Arts Leadership Spotlight: Alum Lauren Chipman & Danielle Belen Lead From the Top School Events

– by Lauren Chipman

“Look at her hair!”

“I think she’s in a rock band.”


I don’t look like your typical classical musician getting ready to work with a group of 4th grade violinists, but my appearance reflects who I am and what I do for a living.

I lead a very eclectic life as a musician – I play in symphonies in Los Angeles, am a member of two rock bands: The Section Quartet and The Rentals, and have a full teaching studio.  As I was finishing up my undergraduate degree at USC in Viola Performance, I learned to say yes to every opportunity that came my way.  I had never considered playing rock music but, after a phone call from Matt Sharp of The Rentals, I quickly discovered my love of playing viola in a rock band.  This opened up pathways that I had never even knew existed and I now compose music myself, in addition to recording and performing with famous bands and musicians all over the world.

From the Top recently asked me to visit two schools in Santa Barbara (Roosevelt Elementary School and Santa Barbara Junior High School)  to play and speak with students about all the different musical avenues that I pursue.  I drove up from Los Angeles with violinist (and BFF) Danielle Belen.  Danielle and I have been friends for almost 10 years and when we were at USC together, we formed a classical string quartet that toured internationally.  She has a really amazing career – in addition to being a faculty member at The Colburn School in Downtown LA, she recently recorded a solo CD with Naxos Records.  I think that our different musical paths really compliment each other and I was excited to share our different stories with the students.

Danielle started off by playing the 1st movement from Bach’s Partita No. 3  and then talked about what it is like being a professional classical musician as well as recording a classical CD. She then introduced me by saying, “You might have noticed that Lauren here has a mohawk, does that look like a typical classical musician?”  A resounding “No!” echoed through the hall.  After I played a piece called Chahagir by Alan Hovhaness, I talked about my career and the different types of music that I play.

I think that it’s really important for students to realize that they don’t have to feel constricted by music.  I always say: the instrument that you play shouldn’t dictate the type of music you play. Danielle and I talked to the students about the different opportunities in music that don’t even involve performing: management, producer, engineer, even therapist.  As I was talking, I could see different children’s eyes light up, a whole new world opening up for them.  That’s why I love doing this and was so excited to work with From the Top in a setting beyond the radio show.  I want to inspire kids, even if they never end up working in music.  Hopefully they will always remember that day the violist with the crazy hair visited their school.

My favorite moment of the day came during the question section at the end of the first school.  Danielle called on a girl in the 2nd row and the girl said, “Sing a song for us!”  I responded, “What?” “You said that you sing in a band, so sing a song for us.”  I quickly racked my brain for a Rentals song that I could at least remember a verse or two.  After I sang a little bit, she looked satisfied – I had successfully charmed and inspired another discerning audience and my job was done.

Editor’s Note: Lauren and Danielle visited two schools on Thursday, January 28, 2010 after From the Top’s taping at the Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara, as part of our Arts Leadership Program.

The first school was Roosevelt Elementary School, featured in the video.
Principal Donna Ronzone, a long-time From the Top fan, had attended the taping the night before. During her introduction, she excitedly shared the tale of
9-year-old Umi Garrett’s dramatic performance of Liszt’s Gnomenreigen with the
4th grade audience.

The second stop was at Santa Barbara Junior High,  where 70 elementary and
middle school orchestra and band students from area schools came together
for Lauren and Danielle’s presentation. These students are part of a
citywide after school music program- the music teachers involved are an
inspiring example of arts leadership in action!

The students were enthusiastic participants during Lauren and Danielle’s
presentation with an endless stream of questions- everyone was having such a
great time, we ended up staying well past the allotted 45 minutes!

Special thanks to all of our friends in Santa Barbara who helped make this
event possible and to Lauren and Danielle for their time and enthusiasm!