Meet the Artist: Chelsea Kim

Music is often referred to as the “universal language.” 17-year-old violinist Chelsea Kim knows this is true. Having moved several times throughout her childhood, Chelsea performed in retirement centers, hospitals, and churches in every new community. This gave her a sense of music’s power to connect people, a theme that would become very important to her life’s path.

At an early age, Chelsea’s younger brother Daniel was diagnosed with middle-intensity autism. One of his challenges is that while he feels emotions, he finds it difficult to express them. Daniel would always listen to Chelsea as she practiced, enjoying the sounds that emanated from her instrument. But it wasn’t until he began to hum along with her playing that Chelsea and her family realized that not only had he memorized entire concertos, but that he was communicating his emotions. They have since cherished this unique opportunity to connect as a family.

In 2013, while a high school student at the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, Chelsea appeared on From the Top with Host Christopher O’Riley Show 267, recorded in Boston’s WGBH Fraser Performance Studio.


Chelsea Kim performing on Show 267 in WGBH’s Fraser Performance Studio

In addition to appearing on From the Top, Chelsea received the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, a $10,000 scholarship given to extraordinary young musicians with financial need. Everyone who receives the Award is required to do an extended outreach project that brings their musical gifts out into the community.

Knowing the power of music to communicate with her brother, Chelsea decided to use her arts leadership project to bring music to other children with special needs. Shortly after coming on the show, Chelsea began her undergraduate work at Juilliard and quickly became a member of a string trio.

Her fellow trio members decided to join her in her mission. After researching several possible venues – from special education programs to community centers – Chelsea and her trio decided to reach out to Kidzone TV at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Kidzone TV produces live programming three times a day for pediatric patents and families on a dedicated channel within the hospital.

In her own words, Chelsea describes the experience of doing a live performance on the station:

We were led through the back door of the hospital. This was the section of the hospital for children who were extremely sick and had such vulnerable immune systems that they were not allowed outside contact.

Before we were recorded, there was an ‘advertisement’ section of the program. The ad featured the fragile young patients waving their hands and counting down for the program to start. Seeing this changed our dubious attitudes. We played our hearts out, just as if the children were right in front of us.

After the performance, the general manager of the Kidzone program had some words of affirmation for the trio.

“Thank you so much,” she said. “You have no idea how much our children love when musicians such as yourselves come and play for them. Even though it may be through the screen, the children’s blood pressure dropped as they heard you. The music you guys play creates miracles for our patients.”

Chelsea describes the impact of the visit:

This experience gave me tremendous insight and more assurance that music is a communication source for all kinds of people. Despite the fact that my trio members had never seen the patients, and vice versa, the music was our connection point.

As we go find a tissue, we also applaud Chelsea’s success in this project, and look forward to how she continues sharing music’s transcendent powers.

Chelsea Kim

Milestones, Music, and More

Over the last 10 years, From the Top and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation have worked hard to ensure that financial need does not keep extraordinary young people from realizing their dreams. More than $2 million in scholarships have been awarded to more than 200 young musicians through the From the Top Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award. The two non-profit organizations (who also happen to be celebrating their 15th anniversaries) are marking this remarkable milestone with a special recording of NPR’s hit radio show, From the Top with host Christopher O’Riley, in Washington, DC, at the Lisner Auditorium on October 24.

As Harold Levy, Executive Director for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, explains, “Every time a gifted child is unable to realize his or her full potential because the family lacks the means for support, a little bit of the American dream dies.”

The $10,000 Young Artist Award helps musicians and their families bridge the gap in paying for instruments, private music lessons, and summer camp tuition. In addition, recipients perform on From the Top’s national radio show and receive arts leadership training, designed to inspire young musicians to use their gifts to improve their own communities. Each Young Artist also completes an arts leadership project in their home community and reports back to From the Top to document their progress.

While the Award provides a very tangible financial benefit, many of the recipients share that the award gives them something less concrete, but equally powerful: the encouragement to pursue their goals. 18-year-old soprano Olivia Cosio received the award in 2014. She said:

The Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award allowed me to reach goals that would have been otherwise unattainable. I was reminded that someone believed in my abilities and the abilities of many other young musicians.

On October 24, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation will sponsor a special recording of From the Top, presented by Washington Performing Arts at GW Lisner Auditorium. This exciting concert recording will showcase and celebrate Young Artist Award recipients:

  • 8-year-old pianist Oscar Paz-Suaznabar from Alexandria, Virginia
  • 15-year-old violinist Kiarra Saito-Beckman from Bend, Oregon
  • 16-year-old flutist Taiga Ultan originally from New York City and currently studying at Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan.
  • Marcelina Suchocka, an alum of From the Top and a previous recipient of the Young Artist Award, will appear with her percussion ensemble, Excelsis.
  • The Washington Performing Arts’ Children of the Gospel choir, which is supported, in part, by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

The October 24 recording of From the Top is presented by Washington Performing Arts and sponsored by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. For tickets and information, visit

Meet the Artist: Mira Williams

NAME: Mira Williams
AGE: 16
HOMETOWN: Chicago, Illinois
PERFORMED ON: Shows 277 and 287

Mira Williams is a dedicated and passionate young musician with strong beliefs and a firm commitment to improving her music. In April, she stepped up to the microphone at the New World Center in Miami Beach, Florida, and stunned audience members with a powerful performance of Fantasie by Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Her interview was peppered with humor as she discussed her “viola rights” efforts – “It’s honestly one of the most beautiful instruments ever and it’s so underrated,” she told us – and she spoke eloquently about increasing diversity in classical music.

