
By Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

The 1st and 4th movements are my favorites. I worked on this piece this summer while at Aspen Music Festival and playing it there reminds me a lot of Aspen’s natural setting. When I play this piece, I think of the flowing water and the shimmering Aspen trees. Beethoven is really big on dynamics, so there’s lots of subito pianos so that makes it challenging.  In the opening, it is very lyrical, calm and simple and other times becomes dramatic.  The dynamics are probably the hardest part – it crescendos up to a really big forte and then suddenly you have to be really soft.  I love Beethoven’s music!

 A favorite memory or highlight:
Having a tour of the National Music Museum in my home state with the FTT crew and fellow musicians.  There were really amazing, cool, unexpected instruments inside.  The Nickelodeon was my favorite. I also enjoyed spending time in he warm-up room getting acquainted with all the other musicians.

What do you believe music has the power to do?

People of all cultures and ages express themselves through music. This form of communication can be understood all over the world and inspires and positively changes the way we feel about each other.  And it happens like “POW!”  I don’t know of any other other “language” that affects people this way.   That’s the power of music.

Evan Lee, 15, piano 157
Trancendental Etude No. 4, “Mazeppa”
By Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Any time my teacher gives me Liszt, I’m happy.  I like this piece.  She said, “why don’t you play this?”  And I’m like, “this is cool!”  There is a story behind it- I believe it’s about this prince that gets strapped to a horse and the horse is left to run free- it was because he did something, I’m not sure what it was, but the prince was being punished.  He almost dies but then returns victorious and becomes king.  Liszt tries to make the sound of a horse galloping throughout the piece.  First, I try to focus on hitting the right stuff.  Liszt is a programmatic composer, he puts titles to things and his own story.  There’s no alternative story that I have in mind.  This piece is always in motion so it’s hard to put together and not make it sound like a bunch of noise.  It’s easy to do that considering the technique is pretty hard.  The final variations are pretty large jumps, and it’s hard to get them light.

A favorite memory or highlight:
Trying all the harpsichords/old keyboard instruments at the Music Museum.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
I think music has the power to bring people together, start conversations, and make people happy.

 221Jon Corin, 18, saxophone
Fantasia for Saxophone
I. Animé
By Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)

I’ll be playing the first movement of Fantasia by Heitor Villa-Lobos. It’s a piece that I’ve been playing for a long time; something that I’ve come back to numerous times.  I love the melody and the evocative contrast that occurs over the short span of this movement. When I first put this piece together with piano, it gained a whole new meaning for me. It came to life right before my eyes, like an old friend who just revealed something brand new about himself (thankfully it was something good). Since then, every time I play the piece I try to take something new from it, hopefully giving something new to the listener.

A favorite memory or highlight:
Playing the gamelan with the whole group of kids. Finally hearing everyone play.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
I believe it can bring people together, forming amazing relationships. Music can empower people to help others.

Henry Johnston, 16, guitar 187
Sonata No. 3
III. Allegro non troppo
By Manuel Ponce (1882-1948)

I’m playing the Ponce piece on the show. I’ve been playing it for a pretty long time. I learned the second movement first about three years ago, my dad suggested the piece for me and I took to it immediately. I learned the third movement about two years ago. I’m working on the first movement now. I really like the movement I’m playing. In the context of the piece, it seems like a pretty triumphant movement. It’s got a recurring theme, a real big strummed chord. Sometimes you expect it and sometimes you don’t, so it manages to keep an audience guessing. It’s got a beautiful middle section full of moving chords, which is fun as a guitar player to get to play because it really forces you to make decisions about the voicing of the chords, which notes you want at the forefront and which ones you want to lay back a little bit more. Pianists spend all sorts of time thinking about that, emphasis within a chord, but with a lot of guitar players it goes unnoticed.

A favorite memory or highlight:
Visiting the National Music Museum, the setting of the show really enriched the whole experience for me and created some great new connections within the music world.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
It’s got the power to bring people together and expose you to new things.

