© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

From the Top's Peter Dugan ~ BirdNote ~ News Discussion ~ Movie Review: Challengers

Ways To Subscribe

Today's Segments:

Prizing versatility as the key to the future of classical music, pianist Peter Dugan is equally at home in classical, jazz, and pop idioms. He is heard nationwide as the host of NPR's beloved program From the Top. ~~~ Humans aren't the only musicians. We share a BirdNote on singing under streetlamps. ~~~ News Director Dave Thompson reviews the news. ~~~ Matt reviews the new "romantic sports drama flick" featuring a love triangle between tennis greats and wannabes.

From the Top Transcript:

Main Street

Peter, for a very new listener, what is From the Top and why should they maybe consider tuning in?

Peter Dugan, Host NPR's “From The Top”

From the Top is a program that highlights young musicians from all around the country who are mostly teenagers, occasionally even younger than that. Primarily these musicians in this formative period of their life who are in many ways normal kids, so to speak, and in other ways they're super exceptional. And what's really interesting about the program is to discover what goes on in the mind of a young person who's very, very dedicated and accomplished as a musician.

So these kids are working really, really hard. They're very passionate about what they do and they also, like any kid, have interests outside of music too. So when you tune into From the Top you get to hear them play and you also get to know all about them.

Main Street

Peter, you first appeared on From the Top when you were young, just 18 years old. How do you think being a part of the show as both a young performer and now as a host has influenced you and your career?

Peter Dugan, Host NPR's “From The Top”

I'll say that especially in the past five years now as the host of the show, I feel like I've been able to find a why in what I do, you know, like a purpose, something to drive me as a musician. And that is to try to do what I can to make the music culture, especially the classical music culture that I grew up in, a friendlier, more inclusive, more joyful place. And I see it in this next generation, you know, every week when I work with these kids.

They inspire me, you know, they keep me finding the joy in music. And a lot of times, you know, they're discovering pieces of music for the very first time, you know. So you meet a 16-year-old, for example, who's playing a Brahms sonata that maybe I've played a bunch of times, right?

But now playing it with the 16-year-old, I'm getting to kind of hear it through their ears and rediscover that joy. So that keeps me going. And then at the same time, I try to do what I can to create a space for these youngsters where they feel safe to be themselves and to express themselves and not have to worry about perfection or the cutthroat nature that often we do see in the classical community.

Main Street

Peter, we see many young people contribute to many different genres of music in a very creative way. You believe, I think, correct me if I'm wrong, that versatility is really a key to the future of classical music. So I'm curious, what changes or trends are you excited about within the classical music scene?

And are you concerned about the future of classical music, especially with young people?

Peter Dugan, Host NPR's “From The Top”

You know, I have to say to that second part of your question, I'm not concerned. And I think anyone who listens to From the Top on a weekly basis will feel the same sense of optimism that I do about the future of classical music. I really feel that we're in very good hands.

These musicians of this next generation are as passionate and committed as ever to the art form, but they're also bringing and breathing new life and new perspectives into it. So in that sense, no, not worried at all. When it comes to versatility, I think that the breakdown between genre, different genres, is becoming less and less rigorous or, you know, important.

Main Street

Somewhat blurred, maybe?

Peter Dugan, Host NPR's “From The Top”

Yeah, blurred lines, broken barriers. It excites me that I see young musicians embracing different styles of music. So if they hear something and they like it, then why not figure out how to play it on their instrument?

And it doesn't matter how you label it in terms of its genre, because, you know, music is music. It's the same 12 notes, as they say.

Main Street

How do you find these wonderful young people, Peter?

Peter Dugan, Host NPR's “From The Top”

Well, we have a great team at From the Top. We are an independent non-profit organization. You know, we have an admissions team that reviews applications that come in from all around the country.

And we have great partnerships with local schools, educators, teachers, community organizations all around the country. The folks who are doing the really important work day in and day out of educating the next generation. And so through those partnerships and relationships that we've formed over the years, you know, teachers will spread the word to their students and they'll also ping us and say, hey, you've got to hear this young tuba player or what have you.

Every musician goes through the application process and sends in a video and tells us a little bit about their story. And, you know, it's tough. We wish we could have time to feature every story we hear.

But, you know, of course, we only have so much time. But we do get to meet close to 100 musicians every year, which is really great.

Main Street

What is your hope, Peter, for those 100 musicians that you end up meeting? What are you wanting to give to them in your moment with them?

