By May S. Ruiz
Marc Soong, a 15-year old teen from Alhambra, is one of five performers who will appear on an upcoming episode of NPR’s (National Public Radio) ‘From the Top.’ It airs on KUSC 91.5 FM on Sunday, February 24 at 6 pm and by podcast at fromthetop.org starting February 18.
The hit NPR radio program, which averages half a million listeners every week, features America’s best young classical musicians’ performances and interviews. This particular show will be guest-hosted by Bernstein-Award Winning violinist Charles Yang and co-hosted by pianist Peter Dugan.
Being included in this esteemed assembly is quite a thrill for Soong. He says, “I feel very honored! I know some fellow musicians who have participated in the program and I occasionally tune in on KUSC to listen to their ‘From the Top’ broadcast.”
“I filled out a very, very long application to be in one of the five slots,” explains Soong. “There is technically no deadline, but if you want to be a part of a specific program, you have to submit an application four months beforehand. Besides musical ability, candidates are chosen based on other factors including gender, age, instrumentation, repertoire, and diversity of stories in their application.”
“Applicants submit two pieces but can upload up to six video recordings. Out of these, ‘From the Top’ will choose one with a length of five minutes or less to be used on the show. “I submitted three recordings and the piece they wanted me to perform was a transcription of Figaro’s Aria from the Rossini opera ‘The Barbier of Seville.’ I suppose they chose it because it was the right length. The transcription isn’t well known, but the tune is popular. Furthermore, it’s virtuosic and exciting. Well, that’s also my biased opinion,” Soong adds with the confidence of an expert.
‘From the Top’ is a Boston-based independent non-profit organization that supports, develops, and shares the artistic voices and stories of young classically-trained musicians. It provides young musicians with live performance opportunities in the foremost concert halls across the United States. This affords them national exposure to over half a million listeners on its weekly NPR program.
Aside from the performance aspect, ‘From the Top’ offers leadership and community engagement preparation and, since 2005, nearly $3 million in scholarships. All these components intensify the hope, passion, and discipline of today’s extraordinary young musicians.
For his live recording performance, Soong traveled to Beaver Creek, Colorado. He relates, “It was a three-day commitment program – I was at the ski village from January 15 to 17. On the first day, I got to know the other four performers and we had a rehearsal. On the second day, there was more rehearsing and the actual show was held that evening. On the last day, there was an ‘Arts Leadership Community Engagement’ event – we had discussions on how to engage an audience based on their age group and we applied what we learned during an unrecorded final performance in front of an entire elementary school. All the events were held at the Vilar Performing Arts Center.”
Each musician is interviewed during the broadcast. “For my interview, I talked about math and music – my two favorite subjects – and physics, the third thing I’m obsessed with … primarily because the class is so hard. I know I unconsciously slip into nerdy talk; I hope listeners will think my interview is funny. Though I will attribute most of the humor to the co-hosts,” Soong discloses with a great deal of self-deprecation.
Soong says of his appearance on the program, “Since I heard about ‘From the Top,’ it has been my dream to be on the broadcast. And the whole experience did not disappoint. I got to meet the kindest, most talented group of musicians my age – all of them played different instruments. I had expected tension and competitiveness among us, which is pervasive during piano competitions and festivals, but there was none of that at all.
“Everyone on the show – from the executive director and stage manager to the producer and music director – were exceedingly nice. Whenever guest host Charles Yang and co-host Peter Dugan played the violin and the piano, you can hear the energy vibrating through the room. They’re also very humble and down-to-earth.
“I had never been on a radio program and I didn’t realize just how much time and effort were involved in creating a one-hour show. It took a full eight hours of preparation before the show started. This has been such a memorable experience!”
The gifted teen credits his close-knit family and caring mentors for this wonderful experience, “I would like to thank my two amazing teachers, Professor Daniel Pollack and Dr. Vladimir Khomyakov, for their guidance and encouragement; and my parents and my sister Melodey for their love and support. I know I wouldn’t have had this incredible opportunity without them.”
Soong’s proudest accomplishment, though, was organizing and performing in a benefit concert with Melodey at the First Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena in October 2017. It raised more than $8,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
A third-year student in the Stanford University Online High School, Soong attended Barnhart School in Arcadia, where he was so academically advanced that he skipped 6th grade altogether. His sister, who is a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis, went to Barnhart and Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena. Both of them are still actively involved in the community, giving piano performances at the various senior centers in the Pasadena area during their school breaks.
He may be only all of 15 years, but Soong has done more than most people who are far older than he. That he has remained so unaffected and unassuming despite his innumerable achievements is a breath of fresh air in this age of self-importance and self-promotion.