 121The Luna String Quartet

Anna Humphrey, 17, violin I

A favorite memory or highlight:
The actual performance was a lot of fun. Where the dress rehearsal seemed stressful and serious, the performance was light hearted and exciting.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
I believe music has the power to promote peace around the world. It brings people together as a universal language.

Emma Richman, 15, violin II

A favorite memory or highlight:
Spending time with the other musicians and getting to know them better was one of my favorite parts. We got along extremely well and I feel like I’ve known them for much longer than three days. It was also amazing to meet more talented musicians from all over the country.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
Music has the power to bring people together. People from all different backgrounds can get along simply because they all speak the same language of music.

Alexandra Sophocleus, 18, viola

A favorite memory or highlight:
Getting to know the other musicians on our episode was a huge highlight. It is always so awesome to meet other people our age with our interests from other parts of the country.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
Music has the power to help people express what words cannot. It gives people something to relate to and helps people make connections to others. My strongest friendships are the ones based around musical experiences.

Nora Doyle, 17, cello

A favorite memory or highlight:
Playing the gamelan! Seeing the museum and the experimental instruments. Also the pizza party and meeting everyone.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
Music can give people confidence and a sense of self-worth, connect people from different cultures.

Show 271: Listening Guide

From the Top Show 271 was taped at the Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts in New Albany, Ohio in March 2013. Learn what the performers have to say about their musical performances.

Audrey Watkins, 16, flute
III. Presto giocoso from Sonata for Flute and Piano
By: Francis Poulenc

Audrey Watkins on From the TopThis piece is extremely hormonal, with all sorts of jumps form lyrical to technical and back again. It never quite decides whether it wants to be serious or not, although it mostly leans towards the not serious. The way I think of it is it’s like someone in a class with their best friend, trying to pretend to be serious but bursting out laughing in all the teacher’s awkward pauses.

It’s really hard to maintain the internal calm necessary for the technique of this piece while still having the giggly attitude. If you aren’t careful, you wind up with about half the notes and a lot of really sharp high notes. It’s gun to juggle all of the piece’s moods, you just have to be careful to not get lost!

Post-Show Reflection: I really enjoyed going out for ice cream with Eric, Eva and Michaella after the show was over. It was the best to just relax and hang out with other awesome musicians and talk about the show, auditions, college, etc. Everyone on the show was so cool! The show was nerve-wracking in that when you’re playing with a great pianist, you REALLY don’t want to make mistakes. The experience of going on stage with all of the fun and madness of the show going on around you, however, was one of the most relaxed and sort of “fly by the seat of your pants” performances I’ve ever had.

Music can control your mood, which can control your actions, which can control your future, which can control your happiness, which can affect the entire human race. Ergo, music makes you happy, which makes everybody happy.

Sung Moon Park, 15, cello
“Capriccio”
By Lukas Foss

Post-Show Reflection: It’s hard to choose a favorite memory! The interview was a fun and new experience. I really liked the Arts Leadership Program orientation. It really made me look at music in a totally different way. Music is not just a mere entertainment, but also something that can make the world a better place.

The show was awesome! I love how From the Top does these concerts. The whole interview and more relaxed environment make it just awesome. I actually thought that it was little bit odd that the staff expected us to be super nervous backstage right before the performance.

Music has the power to make the world a much better place. It can unite people. It can build emotional connections between people. It is the best tool of communication we have got. It can do anything.

Eric Goldberg, 18, percussion
“Scirocco” for solo marimba
By: Michael Burritt

“Scirocco” means “hot desert winds,” and this image is definitely well captured by the melody of this piece. It consists of a lot of notes in a very short amount of time, which helps contribute to its frenzied storm-like nature. This piece was a challenge to learn not only because of its technical difficulty, but it was difficult to figure out how to communicate the imagery of it.

This piece evokes more imagery than others I have played, and there is a story that I have to tell. The tempo and dynamic ranges help communicate the varying intensity of this storm, so it is my duty to make that clear to the audience not only by the sound that I produce, but how I present it physically.

