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It’s Not All Rock and Rap

Few people make appointments with their radios nowadays; we simply listen to what’s on when we’re near one. Angelenos, though, might want to set their clock radios to classical music station KMZT-FM (105.1) for 8 a.m. this Sunday, maybe even every Sunday. The program is “From the Top,” an old-fashioned variety show that just happens to focus solely on young musicians, this weekend on young Southern Californians.

The music is good. The kids are even better. Latent fuddy-duddies who view gaggles of giddy teens mall-parading in this afternoon’s must-wear clothes may fear that America’s future is in vapid hands. “From the Top” offers a calm, unpretentious riposte. The young people perform with skill and emotion, and then they chat and laugh with host Christopher O’Riley with an appealing innocence, poise and breadth. “We want to celebrate excellence,” says Gerald Slavet, executive producer, “to discover and hail these young musicians as we do student athletes.”

The 5-year-old program, from a different city every weekend, has celebrated about 1,000 young musicians across the land. On this week’s program, taped last month before a USC audience, is Yumi Man, a 17-year-old violinist from La Crescenta; Rossina Grieco, a precocious 10-year-old pianist from La Jolla; 12 girls from the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus; plus a Florida trumpeter and a Massachusetts cellist. Under the gentle but hip interrogations of O’Riley, a concert pianist in his own right, the youngsters reveal their skills and quirky personalities in a casual format suggesting that music is just a part of their unfolding lives.

It’s a welcome change from the bloody, tragic and depressing nature of so many contemporary broadcasts. “We’re selling hope here,” says O’Riley, who clearly enjoys accompanying the youngsters and revealing their promise beyond the musical notes.

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The music is classical, pristine and impressive in its own right. Participants, chosen from hundreds in a revolving field of nominees from teachers, musicians and peers, also agree to assist broad musical outreach programs back at school.

Elsewhere in this paper today -- any day -- you’ll easily find details of far less admirable acts by young and old alike. On Sunday -- or on the Web, www.fromthetop.org -- tune in to “From the Top” and give yourself a dose of music and hope.


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