Peter Dugan, Host NPR's “From The Top”

Oh, man, it's a lot of responsibility, which, you know, is not lost on me that it's a great opportunity for me to be able to meet all of these musicians who will be the leaders 10, 20, 30 years from now. When you look at symphony orchestras or community music programs, many of the leaders within that those ensembles will be alums from the top. So the gravity of that is not lost on me.

What I try to do, to put it very simply, I try to be myself and encourage them to be themselves. And this kind of authenticity as an artist is very important to me. And I believe the more one can be true to one's own artistic voice and calling, the healthier that person's life will be and the more powerful their art will be.

You know, I only get so much time with these young musicians, but I do my best to model a collaborative spirit, a spirit of curiosity, intellectual and musical and artistic curiosity, where one can really take joy in self-expression so that, yes, my hope is that 20 years from now that this community will be even more open and inclusive and not so concerned with tradition in the sense of doing everything the way it's supposed to be done or the way it's always been done, but instead doing things the way that feels right to the individual.

Main Street

We are enjoying our conversation with Peter Dugan. He is the host of From the Top on National Public Radio and also right here on Prairie Public. The program airs Sunday at 7 p.m. and on May 5th, Fargo-Davies High School senior Adam Brockman will perform on an episode titled Musicians from Rural America. That will be released nationwide. You can check out From the Top's website beginning April 29th. Peter, if I'm a parent who's listening to this interview thinking, okay, this is all really cool, but my kid's involved in this sport and this activity and has these classes and stuff.

I just am not sure where music or the arts will fit. Let's hear your pitch on why parents should consider making this as much of a priority in their young people's lives as, say, football or volleyball.

Peter Dugan, Host NPR's “From The Top”

It's a great question and it's very important. I think the best way to answer that is to tell you how many times I've spoken to adults of all ages and anywhere from people in their 20s to their 90s and the way those people talk about their childhood music education or lack thereof. The folks who learn to play an instrument just have had so much beauty from that throughout their life.

It's been such an enriching part of their life, no matter what they do. And it's been shown playing music can be a stress reliever. It can be a way to express feelings that you can't necessarily put into words.

To have a relationship with music and the ability to play an instrument absolutely gives someone a richer, more full life. I don't really care if a young musician is going to try to make it as a pro or if they're going to be the next superstar. That's not the most important thing to me when I think about the importance of arts education.

It's also not about, well, if you play the piano, your test scores will be higher, or if you play the piano, it's a great extracurricular to help you get into college. To me, those things are all true, but they're secondary to the fact that making music leads to a more full, beautiful, joy-filled life.

Main Street

From a parental perspective, I understand exactly what you're saying. Let's talk about your show, Peter. Give us maybe a couple of the most memorable or transformative maybe experiences that you've had while hosting From the Top.

Peter Dugan, Host NPR's “From The Top”

Oh, it's a tough question because as you can imagine, there's many to choose from every week. Some that come to mind, we recently had a musician on the show who I and the others from my team sensed after our rehearsal day that she had a very good ear and that there was this sense of play that we wanted to unlock there, if that makes any sense. On the air the next day, we were recording and I surprised her and asked her to improvise something with me, not having talked to her about it at all and not knowing how she would respond.

It was a pure acting on a hunch. She did the most incredible, spontaneous, she's a violinist, spontaneous improvisation duet with me, completely unplanned. Afterwards, just was totally glowing.

She really lit up. We asked her if she was cool with us putting that on the air and she said yes. It was a first for From the Top in that we actually aired a completely unplanned, truly spontaneous improvisation.

That was really fun for all of us. We've also had some kids share some pretty intense things about struggles with mental health and specifically one young cellist comes to mind who said that music saved his life, quite literally. It was the thing that got him through some really hard times.

So conversations like that, they stay with you and they remind you why we do what we do.

Main Street

Peter, I want your perspective on how technology is used today that wasn't around a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago in visiting with Adam Brockman who was from Fargo and will perform on the May 5th episode that we'll air here on May 5th on From the Top. Technology is just reshaping, it seems to me, how music maybe is taught, expressed, performed, even experienced. What innovations are you most excited about or are a bunch of red flags popping up that we need to get back to maybe the basics of classical music and classical music education?

What are your thoughts?

Peter Dugan, Host NPR's “From The Top”

It's definitely a complicated subject. For Adam and for so many musicians who don't necessarily live in a huge metropolis, technology has been huge in that it's exposed these musicians to live streams and recordings of the finest orchestras from around the world. It connects people with teachers from around the world.

That idea of e-leveling the playing field so that regardless of where you live, you have a certain amount of connectivity to the classical music community, that I think is really great. I do feel that it's important to recognize that the live performance is not a replaceable experience. Especially, you know, it's tricky with classical music where we start to feel like, well, Brahms' Fourth Symphony is Brahms' Fourth Symphony.