Eden Chen, 13, piano
“Concert Paraphrase on Rigoletto” S.434
By: Franz Liszt

I feel like I can play this piece for any occasion. It’s got lyrical sections AND virtuosity. I’ve played it in small parties and larger concerts, and always get great reactions. I think it’s like a chili pepper: what you’ve got is the drama and scope of an opera packed into the length of an impromptu. I remember once I was performing it at a hotel for some relatives, and some little kids ran up and started playing random keys. It was pretty funny because no one wanted to interrupt me, but the kids wouldn’t stop.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is the overall structure and unity of the piece. Since it came from an opera, and an opera is a story, everything has to sound adherent. To me, that’s the most difficult part because it’s really easy to get caught up in all the details. It is the first transcription I’ve ever played, and I enjoy it a lot, so I’m definitely going to want to play more transcriptions in the future.

Mittelpunkt Duo
“Geistliches Wiegenlied” (Sacred Lullaby) from Two Songs for Alto, Viola and Piano, Op.91, No.2
By: Johannes Brahms

Michaella Cipriani, 17, mezzo-soprano

Mittelpunkt DuoThis piece is a lullaby for Jesus, and it’s a pretty dark lullaby. In some parts, the speaker is pleading desperately to the angels for help protecting her child. She’s yelling at the trees to shut up because they’re being too loud. Eventually, the windstorm calms down, the baby falls asleep, and everything’s very sweet and picturesque.

I think this is one of those pieces where expression is more important than beauty. For me, that means sounding “yucky” sometimes – using straight-tone, glottal attacks – stuff I’m not supposed to do. It’s an interesting balancing act between singing with technical correctness (legato, with clean onsets, tone that projects, vibrancy, etc.) with expressiveness.

Post-Show Reflection: I loved hearing all the other performers play and talk about their music. They’re all so passionate. I think everyone’s enthusiasm rubbed off on each other, and built up higher and higher. I was surprised at how non-nervous I was. I think it was because I had the personal, informal connection with the live audience from talking about silly things in the interviews. I felt like everyone in the seats were good friends, and I was just hanging out, making music for fun with my friends. 

Music has the power to create understanding between people who otherwise have trouble communicating with each other.

Eva Kennedy, 18, viola

This is one of the most gorgeous pieces I’ve ever played. It’s fairly repetitive, but the melodies are so beautiful that they never get old. One thing that we’ve worked on has been presenting the repeated melodies a little differently each time, so we ended up playing them over and over again in rehearsals and I still absolutely love playing and listening to them!

This piece has been a very unique experience for me – his is the first time I’ve ever played with a vocalist. It’s very different than playing with other string players, so it was difficult at first, but it has been fun and very beneficial, especially since we (string players) are always told to phrase like vocalists. We also had to take the meaning of the text into consideration when exploring different colors and characters, which is something I’d never had to do before.

Post-Show Reflection: One of my favorite parts was sitting backstage after we had finished playing with the other performers who had finished and listening to the show. It was so much fun to listen to the other performers; everybody sounded fantastic and the interviews were all hilarious, both of which were particularly apparent because of the audience’s reactions. Also, I had to miss the first night and two of the other performers missed the Arts Leadership workshop, so it was really nice to be there with everyone and feel that camaraderie.

It was so much fun! I had my last college audition the day before the show, so it was really exhilarating to walk onstage and know that I was just there to share this beautiful music–the audience wasn’t a panel judging me, they were a group of friends, family, and music-lovers who were engaged and excited to be there. As a performer, you can totally feel that.

Music has the power to do anything. Music can foster deeply meaningful human connections, international peace and understanding, personal growth and healing and discovery, and a million other things. If we continue to expand the boundaries of music and if we believe in it, music can do anything.

