From the Blog: Alumni Spotlight
Six years after appearing on From the Top, 22-year-old alum Eliodoro Vallecillo is paying it forward in his hometown of Salinas, California. Through his own after-school music program and traditional Mexican band, he hopes to develop new audiences for Mexican music and offer new opportunities for kids in Salinas.
Eliodoro wowed audiences on both From the Top’s radio and television programs with his performance of Mozart’s Concert No. 3 in E-flat on French horn. But it was his story about how his passion for music helped him to escape gang violence in his hometown and grieve the loss of his brother that audiences most remember.
For Eliodoro, his From the Top experience was influential in other ways. As a recipient of From the Top’s Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, he was able to purchase a new French horn, which he used as a music major at California State University at Long Beach. He also counts From the Top’s Arts Leadership Orientation Workshop as a moment of inspiration for him.
“I remember some classes at From the Top on how to be involved in our community and that always stood in the back of my mind. It was always a dream to give back. Music is something that’s very powerful. I’m glad that From the Top encourages that, because a lot of these kids need it. I’m grateful that they made me see that!”
Music – both traditional Mexican and classical – was a large part of Eliodoro’s upbringing but unfortunately there weren’t many opportunities in his community for music instruction. “My brother and I went through a music program where we learned to play our instruments, after that there was nothing else in Salinas,” he says.
Eliodoro was inspired to create a way for kids in his hometown to continue their musical passions. He developed an after-school music program, Escuela de Musica Regional Mexicana, that introduces kids ages 7 to 17 to Mexican music. Jesse G. Sanchez Elementary School is the program’s main site, hosting over 100 students, while a secondary site at Salinas Public Library hosts just over 80 students. Students in the program focus on traditional Mexican music, such as the accordion, guitar, drums, bass guitar, tuba, trumpet, and bajo sexto, a traditional 12-stringed bass guitar.
“I would love the students to come back, teach, and stay involved.” He said, “It caught me off guard that all the students were very enthused, along with the parents, because it’s something that’s culturally relevant.”
Along with Escuela de Musica Regional Mexicana, Eliodoro’s band, Proyecto X, is also expanding audiences for Mexican music. He and his band members are all from Salinas, but have different musical backgrounds, which has helped to create the flavorful musical style of Proyecto X. Eliodoro performs accordion in the band, which has been featured on Spanish radio across the U.S. According to Eliodoro, “Radio stations have fallen in love with us,” and it is easy to see why.
Learn more about Escuela de Musica Regional Mexicana on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAiubWk-8hM&feature=youtu.be
Learn more about Proyecto X on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GRUPOPROYECTOX
or on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/GRUPOPROYECTOX?feature=watch
It is with excitement that we report that six From the Top alumni have been named among 30 competitors in the Van Cliburn Competition, May 24 – June 9 in Fort Worth, Texas, one of the world’s most prestigious piano competitions.
The Van Cliburn Competition was founded in 1962 to recognize the great pianist Van Cliburn, who passed away in February 2013. In its 50-year history, the Cliburn has identified and ushered a host of exceptional artists to international prominence, including From the Top host Christopher O’Riley.
Meet the From the Top Van Cliburn competitors who represent six of eight U.S. contenders:
We’ll be reporting from the competition once it begins. So stay tuned as we follow these alumni.
From the Top wishes to extend warmest congratulations to all of the young performers, including ten From the Top alumni, who were chosen to be part of the National Youth Orchestra this summer! Each summer, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute brings together 120 of the nation’s top young classical musicians to tour some of the world’s musical capitals as musical ambassadors. These young performers were accepted into this prestigious orchestra after a challenging and comprehensive audition process. Led by James Ross, the associate director of The Julliard School’s conducting program and director of orchestral activities at the University of Maryland, the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America will tour from July 11 to July 22, 2013, performing in Washington D.C., then Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and finally, London. Congratulations and best of luck to our remarkable alumni!
Erika Gray (Show 262, Greensburg, Pennsylvania)
Annie Wu (Show 263, Davis, California)
Annika Jenkins (Show 234, Virginia Beach, Virginia)
Demi Fang (Show 239, Ocean City, New Jersey)
Sean Byrne (Show 252, Chattanooga, Tennessee)
Elizabeth Sperry (Show 240, Boston, Massachusetts)
Tanner Jackson (Show 214, Iowa City, Iowa)
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.
“I imagine these experiences will be invaluable to my future, where I will continue to provide music for those who are willing to accept it.”
Ever since he was young, composer, pianist, and From the Top Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award recipient Franz Zhao (Show 257) has seen the inspiring effect that music can have on others. He used that inspiration to create his own organization the Youth Music Society of San Francisco. Franz recruited musical friends and colleagues to join him in sharing classical music with audiences who otherwise have limited access to musical performances. The majority of their performances have been at retirement homes, and the residents have been truly grateful for their visits.
