These two smiling faces may be familiar to our followers on Instagram. Ella and Emma-Grace Kim are two virtuosic sisters from Herndon, Virginia who took over our Instagram in November of 2021 to show us what it’s like in the day of two accomplished young musicians who are also sisters! Despite already being quite the virtuosos on their instruments, the Kim Sisters showed us they are fun-loving teenagers who are engaged in their communities and are passionate about sharing their love for classical music to those around them.
We have a chance to hear from them this Sunday at 6PM ET on our broadcast of From the Top in a special program that features young musicians from the DC area, including the Washington Performing Arts Children of the Gospel Choir.
Ahead of the broadcast, we had a chance to catch up with the talented sisters, and found out what they’ve been up to since we saw them last!
Zenas Kim-Banther: Since we last spoke in November of 2021, what have been your top memorable musical moments?
Emma-Grace: My most memorable musical highlights this year are:
- Being a fellow on From the Top’s Learning and Media Lab program - a series of a 4-week online curriculum that includes workshops, performances, and content creation sessions on topics such as storytelling and vulnerability, preparing for studio recording, community engagement and more
- Meeting and making music with pianist and NPR’s From the Top host Peter Dugan and violinist and co-host Charles Yang
- Heifetz International Music Institute - a 3-week summer program for young musicians where I got to experience my first time away from home. I had a blast!
- Winning first prize at MTNA’s Virginia state competition
Ella: My most memorable musical highlights this year are:
- Performing at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library with my sister
- Winning first alternate at MTNA’s Virginia state competition
ZKB: We heard through the grapevine that both of you got new instruments since we last spoke!
Could each of you tell us the story of how you found your new musical partners?
Emma-Grace: Yes, I finally got a new violin, a modern Italian, after playing on a factory-made instrument ever since I started taking lessons! Violin shopping takes a lot of time so it wasn’t until last summer I finally had some time to do some serious searching, and after a few months of visiting and talking to a number of luthiers, I found my new violin not too far from home! The search for a new violin took a lot out of me and my parents so we are taking our time to start our search for a new bow. =)
Ella: Yes, I also have a new instrument and this one kind of plopped into our home during the winter of 2021! The cool thing is we didn’t have to do any shopping around for it because a family friend of ours who was moving away for a few years wanted somebody to house their Steinway during that time. They asked if we would be interested and, of course, we said yes! The piano was hardly ever played on, so it was practically brand new. It was a great tradeoff. I am able to practice on a beautiful Steinway and the owners found a home where their instrument would be loved and cared for!
ZKB: One of the most exciting things we learned about the two of you last year was the start of your non-profit ItzArt4You. Tell us all about it!
Ella & Emma-Grace: Thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to share about ITZArt4you! ITZArt4you is a student-led organization that provides free music and art lessons to local Title I schools in our community. I had the opportunity to be on NPR's From the Top (FTT) Show twice and these experiences have truly served as the main catalyst for ITZArt.
We had one eight-week session at Dogwood Elementary School, in Herndon, only five minutes from our house, during the fall and will begin our 12-week spring session next week. We spent a lot of time planning and preparing leading into our first session. In the fall of 2021, when my sister and I were doing the Instagram Takeover for WETA Classical highlighting our lives as young classical musicians, we had the opportunity to give a small assembly for the children at Dogwood ES and we asked the school principal if we could start an after-school program to offer free music and art lessons. She loved the idea, so we spent the following summer recruiting our friends to join, reaching out to our former and current school music directors, as well as an art teacher, to help us. These teachers were instrumental in helping us build a curriculum, train mentors over the summer on how to teach children, how to interact and keep children engaged, and how to make the music and art lessons fun.
We started our first session this past October, with about 30 kids coming regularly for music and art lessons. It was really exciting to conclude the semester where our students had the opportunity to give a small performance for their parents and families. We were so proud of them! ITZArt4you recently became a 501c3 nonprofit, so we are currently accepting tax-deductible donations on our website at www.itzart4you.org. The funds we collect will go towards purchasing more keyboards, music books, and art supplies!
ZKB: Tell us about each of your experience of being on From the Top. Besides the opportunity to perform and speak on air, what does From the Top offer you as a growing musician? How has their support system shaped who you are as a musician?
Ella: I had the opportunity to be on From the Top twice once in Texas when I was 10 years old with Simmone Dinerstine as part of an eight-hand ensemble and was invited back to be featured as a soloist in a show hosted by concert pianists Anderson and Roe. I was the youngest during those two shows and each experience with FTT allowed me to meet lifelong musician friends who I look up to. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I just knew that I would be on a radio program that our family listened to on Sunday evenings.
I thought I was simply going to perform but it was so much more than that. From The Top dedicated much of our time to leadership training, and community engagement where we got to work with young children in the community of San Marcos, Texas. We shared a meal with them, gave mini master classes, and performed for them and they performed for us! Up until then, I thought the piano was all about competitions and recitals but my time with the children in Texas showed me that there is so much more to music. In addition, I met amazing, talented, fellow young musicians who inspired me to become a better musician. So I was extremely excited when FTT invited me back to be on their show with concert pianists Anderson and Roe the following year at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
That experience was very special to me because I had the opportunity to serve in my own community, at Poe Middle School, and to perform in front of a live audience which included many of my family, friends, and teachers! As a pianist, most of my time is spent practicing alone and it can get quite lonely, especially for someone like me who loves being around people. I love that FTT allowed me to see that I’m not alone and that there are so many other young musicians like myself who I can relate to. I had my first opportunity to fundraise through FTT’s peer to peer fundraising campaign and I have carried that experience over to my vision for ITZArt!
Emma-Grace: I was a part of FTT’s Learning and Media Lab this past October, and I had the opportunity to participate in a series of programs on content creation topics such as storytelling, vulnerability, preparing for recordings, community engagement, and leadership training. As part of my community engagement project, I got to perform a violin and guitar duo with my younger brother for a children's hospital online through the Seacrest Foundation. I was the youngest in my cohort and it was neat to get insight from older and much wiser and talented musicians.
My sister and I are so honored to be a part of the FTT family. They have given us so many opportunities, outside of the shows we were on, to serve our community in the larger DC area and they have served as the main catalyst for the organization we started, ITZArt4you.
ZKB: Both of you are the future of music. So what do you think the future of classical music will be like in the next couple of decades? What do you think musicians of today should do to ensure a vibrant community of performers, audiences, and music lovers in the future?
Ella & Emma-Grace: When we think of the future of classical music, we think of musicians like violinist Charles Yang, pianist Peter Dugan, and pianists Anderson & Roe. They are some of the best musicians today and they make classical music look so cool! We hope to be just as engaging, captivating and relevant to today’s world. Some of the topics that were covered during our time on FTT were storytelling and vulnerability. We are learning that when we share our stories with the audience - where we draw our inspiration from, where the composer drew his or her inspiration from, what the music reminds us of - interacting with our audience in this manner allows us to connect with them beyond the surface level. The way we connect our stories to our music can have a significant impact on the way our audience listens to our music. When we think of an audience, we usually think of a large stage with a big audience, or intimidating competitions, etc. But we are learning that our audience includes our neighbors down the street, our church, schoolchildren, and many more right in our community. We hope that, as we continue to cultivate our craft in our respective instruments, we can build more relationships with those in our community through great music and storytelling, all while making it look super fun and cool! We think this is a pretty good way to ensure a vibrant community of audiences and music lovers in the future.
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