From the Top Musicians with Disabilities Special Initiative

“Tune in to From the Top and give yourself a dose of music and hope.”
–Los Angeles Times

From the Top Musicians with Disabilities Special Initiative

National Performance Broadcast featuring Itzhak Perlman
and Young Disabled/Neurodivergent Musicians
Airing March 27 – April 2, 2023

Youth-Led Virtual Forums Co-Hosted with Kennedy Center VSA
April 3-4, 2023

Plus: Learning & Media Lab Fellowship and Daily Joy social media series

Boston, MA – March 1, 2023 – As noted in The Boston Globe, NPR’s From the Top is an “entertaining and accessible” showcase for young classically trained musicians across the United States. Broadcast weekly on over 200 stations nationwide, the show has a reputation for captivating performances and compelling personal stories. In 2021, From the Top introduced Julia LaGrand, a 16-year-old violinist who spoke candidly about being a musician who is also blind. After LaGrand’s episode aired, she approached From the Top with a bold vision of advocating for musicians like her.

“I’d like to raise awareness – and expectations – for musicians who happen to have disabilities,” said LaGrand. “We deserve opportunities to shine and From the Top is the perfect platform to highlight these young artists, allowing them to share their stories of being a musician and a person living with a disability in today’s world.”

From the Top Executive Director Gretchen Nielsen agreed.

“We have a responsibility to use From the Top’s platform to bring important ideas and issues to the public,” said Nielsen. “We also recognize that this is a tremendous opportunity for us to learn. Our alumna Julia LaGrand, the young musicians featured on the broadcast, and our partners at the Kennedy Center are all helping guide our journey toward increasing access in our work.”

This spring, From the Top will deliver a multi-pronged special initiative devoted to increasing inclusivity and transparency for disabled artists:

National Performance Special, broadcast on NPR March 27 – April 2

Airing the week of March 27, this episode of From the Top will feature four talented young musicians, ages 14-26, who are disabled and/or neurodivergent. The NPR broadcast will also feature an interview with globally acclaimed violinist Itzhak Perlman, who performs while seated following a childhood bout with polio. Julia LaGrand will perform and guest-host alongside From the Top Host Peter Dugan.

Featured performers will also include:

  • Joshua Thrush, a 15-year-old double bassist from Vienna, Virginia, who began studying music when spina bifida made it difficult to keep up with youth sports leagues
  • Tristen Chen, a 14-year-old pianist from San Jose, California, who uses Braille scores to learn his repertoire
  • Adam Mandela Walden, a 26-year-old cellist from Los Angeles, California, who believes his musical skills are sharpened by his autism
  • Grace Novacheck, a 16-year-old pianist from Westlake, Texas, who shares her journey with music and Escobar Syndrome with more than 105k TikTok followers as @thegracenova
The episode will be available via podcast and at 6:30pm Eastern on Monday, March 27, and will air on NPR radio stations nationwide throughout the week of March 27 – April 2. A list of participating stations can be found at, and airdates and times can be confirmed with local station listings.
Violinist Julia LaGrand, whose advocacy sparked From The Top Special Initiative

Youth-led Virtual Forums co-hosted with Kennedy Center VSA April 3-4, 2023

In April, From the Top and its Learning and Media Lab will team up with the Kennedy Center’s Office of Accessibility and VSA to produce two nights of virtual programming:

  • Open to the Public: Musicians with Disabilities Panel, April 3 at 7pm Eastern. Julia LaGrand will facilitate a conversation with Adrian Anatowan, a violinist and arts advocate who was also the first person with a limb difference to attend the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music, and Cristina Jones, a soprano who began her musical training in the Johnny Mercer Children’s Choir at the Braille Institute. Panelists will discuss how they have navigated their own careers, how disabled musicians can take the lead in crafting their own narratives, and how to make disability disclosures and request accommodations.
  • Disability-Only Space: Networking Event, April 4 at 7pm Eastern. Young disabled and/or neurodivergent musicians will gather to further explore the themes of the previous night’s conversation. Organizers hope that attendees will experience an affirming sense of community and benefit from open dialogue around personal experiences.

Communications accommodations including ASL, CART, and recording will be available for both events; registration is required and is available through VSA here.

Learning and Media Lab, February 28 – March 27, 2023

All four performers featured in the national performance special will also participate in From the Top’s Learning and Media Lab, an online curriculum that continues to invest in young musicians featured on the show. This educational space offers opportunities to explore life as an artist, meet professionals, and connect with disabled and non-disabled peers. Previous cohorts have learned from guest speakers including Davóne Tines, Emi Ferguson, Jazmín Morales, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Michael Thurber, and Kevin Olusola, who shared their knowledge on topics ranging from “Storytelling and Vulnerability” and “Creating Media: Preparing for Studio Recording.”