Franz shares more about Youth Music Society below…
I am proud of my ability to lead and my overall willingness to help, whether it be organizing concerts for the elderly, or more contained matters, such as volunteering at summer camps. Several years ago, I took these ideas and founded a small, non-profit organization called the Youth Music Society of San Francisco. This organization consists of myself along with a several of my friends and classmates. Our aim is to bring concerts to those who cannot access them by normal means – this typically leads us to senior centers and senior homes, where we play music for the elderly. We typically put on concerts several times a year, usually occurring during our school breaks.
Therefore, there are usually one or two holiday concerts during our winter break, another during spring break, and few more during the summer. We have also organized a few benefit concerts, including one to help support the San Francisco Boys’ Chorus 2011 Russia Tour – the money we raised help pay for choristers’ travel needs.
Ever since I was young, I would periodically play at my grandparents’ senior apartment for their holiday parties, most often during the Lunar New Year celebration. After each performance, I would have many tearful elders come up to thank me. Using this inspiration, I have continued the tradition over the past several years. Playing music for these elders with my organization has deepened and ignited a passion in playing for them. The happiness of these seniors matters most to me, and through these concerts I am able to share my passion and joy with them.
Involving myself with these activities has allowed me to see the world with a brighter perspective. In this sense, playing music at senior centers and senior homes has helped me understand how much our elders appreciate music. I imagine these experiences will be invaluable to my future, where I will continue to provide music for those who are willing to accept it.
Nicholas King is a Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award recipient who appeared on Show 177 in New Albany, Ohio, and the experience was life-changing. He says, “From the Top and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation showed me the importance of supporting young musicians. Without the scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation I wouldn’t have been able to attend school. The performance on NPR allowed me a great performance opportunity, as well as chance to meet other talented musicians.”
After appearing on the show, Nicholas attended the Glenn Gould School at the renowned Royal Conservatory of Music where he received his performance diploma, along with the title of being the first freshman to ever win their Concerto Competition. Nicholas also received a standing ovation for his concert performance at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in July of 2010. Now, Nicholas is helping guide young performers along the same musical path with his own non-profit organization, Art of Giving Back.
In their own words, the volunteer artists at Art of Giving Back “share their time and talents to teach and mentor young musicians. We help them to develop their own talents and leadership skills which will last a lifetime.” Nicholas organized the program so that graduate level musicians could help instruct young aspiring performers to advance professionally. The program’s team of professional volunteers guides young artists in applying to professional music programs, setting up performances, and improving their skills.
The program offers free workshops that focus on practicing, performing, and applying to music schools. Nicholas explains that the workshops are “interactive and informative – we share our experiences with the class and answer any questions that they might have.” Art of Giving Back offers master classes to music middle and high schools. Nicholas and his fellow instructors also connect with young musicians through The Young Artist Forum online, where musicians can give and receive feedback to each other.
When we spoke with Nicholas about the future of the organization, he expressed his hope for it’s growth, saying “I would like this to become a world-wide organization. I believe that we offer a much needed service to musicians everywhere. No musician should feel like they’re alone.”
To learn more about Nicholas and Art of Giving Back, visit their website at http://www.artofgivingback.org
…many times, people in nursing homes might not have opportunities to listen and experience the passion of music…I [was able] to share the wonders of music with others and bring happiness in to someone’s life.
Even at the age of 10, pianist and Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Avery Gagliano (Show 251) can see the positive influence that music can have on others. This notion inspired her to visit with the residents at the Sunrise Senior Living at Fox Hill. Avery played piano and violin for the program, and was joined by her sister Aniah Lin (also a pianist!) and best friend Zoe Fang (violin) – all three are students at the Levine School Music in Washington, D.C. There were nearly 30 residents at the concert, and they loved having the chance to meet Avery and her friends.
We asked Avery to tell us more about her experience at Fox Hill…
FTT: Tell us what inspired you to meet with these residents?
Avery: I wanted to have the opportunity to entertain elders and to enliven their day through music. I received tremendous support from my parents, friends, the staff at Fox Hill, and the residents living there, which really made me happy.
FTT: What were some of your favorite moments?
Avery: I never thought that anyone could appreciate the music as much as they did, and it was touching to see how much they enjoyed the performance. I’ll never forget watching the residents sing along while I was playing piano and violin. I’ll also never forget shaking hands and talking to them, and hearing their appreciation and nice comments.
All these memories created a new experience I never dreamed of, and I loved every moment. This experience helped me realize how important it was for me to perform at Fox Hill, and how happy they were to see kids creating music.
FTT: What did you learn from this experience?
Avery: Overall, I learned that music is one of the best ways to heal some of the sorrow and pain the elderly people may experience, and it was my pleasure to make up for the things people may have lost. We shared music with everyone and let them experience the true beauty of music.
