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'From the Top' musicians bring workshop to Benton Heights

Pictured, from left, are flautist Olivia Staton, pianists Clara Gerdes, Hannah Wang and Sean Chen, violinist Qing Yu Chen and From the Top program manager Michael Dahlberg. The musicians are pictured offering an exercise that showed students how notes (represented by construction paper) could be arranged to make different sounds.

Five young musicians with From the Top came to Benton Heights Elementary School of the Arts recently to teach them a music workshop in order to teach them about music.

From the Top is a nonprofit organization based in Boston that features musicians from the ages of eight to 18.

The organization records a weekly show on National Public Radio. One show was recorded at the Wingate University Batte Center Saturday evening. Musicians apply and audition to be on the program.

Flautist Olivia Staton, Violinist Qing Yu Chen, Pianist Sean Chen and Pianists Clara Gerdes and Hannah Wang came to the elementary school to perform for and speak with the children.

Staton played her flute and demonstrated how different notes could be arranged to make different sounds by having the students rearrange pieces of construction paper that represented different notes. Other musicians performed and showcased what their instruments could do.

At the end, the students had a lot of questions for the musicians. They were very curious about how the musicians were able to memorize the music and perform with a book. Staton said it was memorization and that you had to practice the music enough that your fingers knew what to do.

The students wanted to know what happened when they forgot on stage or made a mistake. The musicians said you keep going and make the audience believe there was no mistake. Another musician said if you blank on the music, go back to the last part you remember and try again.

The musicians present started playing their instruments at ages eight, four, three, six and about four. They told the students they practice about four hours a day, though the hours varied for each musician.

Michael Dahlberg, a program manager and From the Top alumnus, said they like to produce events that go beyond the concert hall and the elementary school was recommended by staff at the Batte Center.

"This was one of the most welcoming schools," Dahlberg said.

He said that they showed the musicians around the school and they all seemed to wish they could go back in time and go to Benton Heights Elementary School of the Arts. He said he had not seen many performing arts elementary schools, calling it "one of a kind."

Frank Casstevens, arts coordinator at Benton Heights, was excited about the interactive program and "elated" to have artists of their caliber come to the school.

"I believe the children were excited," he said.

From the Top performed for the fifth-grade band students and the string-instrument students from second grade through fifth.

Casstevens said his main goals were to have the children see the level of performance from the young musicians and see how much work it took to get to their level.

"That was the goal, to inspire our children," he said.

The musicians who performed for the children were Sean Chen, a 25-year-old pianist and From the Top alumnus; 16-year-old flutist Olivia Staton from Vienna, Va.; 13-year-old violinist Qing Yi Chen from Oakland Gardens, New York who studies at Julliard; 17-year-old pianist Clara Gerdes from Davidson and 16-year old pianist Hannah Wang from Charlotte. Wang and Gerdes perform as a duo.

In addition to those five performers, 18-year-old bassoonist Isaac Schultz from Exeter, N.H. performed at Wingate University Saturday night.

The show is broadcast on Sundays at 5 p.m. on WDAV in Davidson, 89.9. The performance recorded at The Batte Center will broadcast the week of Dec. 16.

Written by: Carolyn Steeves, Education reporter for the Enquirer Journal and Deb Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator
Posted: Dec 03, 2013 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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