NMM and NPR will join forces for ‘From the Top’ taping

By Travis Gulbrandson


The National Music Museum (NMM) will be kicking off its 40th anniversary with the help of a nationally-syndicated radio program.

On Sept. 15 at 3 p.m., NPR’s “From the Top” will tape a program in the Aalfs Auditorium using several instruments borrowed from the museum.

“The show is really a perfect fit for us,” said Cleveland Johnson, Ph.D., director of the NMM. “It’s something fun for us to offer to our friends and members of the community and the region … but at the same time, it’s a national show, so it also gets our name out there to three-quarters of a million listeners in the entire nation.”

Hosted by pianist Christopher O’Riley, “From the Top” features advanced musicians who are under the age of 18, and allows them the opportunity to display their performing skills, as well as the non-musical aspects of their lives.

“They’re just kids like any other kids,” Johnson said. “They like to play video games, they like to hang out with their friends, they like sleeping late on the weekends. At the same time, they practice four hours a day and they can play amazing, complicated classical music to a degree that most of us can only dream of.”

Each program features several different performers, who in addition to playing music will also be interviewed by O’Riley.

“He has a wonderful way of pulling them into a discussion and bringing out the fun side of their lives outside of music,” Johnson said. “There’s the performance, and then there’s the fun banter between him and the performers.

“It just makes you feel good about the next generation coming up – their work ethic, their talent and their devotion to art. It’s a very feel-good kind of show,” he said.

The show will be taped at Aalfs Auditorium and then edited down to a one-hour program, which will be syndicated across the country in approximately 250 different NPR markets.

The show will be broadcast toward the end of October, Johnson said.

Sept. 15’s program will feature eight performers:

  • The Luna String Quartet, which features Anna Humphrey, 17-year-old violinist from Rogers, MN; Emma Richman, 15-year-old violinist from Minneapolis; Alexandra Sophocleus, 18-year-old violist from Minneapolis; and Nora Doyle, 17-year-old cellist from Minneapolis;
  • Jon Corin, 18-year-old saxophone player from Sarasota, FL;
  • Henry Johnston, 16-year-old guitar player from St. Paul;
  • Maya Anjali Buchanan, 13-year-old violinist from Rapid City; and
  • Evan Lee, 15-year-old pianist from Brooklyn, NY.

Johnson said “From the Top” holds auditions throughout the year, and has a stable of performers that it has available to pull into one show or another.

However, it also does a push for auditions in the immediate area of its taping locations. It was from one of these auditions that Buchanan was found, Johnson said.

All of these students will be coming early so that they can experience the museum.

“The ‘From the Top’ routine officially starts on Saturday evening, when they have their first run-through with Christopher O’Riley … but they’re actually coming earlier so that they can spend time here during the day,” Johnson said. “We’re going to be giving them a very specialized look at our instruments depending on their interests.”

A couple of the NMM’s instruments also will be used in the show, including one of its historic pianos, a Viennese grand from 1815, on which O’Riley will perform.

“He could perform Beethoven on a piano from the time when Beethoven was still alive, from the city in which Beethoven lived, so who knows?” Johnson said. “Beethoven could very easily have crossed paths with this piano. We can dream about that.”

The NMM also will be bringing a modern piano built on a historic model to use with Buchanan’s solo.

The “From the Top” taping will be the first event the museum will hold in honor of its 40th anniversary, which took place in July.

“Basically everything we do over the coming year will be in that rubric of the 40th anniversary,” Johnson said.

The taping came about last winter when Johnson was in New York meeting with the vice president at IMG, a major international arts management company.

During the meeting, it was suggested to Johnson that he reach out to “From the Top.”

“I sent an e-mail to the producer when I was still in New York,” Johnson said. “It was late Saturday night, probably about 10:30, and I just fired off a message.”

By the time he checked his e-mail at 8 the next morning, there already was a response.

It turns out that South Dakota was on the program’s “bucket list.”

“Like so often in my experiences her for the last 10 months, even though people haven’t heard about us often, it doesn’t take a whole lot to get their attention,” Johnson said. “That’s one of the fun things about this job.”

This won’t be the last time the NMM is involved with a national radio program, either. Johnson said that later this year the museum’s performance hall will be host to a broadcast of “What Makes It Great,” which is hosted by Rob Kapilow and will feature the Rawlins Piano Trio.

Johnson said he is looking forward to it, as well as to the show later this month.

“The ‘From the Top’ people have been so wonderful to work with,” he said. “It is their show, but they bend over backwards to find ways to give us some love, so to speak, so that the sponsor of the show is showcased and recognized.”

For tickets and other information about the taping, visit http://orgs.usd.edu/nmm/News/From%20the%20Top/FromTheTop.html.

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