15 year-old violinist and Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Jieming Tang (Show 251) found a “second home” with the parishioners at Saint Colman Catholic Church in Cleveland, OH – their support was truly helpful during his transition to the United States. Jieming shares more below:
As newcomers to America from China, everything was new to us, and settling down and adapting to the totally new environment was very difficult in the first couple of years. We always got kind help from the parishioners when we were in need. For example, most of our furniture was given by them. When we were moving to a new apartment, many of them offered to drive their trucks for transporting, free of charge. Our bikes were stolen four times, and they always gave us bikes immediately afterwards. Everybody in the community was very kind and friendly to us, and we were so lucky to have all of them. They made us feel at home and involved, not feeling lonely and isolated like many newcomers do.
When Jieming heard about the church’s recent financial struggles, he wanted to find a way to give back to the community that had given him so much. He recorded a collection of beloved classics, such as “Ave Maria” and “Meditation from Thais,” and launched a CD sale in hopes of raising funds for the church. Over 900 copies of the CD were sold in just two weeks, raising over $1,000 for Saint Colman! The CD is still available for purchase on the church website.
We asked Jieming to share more about his experience…
FTT: What inspired you to record your own CD?
Jieming: Once after Mass, I had been chatting with Father Bob in jest, when he said since so many people enjoyed my music very much, maybe I could consider recording a CD. My eyes immediately lit up at the idea….St. Colman Church was facing capital shortages and had just begun a campaign to keep the church open. I had been thinking about doing something to give back to this community which had helped me in a big way, as well as to promote classical music. Why not record a CD for sale, with the proceeds donated to the Church’s capital campaign, to achieve these goals?
FTT: Who else was involved with this project?
Jieming: I (reached out to) Sister Mary Beth Gray, who is the music minister at the church, about this idea the next time I met her. She was very excited about this idea and was very supportive of it. We (decided to) make the recording in late Fall, so we would have enough time to prepare for it. The CD would then be ready in time for the Christmas season.
FTT: Walk us through the steps you had to take with this process…
Jieming: There were numerous things to consider: music selection, recording place and engineers, CD cover design, pianist/organist, mastering/post-production, duplication, marketing, etc. I made a list of 20 possible pieces and discussed with Sr. Mary Beth several times. Finally we narrowed it down to 12 pieces, which was a decent amount for a CD. The repertoire comprises mostly easy-listening classical music, with some religious music and technically complicated music.
After a lot of communication and coordination with the relevant parties, we finally settled the recording dates on November 16 and 17, which were the earliest available times of Kulas Hall. It is at Cleveland Institute of Music, and has excellent acoustics and an organ.
FTT: How did everything turn out?
Jieming: The 1,000 copies of CDs finally came out for sale on December 10 after months of hard work and hundreds of emails. We were all extremely excited about it. The sales were better than we had expected. Several hundred copies had been pre-ordered by the community and my schools. By Christmas Eve, more than 900 copies had been sold in just two weeks! I have received a lot of positive reviews from the buyers. Here is a note sent to me from one of them:
Jieming, I have been selling your CDs at my Beauty Salon and a client purchased 3 CDs yesterday after listening to your music. He left the Salon and returned shortly after with this gift [an exquisite Hohner harmonica] for you. He is also a musician. He said to have fun & enjoy!
FTT: What did you learn from this project?
Jieming: I learned how to face challenges and overcome difficulties. I also realized how wonderful, loving, and helping others are, and how joyful it is to bring others music and to serve others. This project was one of the most challenging things in my life. Because of my heavy schoolwork and busy schedule at the Cleveland Institute of Music and Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra, finding time to practice the repertoire was always a struggle. Sometimes I felt overwhelmed and exhausted, but after the project was finally completed successfully, it was one of the happiest times of my life
Since playing for rescue workers at Ground Zero following the September 11th attacks, From the Top alum William Harvey has made it his life’s mission to bridge cultures and promote peace through music. As one of the first young musicians to ever appear on From the Top back in 1999, we reconnected with William during our 10th anniversary season in 2009 to learn about the non-profit he founded, Cultures in Harmony. It turns out we caught him at the beginning of an amazing new journey…he revealed to us then that he was going to move to Kabul to be a violin teacher at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. Was he crazy to move to a country that had for much of the past twenty years banned music?
Fast forward three years, William is one of seven Western teachers at the institute, which teaches 150 students, half of whom have grown up on the streets. Significantly, in a country where access to education is difficult for women, there are 35 female music students. In addition to teaching private violin lessons, William is also the conductor of the Afghan Youth Orchestra. This February, he and his colleagues brought 48 Afghan students to the United States for the first time.
“It’s the responsibility of a musician to defend the right of human beings everywhere to be musical and to express themselves through music. We’re celebrating a victory: the return of music,” William told The New York Times.
William and his colleagues from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music performed at the Kennedy Center (February 7), Carnegie Hall (February 12), and New England Conservatory (February 14).
NPR: From a Land Where Music Was Banned