Yet Mira really lights up when talking about improving her playing and sharing her music with others. She studies at the Music Institute of Chicago, where she plays in the string orchestra and in a chamber group called Quartet Vox. She comes from a musical family; “I honestly can’t name one person in my immediate family that doesn’t play or sing or something,” she says.

After recording their show at New World Center, Mira and her fellow performers spent two intense days visiting local schools as part of From the Top’s arts outreach efforts. She was particularly inspired by her visit to Miami Northwestern Senior High School, where she and the other performers met with an after school band group. She was impressed with the band musically, as well as their dedication to music, and says she learned “to make sure the outreach experience is beneficial to all parties involved. I can bring my music to others, but they also have lessons to share with me.”

After returning to Chicago, Mira was invited by the Rembrandt Chamber Players to visit the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School, an all-girls public school in Chicago dedicated to empowering young women to transform their lives through education. Mira spent the afternoon with a flute player from the Rembrandt Chamber Orchestra in a visual art classroom. As Mira played, the students drew what the music represented to them. While nervous at first, Mira became more excited as she heard from the students. She tells us: “It was nice to hear people who aren’t classically trained talk about what they heard and cool to see how my music looked visually in their artwork.”

Later, Mira returned to the school with her ensemble, Quartet Vox. Many of the students remembered her from her first visit to the school and cheered for her. She said, “Having the whole quartet there allowed me to show how my viola sounded in relation to the other instruments. The students really seemed to enjoy the music; several said they wanted to learn how to play, so we referred them to music schools.”

Mira has received From the Top’s Jack Kent Cooke Young artist award and plans to use the $10,000 scholarship to purchase a new viola and continue her studies at the Academy of the Music Institute of Chicago.

Mira performed on Show 277 in Bowling Green, Ohio as part of the Quartet Lumiére and most recently on Show 287 at New World Symphony in Miami Beach, Florida.

Meet the Artist: Gregorio Lopes

quoteprofileNAME: Gregorio Lopes
AGE: 18
HOMETOWN: Bloomington, Indiana
INSTRUMENT: Violin and viola

“My favorite part about playing music has come to be its healing quality,” says 18-year-old violinist/violist Gregorio Lopes. When his ensemble, the Violin Virtuosi, traveled to Brazil, Gregorio remembers playing for children who lived in shanty towns and being struck by how they responded to music. “Their faces lit up when we played,” he recalls. “It was just magical.” He felt a similar sense of connection and inspiration playing for children in the Bronx and for the elderly in senior living facilities. “It’s amazing to see the power music has,” he says.

From personal experience, Gregorio knows just how strong the healing power of music can be. When his parents were going through a messy divorce, music became a welcome respite from the pain he was experiencing. “I fled to my violin during those hard days,” he recalls. “Music was one of the things that was still a constant. It was my way of finding peace.”

Gregorio’s musical life began at the age of 5 when he met the most famous resident of his hometown, the great violinist Joshua Bell. The circumstances were rather unusual; Gregorio and his sister were waiting for their mother to finish a therapy appointment, and into the waiting room strolled the psychologist’s son, who was none other than Joshua Bell. Gregorio recognized the hometown superstar immediately. “He talked with me and was so nice, and I was just taken with him,” he remembers. “From that very moment I decided I wanted to play violin just like him.”

See Gregorio playing with the Violin Virtuosi

See Gregorio playing with the Violin Virtuosi

These days, Gregorio spends much of his time playing music with the Violin Virtuosi, a small group of dedicated string players from the Pre-College String Academy at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. With them, he has performed all around the United States as well as in Argentina, Brazil, Denmark, and Sweden.

As important as music is, academics hold an equally important place in Gregorio’s life. He enjoys challenging himself in school and is drawn to math, psychology, and aeronautics. Next year, he will head to Stanford University where he plans to study engineering. “It was a very difficult choice to decide not to devote myself entirely music,” he explains, “but I have so many other interests I also want to explore.”

Still, music will remain an important part of Gregorio’s life. Thanks to From the Top’s $10,000 Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, Gregorio will soon be the proud owner of a new viola ­– the first instrument he has ever had the opportunity to own.

Gregorio performed on Show 283 at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall in Boston, Massachusetts. He played Melodie, Op.42, No.3 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Listen now.