It's a certain number of notes and rhythms and I can hear it played by the great orchestras on my computer. I think it's important for us to remember that hearing a piece live, even if it's one that you think you know, changes when you are feeling the vibrations of the music coursing through a concert hall or a cafe or wherever you're actually hearing live music. I think it's just important for us to remember that.

Main Street

Peter, what's on your docket? What's on your plate here that you can share about some upcoming projects maybe or collaborations that are very exciting for you and how are those projects aligning with your vision, I guess, of music for the future?

Peter Dugan, Host NPR's “From The Top”

Got a lot of fun things coming up next month. I'll be at Cafe Carlyle, an iconic cabaret venue in New York City with John Brancy, a friend of mine who's a baritone. You know, he and I will be performing.

It's a pretty eclectic program, but a lot of sort of early 20th century popular music. It's exciting to me because that's a time period where what was then kind of pop music was so influenced by the sort of Western classical tradition and even the style of singing at that time was influenced by bel canto singing. And so, again, this kind of messiness between genre distinction is really evident in that repertoire.

So that's going to be a lot of fun. I'm going on the road with Joshua Bell and his wife, Larissa Martinez, who's a singer. The three of us will do some shows together and then Joshua Bell and I will do some recitals.

And, you know, he's just such a master of what he does. And I learned so much playing with him. We've been playing together now for over five years, so have developed just a great friendship, a great working relationship.

And we're playing some masterpieces together, which I love, classics of the repertoire.

Main Street

You've performed with Joshua internationally, including at prestigious venues like London's Wigmore Hall. And I'm curious, where does America fit relative to the world in what it brings for music education for its young people?

Peter Dugan, Host NPR's “From The Top”

You know, I can't speak too much about the various education systems in different countries. I don't I'm not I don't know all the ins and outs, but what I will say is there is a there's something very special about, of course, performing Schubert in in Vienna or performing Brahms in a hall where, you know, he was there himself. You know what I mean?

Like that connection to the history is very meaningful. And the audiences when when you go to Europe, our classical music is just widely appreciated. But then like we were in Taiwan together last year and the audiences there were incredible and so dedicated and so many young people in the audiences in Taiwan.

So that was really exciting to see. And, you know, I love any time I finish a concert and get a chance to meet members of the audience. It's exciting to see teenagers, college students come out who are you know, they're continuing on the tradition.

I think that when it comes to what I'm proud of about what what we do so well here in the States, it's at the local level. It's the all of the community organizations. And there's new ones popping up every year that are doing work in the schools and also, you know, getting generosity from local benefactors, you know, that kind of generosity and patronage.

That's very beautiful to see here in the States. And there's such a amount of nonprofit organizations here that are really doing amazing work at the local level.

Main Street

Peter, as we wind down our conversation here, From the Top has been around for a while. Curious not necessarily of the show's history, but what's the future in your eyes for From the Top?

Peter Dugan, Host NPR's “From The Top”

Well, we are yeah, we're celebrating our 25th anniversary next year. So I guess 2000 was probably our very first season. What we you know, the organization is known, of course, for our broadcast, which never ceases to amaze with, with just the the wonders of these wunderkind, you know, but what's important to us moving forward is to really think about what we can do to serve young people.

So it's not about putting them just on a stage and, and kind of, you know, like dance, dance monkey dance kind of thing. It's, it's about making sure we continue to really center young people, so that we're giving them resources to set them up for success in the future. And we're also validating and empowering them to feel like they have something to say they have something worth offering.

And even if they're only 15 or 16 years old, you know, this is a time when they have a voice, a musical voice, a personal voice. And we want young people to believe in their own power. So I think that's kind of, as we move forward, that's the From the Top mission.

And we'll continue to broadcast to the to the world, all the wonderful things that young people can do. At the core, we're here to serve young people. And I think that's the important thing to remember.

Main Street

Well, congratulations on 25 years of From the Top, Peter. If people want to learn more about From the Top, they can go to fromthetop.org. Peter Dugan has been our guest.

The show airs Sundays at 7pm right here on Prairie Public. And on May 5th, Adam Brockman, a Davies High School senior, will perform with four others in an episode of From the Top. The segment will be titled Musicians from Rural America.

It'll be released nationwide beginning April 29th. If you want to be inspired about the potential from young people, this is the show for you. Peter, thank you so much for joining us.

Peter Dugan, Host NPR's “From The Top”

Thank you, Craig. Thanks for having me. And thanks for broadcasting the show.

Main Street

It is our pleasure.