Show 270: Listening Guide

DSC_0018From the Top’s broadcast for Show 270 was taped at the University of Georgia’s Hugh Hodgson School of Music in Athens, GA on Sunday March 3, 2013. We asked our performers to tell us more about their experience on the show…

Maria IoudenitchMaria Ioudenitch, 17, violin
Scherzo-Tarantelle, Op.16
By: Henryk Wieniawski

The Scherzo-Tarantella merges precision, tenderness, and passio to create a masterpiece of virtuosity. I have neither a favorite nor least favorite part, as all aspects contribute to an incredible entity, which has no boundaries of emotion. This piece begins with grandeur, and technique, flows into a graceful middle section, and continues to bring the brief “Cantabile” of lighthearted yet passionate excitement. Finally, the Scherzo-Tarantella ends back at “Tempo I”, reiterating the brightness of the beginning.

This piece is special in it integration of various points of the emotional spectrum. Unlike some other pieces in my repertoire, the Scherzo-Tarantella brings out my still (thankfully) youthful energy to the maximum, with no need to suppress it. This piece highlights the difficulty of control, in regard to technique. However, by working on this control, I gain ability to structure the masterpiece and hopefully pass on to the audience the great love that it brings out in me.

Post-Show Reflection: my favorite moments were being backstage with my fellow performers, and then walking out onto the stage and looking at the warm, accepting audience. Of course, the performance itself was the best experience. I was shaking, my hands were cold, my heart was beating irregularly…the nervous aspect coalesced with the excited. When I started to play, my mind was in technique, but after about 12 seconds my heart overcame and joined the music.

Music has the power to affect others.

Wickliffe Simmons 2Wickliffe Simmons, 19, cello
“Kaddish”
By: Maurice Ravel

Well there is a story behind this piece. In January, a good friend and I put together a memorial benefit concert at our school for the victims and families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, Each piece was put in the program for a specific reason. We chose this piece because in Judaism, a Kaddish is the prayer for the dead. The idea we had in mind was that some things are beyond verbal description, so through music we could reflect and reach out to the Sandy Hook families, and faith or no faith, we wanted this piece to honor the students and teachers who were lost that day.

It has a very vocal or cantor-like quality. When I play it, I feel like I am solemnly pacing through a morphing, impressionistic atmosphere. This piece was written originally for voice and piano. Since the cello, in my opinion, is the closest string instrument to the human voice, it’s pretty cool that you can sing this piece without words. My teacher says that I should imagine that I am a Jewish cantor singing this prayer. I guess the hard part about playing this piece is making it have the same natural rise and fall of the human voice – just making it sound authentic and knowing the pacing you want to take before playing it.

Post-Show Reflection: It was great t meet all of these new, amazingly talented people, and realize how we all seem to know a lot of the same people. The rehearsals got rid of a lot of my anxiety before the show. When I walked onto the stage, the thought wasn’t to panic, but instead to just let go.

Music can speak as a language of its own, and draws out an emotional response.

Bokyung Byun 3Bokyung Byun, 18, guitar
“Recuerdos de la Alhambra” (Memories of the Alhambra)
By: Francisco Tárrega

The last two chords of the piece always confuse people. They often start clapping when the first chord is played because they think it is the end of the piece. In fact, the last chord often doesn’t get the chance to be heard. A friend of mine suggested that if audiences start clapping after the first chord, instead of bowing, I should wait until people stop clapping and play the last chord.

When I play this piece, I imagine a guitarist accompanying a singer singing the melody. I found it challenging to make the melody sing on the guitar, while making the accompaniment interesting at the same time. When I tried to listen to the melody, the accompaniment became too boring. When I tried to make the accompaniment interesting, the melody was not singing anymore.

Post-Show Reflection: My favorite memory was the pizza party! I loved how the staff members were so nice and supportive of us all the time. Also, it was nice to meet everyone for the first time. The performance itself was very relaxing. The audience was amazingly cheerful, and I really enjoyed performing for them.

I believe that music has the power to describe things that words cannot.

