From the Blog: For Teachers
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
This 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
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.
“Geistliches Wiegenlied” (Sacred Lullaby) from Two Songs for Alto, Viola and Piano, Op.91, No.2
By: Johannes Brahms
Michaella Cipriani, 17, mezzo-soprano
This 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.
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
From 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…
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
We 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, including 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.
9-year-old violinist Elizabeth Aoki charmed listeners when she appeared on Show 261 in Boston, Massachusetts. During a visit to Phoenix, Arizona with her mother, Elizabeth’s musical talent also won the hearts of residents living at the Freedom Plaza Retirement Community. She worked with a family friend to organize the event and played some violin favorites for the residents (check out the program below!). They loved having the chance to meet such a talented young violinist.
The thing I most enjoy about music is getting to go to different places and dressing up. I also like seeing the smiling faces of people in the audience enjoying my music. It seems like the people that listened to me play enjoy classical music. Because of this experience, I may want to play for retirement centers again. – Elizabeth Aoki
Symphonie espagnole in D minor – I. Allegro non troppo
Sonata No. 1 in G minor – Adagio
Pablo de Sarasate
Introduction and Tarantella
Variations on Amazing Grace
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.
Post-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.
When I sing “The Lordly Hudson,” I think about my hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana. I think about my hometown because I feel this piece is an expression of hometown glory. The passenger that is speaking repeatedly emphasize that there is no river like the Hudson in any part of the world, and this is a parallel to me believing that there is no place like New Orleans in this world.
This piece is unique in that it doesn’t talk about passionate love for a lover like a lot of my pieces do. Therefore, this piece makes it somewhat easier for me to draw a parallel to since I have a place that I feel is like no other – it is a character that feels closer to me.
I imagine that I am dancing when playing this piece! It feels like a gypsy dance. It is very contrasting, because of a slow dance and a fast dance. The thing that is unique about this piece is the fact that there is so much in just 5 minutes. The important thing to do is to contrast between the slow dance and the fast dance. That is the hardest to nail because one has to be expressive and the other must be light.
Post-Show Reflection: I really enjoyed the first time being interviewed and performing on radio, and being on From the Top! Also, it was great making new friends, and then there was the unforgettable snowstorm! It was so great to play a fantastic Hamburg Steinway in the amazing acoustics of the WGBH studio. It was very interesting to see what goes on in the making of a radio program and also how everyone works in the control room. Also, it is cool to see the phrase ‘On The Air’ light up in red!
The music evokes a different scene and character for each dance. The first dance presents a proud, declarative tune with a glimpse of a hidden, singing softer side. The second dance reminds me of an interesting pair of characters, either dancing or singing a duet. One is a playful soprano, while the other is a matching bass. The third dance is a nighttime scene: it’s dark and quiet, a fire flickers as an instrument plays a gypsy-like song. The fourth is reflective, melancholy, as if it’s an older character who is thinking of a past story. The fifth begins with a bright ring of sound, and the piano and cello have a lot of energy and fun that reaches the audience by the end.
There are so many different moods and characters in the folk dance that I have to create. I have to consider how to relate them to the audience, meaning I have to think about even the presentation for the music. It’s a lot of fun!
Kate Arndt, 15, violin
We have a pretty funny story that we relate to this piece when we’re playing it. We imagine a surprise party as an explanation for the mysterious element in the movement. The anticipation builds throughout the piece. There are a couple of places where we imagine the people thinking that the special guest has arrived, only to be left wondering. The end is when the party starts
This piece is pretty unusual. When we first started it, we didn’t really understand it. After working with it for a while, we’ve gained a sense of what the piece is about. I think the hardest thing about it is the level of detail. Brahms will mark certain effects in the music that make us wonder. Sometimes it’s hard to achieve exactly what we want and what Brahms would have wanted.
Zlatomir Fung, 13, cello
In all honesty, the last movement of the Brahms C Major Trio strikes me as being very quirky. It is definitely a beautiful and exciting piece, but some of the harmonies are quite strange in comparison to other music composed by Brahms. Despite all this, it is a blast to play and perform. When I play through the movement, there always seems to be this underlying energy, something boiling underneath. The piece builds up until the end where Brahms lets loose and expresses all the joy that has been held in. In the middle of the piece, there is a moment where all the instruments are playing very softly: my compatriots and I love to image small rodents scurrying frantically on the ground at that moment.
