July (2)4th Weekend

Chad Lilley is From the Top’s first Beth Klarman Fellow, spending a summer interning with our marketing and program teams, and has appeared on NPR’s From the Top with Host Christopher O’Riley. This is part four of his blog series of seeing the other side of From the Top. You can read parts one, two, and three here and here and here.

These past weeks in Boston have been rather different for me (hence the theme: “a turning of the tables”), so, discounting my run-in with education at the Goddard house (which I touched on in my last blog, which you can find here), I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to pick up the horn in a formal setting since before my internship started. But From the Top did not look past the fact that my true passion is in performing—that’s what got me on the show in the first place, after all. So, there were a couple of events that allowed me to do what I love most in the great city of Boston.

The weekend of July 24 included not one, but two major performance opportunities for me through From the Top. The first being a 20-minute slot at the WGBH summer arts weekend in Boston’s Copley Square: an outdoor festival full of a variety of music genres, merchandise tents, and activities for acute and purposeful audience members to general passerby alike. I was given all the creative freedom I wanted—I could have juggled on that stage as long as I filled my time limit and wore a From the Top T-shirt. Alas, my non-existent juggling debut would have to wait for another day, as I found the opportunity to work with Anna Deloi, From the Top alum and harp extraordinaire, to be a much more fitting opportunity. Anna was one of the alumni who tripped it through rural Kentucky with me during our March outreach trip with From the Top. While there, we both expressed an interest in doing some sort of duet between our two somewhat irregular and unorthodox concert instruments. Of course, we didn’t have the time in Kentucky, but we knew our day would come, it just so happened to come a little sooner than expected. We decided to spend our 20-minute slot mixing together a bit of unorthodox solo performances and tie it together with an arrangement of Mozart’s Flute and Harp Concerto.

We were to follow a performance of Beethoven’s ninth symphony by the Boston local Handel and Haydn Society symphony orchestra. How do you follow 120 musicians belting “Ode to Joy” as loud as humanly possible?

You don’t. But we went ahead and tried anyway, and despite some inclement weather, managed to get through our set alive and well (harps do NOT do well in rain). We held an instrument petting zoo and meet-and-greet after the fact for people who wanted to get a closer look at what it means to play a musical instrument, and one of the most satisfying moments of the whole day involved teaching a 4-year-old future saxophonist the ergonomics of the horn; I’ve never seen someone’s eyes glow as much as his did when he first held the instrument (I’m sure he’ll be a great saxophonist one day…).


This brings me to my next musical endeavor of the July 24 weekend: you may have noticed that From the Top has recently gotten into using YouTube as a way to bring classical music to the masses, and thus have started creating a variety of “music video mash-ups” using their alumni. I got a call before the internship started with an idea crafted by the brilliant From the Top Co-Founder and CEO Jennifer Hurley-Wales. I had done a piece with them before entitled “Ku Ku” by American composer Barry Cockcroft, which was written for solo soprano saxophone intended to imitate the sounds of a chicken (and does a pretty darn good job; find out for yourself by checking out my video of the piece here). She thought it would be a really interesting idea to take the piece to an actual chicken coop to see how the chickens reacted to the music. What started out as a far-fetched idea quickly turned into a reality, as both our potential videographer and farm partners were quick to pull the trigger on this quirky idea; I suppose they were just as intrigued as we were.

The day came to shoot, and the From the Top brigade tripped it over to Drumlin Farms in Lincoln, Massachusetts, to meet with their head livestock manager and get the ball rolling. It was a relatively smooth, and hot, process. I never had the opportunity to study chickens in an up close and personal environment before, but now I know full well where Barry Cockcroft found the inspiration for the piece–the chickens even started to imitate the licks I was making on my saxophone! It was a really incredible experience that exceeded even our greatest expectations.


I never thought I’d look back at this internship and think about the saxophone/harp duets I performed, or the chicken music video I participated in making, but they definitely add a certain dynamic that only performing can do, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to share my music in such interesting ways, even if it involved being paraded around in an old From the Top chicken suit.

It’s all a part of the job.


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