LiveConnections' Bridge Sessions and in-school residencies provide interactive educational opportunities for youth from city schools & people with disabilities.


Our LiveConnections Presents concert series features collaborative concerts designed for adventurous music-lovers.


We prioritize accessibility for people with disabilities through Bridge Sessions, workshops & live webcasts.

Written by Lindsay Westley   
Published on Tuesday, 07 January 2014 02:15

January 7, 2014 - Charlotte Blake Alston has worked with the Philadelphia Orchestra in different ways over the last 23 years. She is in her 20th season as host of Sound All Around, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s concert series for its youngest listeners, and she periodically hosts or narrates the orchestra’s family and school concerts. She has also written original narration for existing orchestral works and narrated the orchestra’s annual MLK Tribute Concert for nine consecutive years. She performed for LiveConnections at our October 27, 2013, ClassicAlive concert with harpist Elizabeth Hainen and spoke with us after the concert.

Charlotte Blake AlstonWhat appealed to you about the proposed collaboration for the October concert? How did it differ from the work you do with the Orchestra?
The word “connections” always piques my interest. Initially, Elizabeth asked me read Poe’s short story, “The Masque of the Red Death” as the lead-in to “Conte Fantastique” [André Caplet’s work for harp and string quartet]. I don’t need my arm twisted to do a public reading of any of Poe’s work.

Mary [Javian] also approached you about playing the kora. How did you fit that into the program?
Initially, I wasn’t sure how this “African harp” would fit on a program of classical music, but then I remembered the words of my first kora teacher, Djimo Kouyate, who used the Mandinka word: Sabu. “The kora is sabu,” he would say, “Connection. It is the connection between the people and their history.” And LiveConnections is a program that is entirely about making artistic connections.

Can you talk a little bit about why it's important to you to perform in lots of different venues and for different ages and audiences?
I believe that storytelling and spoken narrative — and particularly symphony narration — is an art form whose potential power is often minimized. Spoken text is sometimes relegated to the status of a metaphorical artistic stepchild, but the role of the narrator is to bring the text to life. I believe when the role of spoken narrative is diminished or minimized, the audience is deprived of the opportunity to experience the full power of a work and the intention of the composer. The composer’s intent is that the text and music work together, that they connect. The text is an integral part of the whole.

Can you talk a little bit about the culture of storytelling? How is it different to perform in the U.S. than it is to perform elsewhere?
In contemporary American culture people often associate storytelling with very young children when historically, the storytellers were the keepers of history and cultural identity. When I experienced storytelling in such countries as Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, Ireland, even southern China, the entire community gathered.

I’ve performed in schools, universities, museums, concerts halls, with classical and jazz musicians, orchestras, choirs, a dance company, in a refugee camp in northern Senegal, a maximum-security prison and juvenile detention centers in several states. As I walked away from the grounds after my last set at the Stimmen: Voices Festival in Basel, Switzerland, a woman ran up to me, calling after me. “Mees! Mees! English very hard. When I hear English, my ear close. But when I hear your stories, my ear open.” Connections.

Curator’s Note from Mary Javian, ClassicAlive curator: I’ve known Charlotte Blake Alston for the past 15 years through my connection to the Philadelphia Orchestra. Although Charlotte is known by many as a host, she really is a master storyteller. I was excited to show Philadelphia this side of her at LiveConnections’ October ClassicAlive concert with Elizabeth Hainen. I got even more excited when I learned she plays the kora, a 21-string bridge-harp often seen in West Africa, as part of her story-telling. It ended up being a great compliment to Elizabeth’s European concert harp. Charlotte's performance on this instrument was touching, and she had the entire audience singing along! 

LiveConnections is presenting four more ClassicAlive concerts this season. The next one is February 2 with cellist Gabriel Cabezas and dancer Chloe Felesina of BalletX. We hope you'll join us for more innovations and collaborations!


[Read PART 1 of the interview with Elizabeth Hainen here.]


[Images: Conrad Erb Photography]


Latest News

Join our team! We're hiring a full-time Program & Development Coordinator

February 20, 2018 — Are you a multi-talented individual interested in learning the inner working of arts administration? LiveConnections seeks a full-time Program & Development Coordinator to support our music education and concert programming and to support fundraising efforts for our growing non-profit organization.

400+ Philly Kids to Rock Out for All-Day World Cafe Live Festival

January 8, 2018 — On Sunday, February 25, over 400 Philly-area kids will take to the stage at World Cafe Live for an all-day rock concert. The February event is the inaugural Kids Rock Philly: A Benefit For LiveConnections where kids from five regional Schools of Rock will perform in a six hour festival-style concert across both stages at World Cafe Live.

LiveConnections Wins 2018-2019 Barra Award for Exemplary Nonprofits in the Greater Philadelphia Region

December 5, 2017 — The Barra Foundation has announced that LiveConnections is a recipient of a 2018-2019 Barra Award. LiveConnections joins 43 exceptional nonprofit organizations in the Greater Philadelphia region that will each receive $50,000 in grant funding. Barra Awardees are nominated by their peers in the social sector and are then invited to submit an application to the Foundation.

