LSU College of Music and Dramatic Arts Announces Partnership with Pianist Christopher O'Riley, From The Top Program


The LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts lifted the curtain Dec. 9 on a partnership that aims to hit a high note in terms of promotion of performing arts and community engagement.

The college announced that internationally renowned pianist and media personality Christopher O'Riley will be affiliated with the college as its first Distinguished Visiting Artist and will hold the appointment from 2010 to 2013.

The announcement came during a press conference held Wednesday, Dec. 9, in the newly renovated Shaver Theater in the LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts.

O'Riley hosts the Emmy Award-winning National Public Radio, or NPR, and public television classical music series, From the Top, which has become the preeminent showcase for young musicians over the past decade.

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Watch the entire press conference | Play [65:38]

Christopher O'Riley's three-year residency as Distinguished Visiting Artist at LSU will have three components, College of Music & Dramatic Arts Dean Laurence Kaptain said.

These include:

  • Live events: A key component of the residency will be From the Top live tapings showcasing local talented musicians from the taping area and from across the country. From the Top tapings are community-building events for local families, groups and civic organizations and are produced in partnership with the state's arts presenters. Pre- and post-concert talks, demonstrations and receptions allow kids and adults to meet and learn about music and the young musicians who perform on the show.

  • Arts leadership training: The three-year residency will include events outside the concert hall that impact area youth by exposing them to From the Top peer role models age nine to 18. From the Top's Arts Leadership program enables young artists to recognize and articulate their unique talents and perspectives, create innovative ways to share their talent and ideas and return to their communities empowered as cultural leaders. These roles communicate the message that all children, regardless of background, can achieve their goals with discipline, passion and focus.

  • Community outreach: Residency activities conducted in community, after school or in-school settings can include education programs, live Arts Leader performances, Web-based activities and discussion forums and/or a regional essay contest. The flexibility in programming allows From the Top to reach the entire school aged population, or a targeted age bracket of students. In keeping with the belief that all children need active exposure to and involvement in the arts to fully develop their potential, From the Top's education initiatives reach young people from a wide variety of backgrounds, including those with the fewest resources.

"I've never been so thrilled at the concept of such an amazing residency," said O'Riley, who has been visiting Louisiana since 1981. "The concept of spending so much time in Louisiana is a great thrill for me."

O'Riley has also been named the university's first Honorary Distinguished Communicator and will be working with the university's Communication across the Curriculum program. Communication across the Curriculum is focused on enhancing learning experiences for students and improving their written, spoken, visual presentation and technological communication skills.

As part of O'Riley's appointment, Dean of the LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts Laurence Kaptain said, From the Top will record an episode on the LSU campus and three other episodes in other areas of the state. From the Top will also collaborate with LSU for a two- to three-year project of community engagement, partnerships, arts leadership and communication. This partnership will help to enhance performing arts programs in the community as well as encourage student participation and skill building in the performing arts.

"Christopher comes to us as someone who has stepped beyond the traditional role of a concert artist sequestered on the stage," Kaptain said. "He has embraced technology, media and popular culture while retaining his high artistic values. His residency as a performing artist and media personality demonstrates the new linkages that LSU must make with national media as well as popular culture."

In a message delivered via video, From the Top co-creator and executive producer Gerald Slavet expressed his optimism of working with LSU.

"When we started From the Top over a decade ago, the goal was to shine a spotlight on young classical musicians," Slavet said. "We believe that music is powerful stuff, and kids who play classical music on a high level are not only entertaining, but also inspirational for people of all ages.

From the Top showcases young musicians in many ways to an audience of more than a million people a week, Slavet said.

"In the past 10 years, we've grown from a weekly radio show on a handful of stations to a multi-faceted organization – our radio show, a rich-in-content Web site, in-school activities, live performances around the country and our Emmy Award-winning television series, which has been featured so well here on Louisiana Public Broadcasting," he said. "It's with great pride that we share these opportunities with all of you. We're thrilled to be partnering with LSU's College of Music & Dramatic Arts to share what we do and to showcase some of the great kids from Louisiana with the rest of the country."

O'Riley, a self-described "booster for classical music," said he finds most inspiring how young musicians offer peer inspiration to other students who may have an interest in music.

"Having an accordionist come in who has maybe been playing for a few years and play for someone their own age lets these kids see this and say, ‘I can do that,'" O'Riley said. "That's really the message behind our radio and television program. We have, as the flagship university in the state of Louisiana, the opportunity to have LSU at the center of these activities that will go into the schools across this state. We'll feature local kids and celebrate the great musical education and training that is available in this state. We'll exploit to the fullest the idea of distance learning and interactive possibilities in performance and teaching."

During the press conference event, O'Riley performed the "Ondine" movement from the 1909 Maurice Ravel piece, "Gaspard de la nuit." The composition tells the story of a lovelorn water sprite.