One of the relatively difficult aspects of this particular piece is simply figuring out what to do with it. At first, it just seems sort of weird, but after a deeper inspection, it is possible to find profound meaning in the music. Then, the struggle of the execution comes. Many of the textures in the music are difficult to create, particularly in the soft sections. Another tricky aspect of the piece is finding powerful contrast between the passionate, strong moments and the reserved, quiet moments. However, even in the softest moments, it is crucial to maintain a certain amount of tension and energy in the sound in order to preserve the excitement that is always present throughout the movement.
Post-Show Reflection: Since this show of From the Top occurred during the Great Blizzard of 2013, the weekend went a little differently than I had expected. The Back Bay trio stayed at the Colonnade Hotel in Boston, so we rehearsed and hung out over the course of three days; I found it particularly enjoyable to spend time with my comrades because we got to bond and know one another better. I loved working with the staff at From the Top (they are so wonderful!) and meeting the other musicians on the show. It was really a thrill to be surrounded by such dedicated and talented people.
I enjoyed playing in the Fraser Studio at WGBH! Of course it was a little different than a normal taping performance, but it was nevertheless thrilling. It was fun to be on the stage with my trio, especially considering that the hall is very intimate and has wonderful acoustics.
What Music Means to Me: Music has the power to transcend political, religious, and racial boundaries between peoples and appeal to the deepest parts of the human emotional spectrum.
I love this piece! I think it’s my favorite movement of the quartet – of course, technically it’s rather awkward for piano and therefore challenging, but I feel as though Brahms writes for the music, not for the player, which I really love about his works. They just sound so well-coordinated, so right, and this is no exception. Actually, Kate, Zlati and I enjoy making up little stories about the music. For example, in the development section, we imagine little animals scurrying around preparing for a surprise party.
Every measure of the piece has to have some sort of intensity in the mood, so it’s key to have good focus when playing it. Also it’s very abrupt in it’s dynamic transitions, so it’s easy to play contrasting sections only half-heartedly. One important thing Kate, Zlati and I constantly work on is playing everything to its full extent, even if it means blasting a joyous fortissimo that seems awkward or really cherishing the few more intimate moments.
Post-Show Reflection: Kate, Zlati, and I (the members of the trio) eating out at 5 Napkin Burger and having super heated debates on basically everything over decadent chunky milkshakes. It was the first time I’d ever performed at the WBGH Fraser Performance Studio, so it was pretty fun! The room was really nice and cozy. The piano was a little dull, though – it threw me off a little bit in some parts, but I was able to adjust fairly quickly. All in all, good times!
What Music Means to Me: Over the years, I’ve seen music do so many things: bring people closer together, comfort someone going through a hard time, build character, give people a purpose in life. But if I were to sum all of it up in one sentence, I’d say that music has the power to make anyone and everyone happy in some way. It certainly has for me.
While on tour, we have visited some really inspiring music programs in schools across the country. For our taping with the Colorado Symphony this January, we had the opportunity to connect with El Sistema Colorado – a program dedicated to “transform[ing] the lives of children through music.” They are in residence at the Garden Place Academy in Denver, where we brought performer Emily Switzer (a Denver-based violinist!) to meet a group of fourth grade students involved in the program.
Emily shared a variety of repertoire, from a regal Bach to a flashy Paganini. She also wanted to see just how much these students knew about the violin, asking them how different parts of the instrument contribute to the sound. The young musicians were so excited to answer that they were practically leaping out of their seats!
Another memorable moment was Emily’s impromptu performance of “Jingle Bells” – a piece that the students had just performed for their holiday concert. After the performance, their teacher noted how hearing Emily perform that familiar piece with such talent was very inspiring for the students, demonstrating how they could keep improving on one piece of repertoire.
You can watch these highlights and more in the video below – enjoy!
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
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
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 the 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 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 Litomyšl, 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.
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. When 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 that 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 piece 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 with 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 two 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 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!