Taeguk Mun Performs to Benefit Children Around the World

16-year-old cellist Taeguk Mun wanted to support the efforts of his church, Hyo Shin Bible Presbyterian Church of New York, NY, in their missions abroad. He organized a recital to benefit a charity program supporting children in Bangladesh, and managed to raise just under $1,000 for the cause! With the help of his church, his family, and From the Top, Taeguk was able to organize a successful performance. He was accompanied by Noreen Polera on the piano, with a guest appearance by the Hyo Shin Little Choir.

“I learned that through what I love to do the most, I can help people in so many different ways. I can have benefit concerts to help a cause, or I can just play my music and make people feel happy and relaxed. I think it is amazing how I can actually make people feel any emotion through my music.”

Read more about Taeguk’s benefit recital on our Arts Leadership Map!

Taeguk on From the Top in Abilene, TX, November 2010. Photo by John Best

Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Spotlight: Marcus Rose

Violist and Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Marcus Rose is a 17-year-old musician from Louisiana with a warm and easy-going personality. To hear him play (and attendees of our November show in Baton Rouge did), it would be easy to believe his musical accomplishments have come without challenges. In reality, without the help of three special benefactors Marcus probably wouldn’t be where he is today.

Marcus on From the Top, November 2010

One of the strongest influences in Marcus’s musical life has been his grandmother. It was at her insistence that he began playing the piano at age 4. After that, he started studying the viola in elementary school, remembering “the first time I picked up a stringed instrument, I knew it was the thing for me.”

Marcus’s grandmother has supported his musical career by financially contributing towards audition trips and summer camps, though perhaps of greater importance is her emotional support. “She’s the one I can always count on being excited…equally excited as I am when I win something!”

But Marcus isn’t just getting support from his family – a fellow musician’s mother has also lent more than a helping hand in Marcus’s musical development. “I’m really close to [Mrs. Crawford] because she’s always been there for me.”

Mrs. Crawford has helped Marcus apply for and subsequently receive multiple scholarships, including the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and From the Top. Her support has enabled Marcus to get important training through access to programs like the Sewanee Summer Music Festival.

Marcus’s dedicated support system further extends to his private teacher, Borys Smolaga. Says Marcus, “Mr Smolaga is an amazing man and he’s been incredibly generous. Last year we were trying to build resumes for colleges and he said, ‘You need a good resume. We’re going to look at local competitions and we’re going to enter them.’ But I’d never really done any competitions!”

When it came time for his first competition, the First Annual Texarkana Concerto Competition, Marcus couldn’t find a ride to the location. Mr. Smolaga stepped in and not only provided transportation, but also hired a pianist out of his own pocket so that Marcus could have an accompanist. “He volunteered to take me…it was an all day thing and he calmed my nerves.”

Marcus is completing his senior year at Caddo Magnet High School in Shreveport, Louisiana, and has a clear view of his future.

Here’s an excerpt from the beautiful thank you letter he recently wrote in response to being selected for the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award:

This past year has unveiled a series of unimaginable events that impacted my life, mainly concerning contributions from your generous establishment. When I was notified of my being a recipient of the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, I was literally floored with no words to express my heartfelt gratitude. My grandmother continues to remind me that without this award, there was no absolute way I would be able to make it to even one of my dream conservatories for auditions, let alone college visits. That all changed with one letter in the mail.

I still cannot believe how lucky and blessed I was to come across such a charitable and generous foundation that supported not only mine but thousands of others’ growth in music. Your kind acts are truly those of miracle workers. You will never know how deeply thankful my family and I are because of you working miracles in my life. I promise to continue pursuing my dreams…and advocating classical music wherever I go, ensuring that I will make you proud with my every success. I hope that your foundation continues to prosper and work miracles in at least another thousand young artists’ lives.

Marcus appeared on Show #222 in Baton Rouge on November 2, 2010. Listen to the show on our website. In 2011, he was accepted to Oberlin Conservatory, New England Conservatory, Manhattan School of Music, and the Juilliard School. In mid-April, he signed the intent to enroll in The Juilliard School, which included a full scholarship.

“This is the school I’ve dreamed about since I started viola! And I got my dream teacher! I’m still in shock. It doesn’t feel real! Because of [the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s] help I can truly attend my dream school, advance my education, and live the life of a professional musician.”

Tim Woos Shows How Making Music can be Fun with the “Composing Game”

This spring, 17 year-old composer/bassoonist Tim Woos, a Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist, held composition workshops at two different schools in Vermont – the Integrated Arts Academy in Burlington and the North Branch School in Ripton. For each school, he created  a “composing game”: a program that engaged the students as composers using visual aids and noisemakers. It was a big hit!

Tim at the Integrated Arts Academy

Tim wanted to show the students how composing music is by no means linear, and that the possibilities are endless. Tim shares more:

Young students get bored easily. If they have to sit and listen, things go downhill fast. I think that if they’re involved with the composing game, it will give them the opportunity to get excited about concert music.”

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