Funding for all aspects of the partnership is derived from designated funds from outside of the college and designated funding from donors interested in building the reputation and brand of the college, Kaptain said.

"Top" performers

Through award-winning NPR and PBS programs, online media, a national tour of live events and education programs, From the Top shares the stories and performances of pre-collegiate musicians with millions each week. Two thousand young artists age eight to 18 from nearly all of the 50 states have been featured on the From the Top radio and television programs. Over the years, the programs have also featured prominent guest artists including Yo Yo Ma, Hilary Hahn, Bobby McFerrin, Midori, Denise Graves, Bela Fleck, Joshua Bell and more.

Launched in 1999, the program reaches more than 700,000 loyal listeners each week. The show connects with a broad audience and is praised by teachers and parents as "accessible, educational and entertaining," with "real kids" and "real value."

From the Top has taped more than 200 radio broadcasts in America's premier concert halls – reaching more than 200,000 live audience members in 33 states.

The program also works to promote music education. To date, From the Top and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation have invested more than $1 million in scholarships to high achieving pre-collegiate musicians with financial need. In addition, From the Top's Arts Leadership Program encourages and mentors young performers to share their music with new audiences and give back to their communities. Each year, 10,000 students across the country experience the power of From the Top role models through classroom visits, media and lesson plans.

LSU already has ties to From the Top, as current master's student in trumpet performance Halie Silverman appeared on the program in the past during an episode recorded in Albuquerque.

Silverman said during the press conference that her experience on From the Top taught her that young classical musicians "don't just fit into a square box" and that "we need to play what we feel when we feel it."

Christopher O'Riley
O'Riley accepts applause during the Dec. 9 press conference event. He performed the "Ondine" movement from the 1909 Maurice Ravel piece, Gaspard de la nuit, for those in attendance.

"It was something that happened in a great time of my life," she said. "I remember getting that phone call and jumping up and down, telling my mom and dad. I'm proud just to be part of something so special."

Silverman, who also announced that she recently earned a position as a principal trumpeter in the Lafayette Symphony Orchestra, presented O'Riley with an LSU sweatshirt on behalf of the LSU student body.

In Louisiana, From the Top can be heard Thursdays at 10 a.m. on 89.3 WRKF-FM in Baton Rouge, Tuesdays at 7 p.m. on 88.7 KRVS- FM in Lafayette and Saturdays at 11 a.m. on 89.9 KDAQ-FM in Shreveport, beginning in January 2010.

The LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts will serve as the program's major sponsor during the residency, along with Baton Rouge-based Lamar Advertising. In addition, NPR affiliates WRKF-FM Baton Rouge and WWNO-FM in New Orleans announced they will begin broadcasting From the Top in 2010. The program is also available on the show's official Web site, www.fromthetop.org.

Keeping time, moving forward

In her introduction of O'Riley during the press conference, LSU Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Astrid Merget said his appointment and LSU's partnership with From the Top are perfect examples of the university's "Think Big" initiative and of goals toward the university's Flagship Agenda.

"This represents not just an aspiration, but the ability to dream big and act on those dreams," Merget said. "We've already achieved two of the goals set out in our Flagship Agenda – to be officially declared the flagship university of this state and to catapult into the top ties of American universities. The College of Music & Dramatic Arts is in no small way responsible for propelling us toward those heights."

The affiliation with From the Top has numerous global effects as well for the university, Kaptain said.

Christopher O'Riley
Master's student in trumpet performance Halie Silverman, who has appeared on From the Top, presented O'Riley with an LSU sweatshirt on behalf of the student body.

"This will position LSU and CMDA as a player in the national landscape of the performing arts, increase name recognition and establish a brand, provide modeling for students that goes beyond the theatre and music/performance element into communication and technology skills areas and allowing us to make community presence and development a priority both at LSU and in Louisiana public and private schools," he said.

The role of the College of Music & Dramatic Arts is expanding, Kaptain said, moving past providing vital first-stage support to foster individual creative self-awareness, expression and personal growth.

"In addition, we are also interested in motivating our students, faculty and community partners to reach out and explore the potential of emerging areas of public consciousness," Kaptain said. "Through the appointment of Christopher O'Riley, the residency of From the Top and our new linkages with public radio stations in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Shreveport and Lafayette, we will explore new ways to examine and challenge cultural and social barriers where they encounter them, react creatively to the vibrant dynamics of our society and recognize our own accountability as active and necessary contributors to this culture."

For more information on the appointment of Christopher O'Riley as a Distinguished Visiting Artist, contact LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts Dean Laurence Kaptain at 225-578-9959 or e-mail kaptain@lsu.edu.

To learn more about the LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts, visit http://www.cmda.lsu.edu.

To learn more about Christopher O'Riley, visit http://www.christopheroriley.com.

For more information on From the Top, visit http://www.fromthetop.org.

Aaron Looney | Editor | Office of Communications & University Relations
December 2009