By Rachel Anderson EBS Contributor
BIG SKY – NPR host Christopher O’Riley recorded the 312th edition of the hit radio show “From the Top,” live to a full house at Big Sky’s Warren Miller Performing Arts Center on Sept. 27.
Based in Boston, From the Top is an independent nonprofit organization that celebrates the power of music in the hands of extraordinary young people. Its weekly, one-hour classical music program is the most popular on public radio, heard by more than half a million listeners in over 220 markets.
With part of its mission to reach new audiences through “ … a deeper appreciation for classical music,” “From the Top” won over the Big Sky community.
“We try to have an array of instrumentation, repertoire, gender, ethnicity, age and personalities,” said From the Top co-CEO Jennifer Hurley-Wales, who founded the organization 16 years ago with fellow Massachusetts native Gerald Slavet.
“There are lots of criteria that go into creating the right soup for each program,” Hurley-Wales said.The Big Sky rendition of the show featured five different artists from around the country, ranging in age from 14-18. Showcasing both vocal and instrumental talent, Hurley-Wales highlighted the variety producers strive for with each show.
“We are creating a show that is very specific to the location,” Hurley-Wales said. “We make sure we have local talent to feature, and we always have a scholarship student on each show.”
The production in WMPAC featured two scholarship students and Bozeman native Stephanie Anderson, who performed “Slavonic Fantasy” by Carl Höhne on her trumpet. Christopher O’Riley accompanied her on the piano.
A recent graduate of Bozeman High School, Anderson currently attends Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.
“When I play, I really enjoy the emotional connection that I can put through the piece,” said Anderson, 18. “It’s like counseling without words. You are able to express that with the audience, and when they get excited, I get excited.”
“From the Top” performers learn to take music beyond the concert hall, working with the organization’s education and outreach team to develop the skills needed to create positive change through music.
On Sept. 28 and 29 at Ophir School, performers of the “From the Top” Arts Leadership outreachprogram connected with local students, each having the opportunity to play their instrument with the talented performers and experience the power of classical music firsthand.
“It’s setting them up with a philosophy and mindset to support them as they develop,” Hurley-Wales said.
Creating an interactive learning schedule, “From the Top” performers worked together with students in classroom workshops and took the stage at an assembly matinee performance, which included Big Sky eighth grader Emma Flach, and seventh grader Michael Romney.
The Arts Council of Big Sky presented the production with financial support from several foundations.
The live recording at WMPAC will air nationally the week of Nov. 23, and “From the Top” can be heard Sundays at noon locally on Yellowstone Public Radio.
‘From the Top’ workshops
On Sept. 28 and Sept. 29, young musicians in “From the Top” engaged students of all ages in the Big Sky Community. With an assembly matinee performance on Sept. 28, Ophir students were exposed to talent and leadership through classical music.
Two arts leadership workshops on Sept. 29 provided students with a greater opportunity to connect with the performers. The 50-minute workshops – one for high school students, one for middle schoolers – gave students a chance to ask questions and play instruments with all five “From the Top” performers.
Led by Micheal Dahlberg, “From the Top” program manager, the group built upon a hand-clapped beat. Each student added depth and dimension to the impromptu performance, and with the array of instruments played, students relied on one another to create a complete sound.
Several “From the Top” members described Big Sky students as being the most engaged group they’ve worked with.