A young guitarist reflects on a visit to Little Opera

Guitarist Nicholas Padmanabhan performed on NPR’s From the Top with Host Christopher O’Riley in March 2018. You can listen to his performance, airing on stations nationwide the week of May 28, 2018, here.

A young male guitarist plays on NPR's From the Top.

Nicholas performs on NPR’s From the Top.

Like all FTT performers, Nicholas went through our Arts Leadership Orientation, where he and his peers explored leadership concepts and planned for a community engagement performance they would lead at Little Opera, a musically-based afterschool program, in San Francisco.

At Little Opera, the FTT performers shared some music with the students and the students shared some of the opera they were working on. Then, together, they worked in small groups, writing libretto and composing music for an original work of opera.

A young male guitarist plays with his back to the camera. Several young audience members look on in delight.

Nicholas plays for students at Little Opera in San Francisco

Though Nicholas himself performed at Little Opera (above), it was his observation of a fellow performer, composer Alistair Coleman, that really stuck with him:

“Watching the kids participate in Alistair’s presentation encapsulates my From the Top educational experience because of how enthusiastic they were. Alistair asked the kids to yell out their favorite foods, and he picked one of them (I think it was pizza) and wrote a short melody based off the word. He then improvised over the melody on piano, telling the kids to shout out every time they heard the melody.

This moment brought a smile to my face and made me laugh, because I was not expecting the kids to be so involved and excited.

All of them actively participated, and hearing the enthusiastic shouts (and small arguments of “No, he didn’t play the melody there!”) made me realize how powerful music is.”

A group of children smile and make funny faces at the camera in a brightly decorated classroom.

Students at From the Top’s visit to Little Opera

Even the smallest things, like writing a five-note composition, can excite a group of young children and make a positive impact on their daily lives.

“My biggest takeaway was the idea that leading engagement programs is not as daunting as it seems. The benefits that they give to others far outweigh the work it takes to organize them, and the aspect of knowing that you’ve made an impact on other people’s lives is amazing.”

A year from now, I’ll remember many of the things I learned about arts leadership and taking music beyond the concert hall. I might even put together a concert that incorporates the guitar into conventional string ensembles so that I can bring a lesser-known type of music to my community.

“Thanks again for all your work in organizing the school visit and teaching us arts leadership skills! I’ll remember the From the Top experience for decades to come.”

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