Ariela Bohrod 4Ariela Bohrod, 17, piano
Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante, Op.22
by Frédéric Chopin

Post-Show Reflection: I loved taking the quiz for my on-air interview! I learned some hilarious new things about the food preferences of famous pianists, and even though I only answered one of the three questions correctly, it still was a hoot. For the show, I thought I would be anxious to perform, but I was having too much fun to feel nervous.

Music is a universal language – something everyone can understand. It’s something that can connect people, help us to put aside our differences, and come together. I believe music has the power to change the world. 

Luther Warren of Piano Trio 2Hartman-Warren-Doyle Trio
I. Moderato Assai from Piano Trio in G minor, Op.15
By: Bedřich Smetana

Luther Warren, 17, violin

In me, this music awakes images of the vase, rolling Czech countryside. Although I’ve never visited the Czech Republic, these images are vivid and tangible. This piece was written immediately following the death of Smetana’s daughter. As a result it conveys and enormous amount of grief, suffering, and poignancy. This is the mist important aspect to communicate to the audience.

Post-Show Reflection: My favorite memory was sitting in the Green Room with the rest of my trio while the show was starting. Only when we heard the crowd begin to cheer that what we were about to do really sank in for me. Performing on the stage at the show was about what I would imagine being in a 1950s live-broadcast TV show would be like. There was a rush of inherent and exciting energy about it all.

Music has the potential to bring beauty to a person’s life on a level far deeper than most other things can reach. 

Piano Trio 2Nora Morrissey Doyle, 16, cello

This piece is one that is filled with grief. Our coach told us about how Smetana wrote this trio after his daughter died from an illness, and I think that you can hear those emotions of grief throughout the piece. It speaks to his sorrow and frustration, but there are also fond memories, like when you hear the beautiful cello melody. My favorite part of the piece is in the beginning, when the cello joins the violin as the violin repeats its descending line and the cello plays an ascending one.

There are some places with tricky rhythms, and we had to work hard to get those places together. But those rhythms also add to the tension and the emotion of the piece. As with any ensemble, the blending of the different voices for just the right combination is a challenge. In this piece the dominant instrument changes around at times, and so we must listen carefully.

Post-Show Reflection: My favorite memory was meeting all of the performers and production staff at the pizza party. For the show, I was more comfortable than I’d expected. Having done the dress rehearsal in the morning, playing on that stage wasn’t as scare anymore. In fact, the only thing different from the dress rehearsal, to the performance was having a live audience, which was totally energizing.

Music can do basically anything, I think. It can transcend time, culture, distance, and bring people together. It allows people who don’t even necessarily speak the same language to communicate fluently.

Piano Trio 5Derek Hartman, 15, piano

This piece explores many different emotions, all of which transition between each other in a matter of seconds. My favorite part is the long violin solo, where Luther hits a high B flat. My least favorite part is the section where the strings are playing triplets while I play loud, C major chords, which lasts for several measures. I fell like the storyline follows different paths of pain and sorrow, as many emotions run through us at once when we experience that.

This piece has a strange piano part. Unlike most romantic piano trios, the pianist doesn’t have too many virtuosic parts; however, the part is surprisingly difficult. The chordal and octave passages make it a tough piece.  The hardest thing to nail is the right amount of “portato”.

Post-Show Reflection: In addition to performing (obviously), I enjoyed going out for dinner with all the “talent.” It was fun to get to know everyone. I didn’t think the performance was stressful at all – it was one of the most lighthearted, fun experiences I have ever had in a performance; very inspiring and invigorating.

Music has the power to bring people together for a common cause. It is also entertaining and provides a purpose, something to work for – it inspires, and provides hope. 

Show 267: Listening Guides

 13Chelsea Kim, 17, violin
Romance in F minor, Op.11 – by Antonín Dvořák

This is one of the most beautiful pieces that I’ve played. Mr. Weilerstein (my teacher) teaches me to think of a color when playing a specific scale/passage, and this piece shows me gradients and mixtures of colors that I could not even think existed. Unlike playing alone, when I imagine the orchestra’s pizzing and blooming harmony as accompaniment, I feel like I’m in a magical, enchanted place with this piece. Every time I play this piece is always like a new and different story, but most of them are dream-like, fantasy, mystical stories.