Fifth House Ensemble and Jason Vieaux Join Forces for LiveConnections Concert

December 4, 2017 — LiveConnections’ 2017-18 concert series begins with the unlimited imagination and powerhouse artistry of the Fifth House Ensemble, which joins Grammy-winner Jason Vieaux, “perhaps the most precise and soulful classical guitarist of his generation” (NPR), to perform a one-night only concert including Dan Visconti’s “Living Language”  on Wednesday, December 13, 2017 at 7:30PM at World Cafe Live, Philadelphia.

Mount Airy Violin & Bows Partners with LiveConnections to Give the Gift of Music this Season

November 29, 2017 — This holiday season, Mount Airy Violins & Bows is giving the gift of music to Philadelphia youth. The shop has partnered with LiveConnections, the Philly non-profit dedicated to creating unique programs that inspire learning and build community through collaborative music-making, and will donate 5% of their holiday sales to help support LiveConnections’ mission.

LiveConnections Announces 2017-2018 Season of Community Collaboration

September 13, 2017 — Can music build community? This season’s performances provide the opportunity for musicians to create distinctive, boundary-blurring music, often involving new commissions and world premieres, while collaborating with members of the greater Philadelphia community and beyond. Programs include performances by Fifth House Ensemble, Jason Vieaux, VOCES8, Kinan Azmeh, Aizuri Quartet, and more.

LiveConnections Honors Drexel ExCITe Center’s Youngmoo Kim at Big Hurrah Celebration

August 22, 2017 — LiveConnections is thrilled to honor Youngmoo Kim, director of Drexel University’s ExCITe Center, with our 3rd annual Connector Award at this year's Big Hurrah on November 14. The evening will also include performances from Andrew Lipke, Angela Zator Nelson, David Rosen, Allen Pinkney, Luke Carlos O’Reilly, Kwasi Burgee, and more!

Announcing Hill-Freedman World Academy's album "First Verse" | July reflections from executive director Melinda Steffy

July 5, 2017 — Sometimes a simple connection takes on a life of its own. Read more from executive director Melinda Steffy about the making of the Hill-Freedman album, "First Verse".

It's been an inspiring season | June reflections from executive director Melinda Steffy

June 14, 2017 — We've had an inspiring year here at LiveConnections. 4600 participants in our educational programs, 5 commissions of new concert music, more than 45 tremendously talented artists. Take a look at our 2016-2017 year in review.

LA Opera’s Elizabeth Zharoff and Award-Winning Double Bassist Xavier Foley Team Up to Premiere Video Game Music at LiveConnections

April 25, 2017 — On June 2, two Curtis Institute grads will present an evening of classical tunes and original video game compositions at LiveConnections, in residence at World Cafe Live.


Donate to LiveConnections


Join Our Mailing List



Blog Archive

LiveConnections is grateful for the support of numerous individuals, companies and foundations who believe in our mission and help make our programs possible.
[Become a supporter!]

Big Hurrah Sponsors:
(as of 10/24/2017)

$5000 School Sponsor

Drexel University


Fox Rothschild


Philly Music Fest


World Cafe Live





$2500 Collaboration Sponsor

Brandywine Realty






Dranoff Properties


Pepper Hamilton


University of Pennsylvania





$1000 Connecting Sponsors



Ballard Spahr






Cozen O'Connor


Curtis Institute of Music


Jonathan Fink Group




ITEM Media


Law Rocks


Philadelphia Insurance Companies


RSK Advisory


TGS Financial



$500 Sponsors
The Art Shop
Benjamin Cobrin & Company
BWA architecture + planning
Coscia Moos Architecture, LLC
Grace Tavern
Keystone First
Dr. Karyn Scher
W. Michael Tuman, DMD
University City Science Center



Connector Award



Business Support



Foundation Support 2016-2017:
Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation
Corrine R. & Henry Bower Memorial Trust
CHG Charitable Trust
Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation
The Allen Hilles Fund
Independence Foundation
Patricia Kind Family Foundation
Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation
Christopher Ludwick Foundation
The Presser Foundation
Rosenlund Family Foundation
Caroline J.S. Sanders Trust
The Scholler Foundation
Howell Lockhart Seiple Trust
Seybert Foundation
Joseph Kennard Skilling Trust
Paula Steinebach Trust
Strauss Foundation
Union Benevolent Association
Henrietta Tower Wurts Memorial
Wyncote Foundation



Additional Support:

LiveConnections is supported in part by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.



Additional support provided in part by the Philadelphia Cultural Fund. is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, tax ID 26-2666641. The official registration and financial information of may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling toll-free, within Pennsylvania, 1-800-732-0999. Registration does not imply endorsement.