Daily Joy, a video series on social media in March 2023

Daily Joy was created with the belief that music, especially in the hands of young people, has a unique capability to bring joy to people’s lives – even on social media. In March 2023, young disabled and/or neurodivergent musicians will tell their stories in their own words. These musicians include Nicolette Marie Sullivan, a 20-year-old autistic violist currently studying at New England Conservatory in Boston, who feels she can communicate more fluidly with music than with words or body language, which can prove challenging to process.

Julia LaGrand, the enterprising young violinist whose advocacy sparked this multi-faceted programming, hopes that audiences and participants will see what “disability joy” can look like, while understanding that disabled musicians do not need their musicianship to be viewed through an ableist lens.

Itzhak Perlman agrees. When asked how his disability impacts his music-making, he answers matter-of-factly: “I can’t walk very well, but I’m not onstage to do walking. I’m on the stage to play.”

About From the Top
From the Top is a non-profit organization based in Boston dedicated to celebrating and empowering young musicians. Through its weekly NPR radio program and digital media, Learning and Media Lab Fellowship, scholarships, and, From the Top provides young musicians with a platform to share their artistry and stories, and a space to learn about the power of community engagement and the life of an artist. These programs connect young musicians and music lovers of all ages. From the Top receives funding support from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Massachusetts Cultural Council, and contributions from generous individuals. Learn more at
About the Performers
Co-Host and Content Advisor Julia LaGrand (violin, 18) studies with Professor Danielle Belen of the University of Michigan and has performed in masterclasses for violinists Stefan Jackiw and Midori. She has soloed with orchestras including the Kent Philharmonic Orchestra and the Baroque on Beaver Festival Orchestra, and won first prize in the Bella International Music Competition. Julia is a 12-time finalist of the National Braille Challenge and is passionate about learning and amplifying experiences of Disability. She is currently taking a gap year.
Tristen Chen (piano, 14) lives in San Jose, California and began piano studies at the age of five with Nagisa Ariza. Currently Tristen attends College Connection Academy and San Francisco Music Conservatory Pre-College, majoring in piano under Sandra Wright Shen. Tristen has received numerous prizes from competitions, including first prize at the U.S. Open Music Competition in 2022. He was selected twice as the outstanding performer of the Junior Bach Festival. He was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall in 2018. Tristen enjoys composing, singing, and playing the guitar in his free time. He enjoys hosting piano parties, where he mixes genres from classical to popular music.
Joshua Thrush (double bass, 16) attends James Madison High School in Vienna, Virginia. He has studied the double bass for six years under the instruction of Ira Gold of the National Symphony Orchestra, where Joshua is a 2023 YoungArts Merit Winner and a third-year Youth Fellow. Joshua is co-principal bass for the American Youth Philharmonic and principal bass of the James Madison High School Chamber Orchestra. Joshua has won top prizes at competitions, including the International Society of Bassists, and has attended Boston University Tanglewood Institute. Joshua teaches double bass lessons for younger students through his high school’s elementary music outreach program. When not playing bass, Joshua enjoys fishing, boating, cooking, and weightlifting. He intends to pursue a career in classical double bass performance.
Grace Novacheck (piano, 16) lives in Westlake, Texas, where she attends Westlake Academy. She studies piano with Bret Serrin at the Suzuki Music Institute of Dallas. In addition to being an accomplished musician, playing both cello and piano, Grace is a disability advocate and a social media influencer. She has over 105k followers on TikTok and her videos have been viewed over 20 million times. In 2022, Grace was invited to perform at a benefit event for the non-profit myFace. In 2020, Grace was recognized at the First Annual Danny Awards in New York, sponsored by the Daniel Foundation. Grace enjoys traveling, sports, and driving. She also loves fashion and beauty, and academics.
Adam Mandela Walden (cello, 26) was born in Los Angeles, California and began studying the cello at age six. Diagnosed with moderate/severe autism and epilepsy at 3, music has long been a source of connection and communication for Adam. Adam studied classical cello at The Colburn School for The Performing Arts with Francesca Bori and graduated from Grand Arts/Ramon C. Cortines High School of Visual and Performing Arts. Adam performed with Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (YOLA) and was featured in HBO’s documentary Autism The Musical and Autism: The Sequel. Adam is the official ambassador for Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles’ Music Therapy program. Most recently, Adam is composing a spoken word/cello concerto for youth orchestras with Berklee College of Music professor Eugene Friesen. The concerto is based on The New York Times Best Seller Naoki Higashida’s The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism.
Press Contact: Beth Stewart
Verismo Communications

Tel: 618.444.3183 |

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