Mr. Weilerstein first suggested for me to play this piece as a practice to find my own personal voice and sound. That was the hardest and most unique aspect of this piece – I learned and attempted to carry out Dvorak’s voice and meaning of this piece as translated through my own voice. I had a lot of fun with it, and hope that the audience can hear my process.

 15Post-Show Reflection: One can say that Winter Storm Nemo was an impediment to our concert, but I rather think that it brought additional character and memory that became more special to my overall From the Top experience. Although it was not the sold out, 900-member audience concert at Jordan Hall, recording at the WGBH studio provided a more private and comfortable ambience. The little studio compared to the spacious hall also allowed for each one of us to interact with every one, and to really become close to each performer and staff. Performing at WGBH was a very familiar experience for me since I had recorded there previously for my college audition tapes. However, I was on the edge of my toes through my whole performance by the fact that my violin playing, unlike my audition tapes which I can decide to share with the public or not, was to be aired on the National Public Radio.

What Music Means to Me: Music is an essential part of a human being. There are theories that music is the origin of speech, and I believe that is true. I witnessed the power of music to communicate and heal autistic children who cannot speak, like my brother. I’ve also witnessed in the past how music can bring together and connect people of different nationalities through my experience of playing in orchestra on tour in Bratislava and Vienna. Despite the hardships and sudden scheduling we all had to face because of the snowstorm, we were all able to convene and share warmth through music at From the Top. All of the performers ranged in nationality, age, experience, etc., and yet I felt no different from them, and we all connected through the music we all played for each other. This is something only music is able to do. If we use it in the right moment for the right purposes, I believe some of the greatest achievements can be made. Continue reading

Show 265: Listening Guide

performers with Jamie Allen

From the Top’s broadcast for Show 265 featuring the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO) was taped at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, TX on Friday January 4, 2013. We asked our performers to tell us more about their experience on the show…

Aakash Patel, 19, violin
I. Allegro non troppo from Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor, Op. 61
By: Camille Saint-Saëns

Saint-Saëns was a French composer, and French composers are known for their ability to create different atmospheres with their talent for understanding different textures of various instruments. When I play this piece, I think of the different atmospheres that Saint-Saëns tried to create, and relate such atmospheres to my experiences with them. This has helped me gain a deeper insight into the beauty of Saint-Saëns third Violin Concerto.

This piece contains some of the most beautiful lyrical passages I have ever played. This piece combines ideas of love and passion with a unique fluidity. For me it is a great challenge to convey this specific aspect of this piece. Although connecting the different portions of this piece together can be quite difficult, it is also quite rewarding. When I am able to convey this idea successfully, I get butterflies in my stomach.

Post-Show Reflection: I was asked, just before my performance, what it was like to finally be on the show – my response was, “pinch me, I’m dreaming!” 15 hours and many pinches later, my response should have been, “PLEASE REFRAIN FROM PINCHING!” From The Top has gotten me over so many hard blocks in my musical life – you guys keep my drive alive. Actually performing on the show was an unforgettable experience.

Many people say that man has the ability to move mountains. I was practicing outside a grocery store one day, and closed my eyes and began to play Bach’s G minor Sonata. After I finished, I opened my eyes and saw that an audience had formed – they all began to clap. I didn’t have to move any mountains, music had done it for me.

Russell Houston, 18, cello
Schelomo
By: Ernest Bloch

Whenever I play the Schelomo, I try to imagine it as the life story of a great king. I think it’s a cool piece to sit and play and really feel like a king, and the orchestra and solo parts contribute to this feeling. Further, it’s really fun to play because the orchestra parts are just so fantastic. My favorite part is the last tutti, it sounds so grandiose and overwhelmingly beautiful. When I was a little kid I used to really like the movie The Ten Commandments, and that tutti reminded me of that movie the first time I heard it. From the first time I heard this piece, I was determined to work on it, and wouldn’t stop talking about how much I loved it.

