Ellis Senior to Appear on NPR’s From the Top, Wins Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award

Amelia Reines, Class of 2023, has been chosen to appear on an episode of From the Top, a National Public Radio (NPR) program and nonprofit dedicated to celebrating the stories, talents, and character of young classically-trained musicians. A classical vocalist, Amelia will record her From the Top segment this spring and be featured on show #436, airing October 2, 2023.
In addition to being selected for a From the Top appearance, Amelia was also named as a 2023 recipient of the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, granted annually by From the Top and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation to 20 pre-collegiate musicians.

Amelia shared about her experience with From the Top so far and how she strives to be a changemaker through music:

Tell us all about From the Top! What is it and how did you become involved with the organization?

From the Top (FTT) is a show that airs on NPR that my mom and I listen to all the time. They feature the nation’s most talented, classically trained, young musicians. We always loved and were in awe of what we were hearing. Eventually, though, I realized that we rarely heard vocalists. 

Then, this past summer, I did a classical voice program at the Eastman School of Music. The weekend I returned, my mom and I were looking at various college sites and saw that FTT was holding auditions! We went to the site to get more information and saw that the very next day was the last day to sign up for auditions. I was really excited at the prospect of auditioning, but also really nervous. Reading on, I saw that we had missed the in-person auditions, but the virtual ones were still available. In fact, it was so close to the deadline that the site was already locked and we were left staring anxiously at the last open slot! I emailed FTT, asking them how I could sign up for the last slot. Fortunately, they got back to us quickly and added my name to the audition sheet! I auditioned a few days later with Giovanni Pergolessi’s "Nina." I actually auditioned in the basement of my mom’s workplace, because at home I have birds ranging from a little zebra finch to a huge blue and gold macaw that like to “sing” with me. It is really cute, but not when it’s something as important as this! I felt pretty good about my audition. 

How did you feel when you found out you were one of the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award winners?

I was ecstatic! It is a huge honor. The especially wonderful thing about this award is that the 20 recipients are chosen by active classical musicians. To see that professional artists not only see great potential in me, but are directly funding me because of their faith in my abilities and potential for success is incredibly exciting and a great honor. 

All Jack Kent Cooke Young Artists participate in From the Top's Learning and Media Lab, which culminates in a community engagement activity and an appearance on From the Top's NPR radio program. What was this experience like?

I had a great time participating in the Learning and Media Lab. We met virtually on Monday and Friday nights throughout September and October for discussions or activities. I loved meeting other From The Top Fellows. Until this past July, during my time at Eastman, I had never met other "classical kids.” The FTT Lab provided the wonderful opportunity to meet talented, welcoming, classical musicians from all around the country. We also had composers, conductors, and performers come in and talk with us. They told us about the different paths one could take within music and discussed the concept of ikigai, a Japanese word about finding one's purpose in life. 

My cohort’s community engagement activity was creating and performing a program for a children’s hospital’s radio station. It was a bit scary knowing I was singing and being interviewed live to thousands of people’s ears, but also very exciting as I thought about why we were doing it. We wanted it to be uplifting and beautiful for the children. After performing our mini-concert, the show's host interviewed us! He asked us each where our dream performance location would be and one silly question. I said I would want to perform at Pittsburgh Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, and stages all over the world! The host asked me what my dream pet (real or fictional) would be. We decided to name my pet dragon Tony. 

What are you planning to study upon graduating from Ellis?

Upon graduating from Ellis, I will study classical voice, specifically opera. I will pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts or a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance. I have applied to conservatories and schools of music in a number of states. 

What have you learned or gained at Ellis that you feel will serve you well in this opportunity? 

To me, being an Ellis student means being a great problem solver. I am able to find solutions to any difficulty I may encounter. Ellis has given me great confidence. I have been taught how to speak to people I don’t know, which has come in handy more often than I ever thought. Not only will it help me during the interview I will have with From the Top, but it has already helped me—I was able to represent myself well during my “pre-interview,” and I can talk composedly with others during networking situations and when I reach out to professional artists about potential opportunities. 

How do you feel you can be a changemaker through your music?

I know I can be a changemaker through music because music has certainly changed my life. I know I can touch an audience with my music. Nothing better translates the range of experience between elation and despair than music. Music is the only thing that can speak to our soul in such a way. Sometimes it is smaller effects like an audience member humming the song you just performed and you hear it as you pass by. Sometimes it is larger effects like a person you have never met approaching and tearfully thanking you. 

As a young woman of color, I feel that my very presence can aid in making opera feel like it is for everyone—because it is. I am also interested in performing pieces composed by people who are not European males! I am a storyteller—I want everyone to have a voice. In fact, my senior project is focused on the National Opera House (NOH). The NOH is the home of the first Black opera company in the United States, and it is located right here in Pittsburgh! The culmination of  my senior project will be a recital to raise funds towards the NOH restoration project. The recital will be held at the Mansions on Fifth on May 11, 2023. 

What would you say to a fellow Ellis student who's thinking about pursuing music? 

Do it! Work hard and be prepared to take full advantage of the opportunities that present themselves–never limit yourself! What finally made me decide to “give in” and pursue music was the fact that, as enjoyable as I might have found my other interests, I could not imagine my life not being focused around music. Also, some people won’t “get it.” And that’s ok! They don’t need to. Don’t let that stop your joy or stop you from sharing your gift. What matters is that it makes you happy and that you have the ability to touch others with your music.

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