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Opera Star Inspires Classical Teens in Huntsville

In Huntsville, Alabama, From the Top's gifted young musicians include a bassoonist who tests the limit of her instrument, a pianist with a phenomenal memory, a 13-year-old guitarist with a work especially composed for him and a teenage soprano who uses her substantial voice for both singing and cheering. This week, the accomplished opera singer Angela Brown performs with two of the young musicians.

Sixteen-year-old Kian Andersen discovered her passion for music while indulging in another interest: competitive swimming.

"While swimming, I would listen to fast-paced rock songs, and the driving melodies would give me the burst of energy I needed," she recalls. "That's when I first discovered the power of music, and my desire to play it, and this led me to the bassoon. I fell in love with its rich and hearty tone."

Andersen practices for three to four hours a day and plays in the Huntsville Youth Orchestra as well as a woodwind chamber group. She performs music from Georg Philipp Telemann's Sonata in F Minor.

Guitarist Travis Johnson, 13, comes from a big musical family. He's the youngest of four kids, all of whom are musicians.

"My brother, Ben, plays electric and standup bass, my sister, Andrea (who was also on From the Top's radio show), plays piano, and my brother, Tanner, plays violin," he explains.

Johnson's grandfather played guitar, and Johnson decided to follow in his footsteps. The young guitarist's family has a unique way of helping him prepare for music competitions.

"Tanner, Andrea, Ben and my mom will pretend to be scary judges," says Johnson. "I'll play my piece, and they'll whisper to each other and scratch on their notepads, trying to distract me. It's helped me to learn how to be more relaxed while competing and performing."

Johnson performs "Boppin," composed for him by Bryan Johanson.

Given his musical talent, one might think Carter Pelham, 18, comes from a long line of musicians. He's actually the first member of his family to take up an instrument.

"I'm not exactly sure how I first got interested in piano," he says. "I think when I was around four, my mom enrolled me in group lessons and my interest just progressed from there." Even then, it was clear that Pelham was musically inclined.

"My parents tell me that the teacher would assign two or three songs for us to learn and I'd go home and learn the whole book," he recalls. "Practicing was never a struggle for me."

Pelham performs Franz Liszt's "Un Sospiro" from Three Concert Etudes.

Performing has always felt natural to Natalie Ballenger.

"When I was little I used to dress up and dance around the living room, putting on shows for my parents, whether they liked it or not," she says.

The 17-year-old from Santa Cruz, Calif., wants to make a career of singing. "It lets extroverts like myself do what we do best," she says.

She sings "Miranda" by Richard Hageman.

This program originally aired Nov. 15, 2006

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