What’s really cool about the Schelomo is that it isn’t like other concerti where technique is the most important part – the Schelomo is like a painting, in that each part contributes to this overall panorama. The most important thing to communicate is the character of Solomon – the piece is about him. It’s really hard to communicate that wisdom and maturity he has in his old age, especially since I’m only 18! This piece is really fun to perform because it’s just as much about the accompaniment as the solo!

Post-Show Reflection: I loved walking out on stage for the first time at the live show – it was so validating seeing how many people were out there! The performance was great! The hall feels great to perform in, and the size of the audience was more affirming than frightening.

I think music can change lives, from changing how you feel any time you listen to having a life full of music. Music is enriching for the soul and makes life better!

Chase Dobson, 16, composer/piano
II. Sporting of the Gods from Piano Trio No.1
By: Chase Dobson

This piece is full of energy. The driving rhythm is part of it, but there’s also an element of it that comes from Aakash Patel,Chase Dobson, Russell Houston rehearsing2the three members of the trio together, all adding to the drive, competing with one another, but competing collaboratively. It takes a lot of precision to get the fine details together, but once it’s in performance, then the rush you get from it is unparalleled.

This composition is very special to me, in that it was the first composition I performed with live musicians. In the summer of 2011, I began rehearsing this trio with my friends Phoenix Abbo and Jorge Giron Vives. We prepared this movement for a benefit concert Phoenix was hosting, and we received a standing ovation at the performance, making the first public reception of my work very positive.

Post-Show Reflection: One of my favorite memories was Christopher O’Riley and the maestro’s rehearsal of the Shostakovich without the orchestral accompaniment – they both just hummed along during the piano breaks. I know it’s very specific, but it was so cool. It felt very comfortable to perform on that stage – there were so many steps to the actual performance that helped make it very easy, and very fun!

Music has the power to change live, bridge civilizations, entertain – essentially anything!

Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra (in a side-by-side performance with the DSO)
“The Great Gate of Kiev” from Pictures at an Exhibition
By: Modest Mussorgsky (orch. by Maurice Ravel)

Tiffany Mourlam, 18, viola

I absolutely love the Pictures at an Exhibition, and the “Great Gate of Kiev” is one of my favorite movements. I love the great contrasts between sections of the piece and how incredible the ending sounds. It’s one of the DSO rehearsing (1)most magical pieces of music EVER. My favorite part is definitely the beginning, where the brass play the theme. It just feels so good to sit and listen to. I also enjoy the sections where the strings rest and the winds have a few bars to enjoy the music and transitions between sections of the piece. There’s nothing about this piece that I dislike!

The orchestration is incredible! Ravel was truly a master of orchestration, and I really like the way he chose to bring Mussorgsky’s ideas about the piece (as well as his own) into the music. It’s critical that the contrasts in this piece are pronounced because Ravel asks for so many different sounds and colors in Pictures at an Exhibition. The hardest thing was to achieve that difference in tone and color. I’ve loved this piece since I heard it as a child. Getting to play it is so fulfilling!

Post-Show Reflection: It was an incredible three days! I loved my backstage naps with Annie, and getting to introduce Mr. O’Riley and Tom (Voegli) to the extremely comfortable red chairs in the lounge. I also loved meeting my stand partner Valerie. The performance was incredible! The musicians were all so nice. At one point, I just looked around and couldn’t believe we were sitting with the DSO – one of my greatest childhood dreams come true!

Music has the power to connect people and change lives! I firmly believe that it has the power to promote peace and heal people.

Morgan Mitchell, 16, cello

Honestly the adrenaline rush I get from the Baba Yagá (the previous movement) is still with me, so the opening chords help me calm down and proceed. I absolutely love the dynamic contrasts because they keep me interested in what I am playing. My favorite memory of playing the piece was from this past summer in CREDIT JOHN SERVIES -Thomas Hong, conductor of DSOLitomyšl, because we were performing in a castle (a girl’s favorite place!) and I could feel everyone around me giving 100%.

This particular movement gives me the responsibility to convey and evoke emotion. It takes you out of your own brain and problems into a world of beauty and empowerment. The hardest things about the movement are sustaining the long notes with full pwer, and feeling as an ensemble. Compared to other pieces this one is not about virtuosity or showing off – it is about reflection.

Post-Show Reflection: Being on the Meyerson Hall stage sitting next to my teacher (who inspires me more than anyone) and feeling the realization of what I was doing was really powerful. The performance was the scariest, most special and humbling feeling ever. I love that stage, and everything it stands for in a musician’s life!

Music has the power to fill anything you do with passion by allowing you to give your all.

Annie Lehman, 18, harp

A sort of chordal texture starts the piece and quickly builds to (my favorite part) the big ending, which is so exhilarating to play and literally feel because you’re surrounded by the music when you are sitting in an orchestra.

Blending the sound with both the principle harpist and the rest of the orchestra is the most difficult part of learning this piece. Playing with a professional harpist adds a new dimension to playing in an orchestra, and provides a great learning experience.

Post-Show Reflection: My favorite moments were performing on the stage, being interviews by Christopher O’Riley, and seeing the behind-the-scenes of the show backstage. The show itself was AMAZING! I thought I would be nervous but I felt so comfortable talking and performing, and actually had tons of fun!

Music has the power to change everything – it can help others by allowing them bring across ideas that can’t be said with words, and can give you a knowledge of other cultures.

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

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. 

Show 243: Listening Guide

From the Top’s broadcast for Show 253 was taped at the Newmark Theatre in Portland, OR on Sunday May 6, 2012. We asked our performers to tell us about the music they performed on the show:

Simone Porter, violin, 15
III. Allegro Animato from Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor, Op.45
By: Edvard Grieg

I had the great privilege to perform the 3rd and final movement from Grieg’s 3rd sonata in c minor for violin and piano with Christopher O’Riley on From The Top in May. This sonata is certainly a favorite of mine. The third movement alone incorporates passionate melodies, elements of Norwegian folk music, overarching long lines, and excellent dialogue between the violin and the piano! I think the 3rd movement very operatic; it alternates between Nordic themes that feature exchanges between the violin and piano, which I consider flirtatious conversation amongst my opera characters, and passionate melodies which I imagine to be arias, declarations of love. Grieg employs many syncopated rhythms throughout the 3rd movement, which makes the music agitated and anxious at times, but in the end, the music takes a sweeping turn into C Major, and ends in celebration.

This sonata is all about human communication: most obvious is the interaction between the violinist and pianist performing, but I think that the connection between the performers and audience is just as essential. While I was in Portland with From the Top, we talked alot about music’s power and influence. I brought up the idea that music is a universal language that doesn’t acknowledge any prejudice, and invites everybody to join the conversation. I hope that with this performance, I successfully invited and engaged the audience in a lively discourse.

Post Show Reflection: Rather than a specific experience, my favorite memory is the way friendships developed between the performers over 3 days. We entered (mostly) strangers and left with new friends who will keep in touch and meet up when our paths inevitably cross in the future. Performing for a live audience and imagining how that performance will reach so many more was so wonderful! I loved collaborating with the brilliant Christopher O’Riley, all the people at FTT, and being with the fantastic and supportive Portland audience!!

Music can establish connections and dissolve boundaries in a world that can be so divisive. Music is the universal language and we invite everyone to join the conversation; art doesn’t recognize any prejudice. From the Top encourages a discussion in which everyone is accepted and welcomed, regardless of race, gender, age, sexuality, opinions, etc. Musical education brings peace and hope and light to society; the educators and educated benefit from the experience.

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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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