Walter Bitner

Home » Community » Education & Community Engagement at the Nashville Symphony: Spring 2017 Review

Education & Community Engagement at the Nashville Symphony: Spring 2017 Review

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Nashville Symphony Education & Community Engagement staff: (l to r) Walter Bitner, director; Kristen Freeman, coordinator; Kelley Bell, program manager; Kimberly Kraft McLemore, Accelerando Manager ~ January 10, 2017

The Memorial Day Weekend is behind us now – summer is just around the corner! Soon we will enter the last stage of the season – our annual Community Concerts series of “symphony under the stars” parks concerts which begin on Thursday, June 8 at Centennial Park. But first, let’s pause to look back on our activities in the department of Education & Community Engagement at the Nashville Symphony since January.

It’s been an eventful spring for our department at the Nashville Symphony. This post is a summary of what we’ve been up to since I posted my review of 2016 fall EDCE programming. For many of the events and programs described here,  I have already written dedicated articles: for more details, follow the links! (Click photos to enlarge them.)



Kelley, Kristen, and I were thrilled to welcome Kimberly McLemore as the newest member of the EDCE department here at the Nashville Symphony. Kimberly began her tenure as Accelerando Manager at the beginning of January – and not a moment too soon!

(l to r) Accelerando strings students Antonio Thai and Emily Martinez-Perez at MTSBOA MidState Orchestra, January 14, 2017 ~ photo courtesy of Isabel Bitner

Our department held public information meetings for prospective students and parents at venues in the community in January and February, and the first round of our second year of Accelerando auditions was held on March 4 at Nashville State Community College. A panel of five Nashville Symphony musicians heard 27 students ages 10-17 perform their prepared auditions, and then all auditioning students and their families participated in an interview with Nashville Symphony Accelerando staff. Students auditioned on a wide variety of instruments, including:

  • (l to r) Accelerando students Isabel Evernham & Aalia Hanif perform at the annual Fashion Show, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, April 18, 2017.


  • Viola
  • Double Bass
  • Flute
  • Clarinet
  • Oboe
  • Bassoon
  • Trumpet
  • Horn
  • Trombone
  • Tuba
  • Percussion

This year’s Accelerando auditions included students who reside in Cheatham, Christian (KY), Davidson, Maury, Rutherford, and Williamson counties.

13 semifinalists were chosen from this first round of auditions and entered the second round of one-on-one audition lessons with a Nashville Symphony musician who plays their audition instrument. When the second round of auditions was complete, 7 finalists were chosen, each of whom will complete three trial lessons over the summer of 2017. We plan to announce our next Accelerando class on August 1, 2017.

Five Accelerando students won chairs in MTSBOA Mid-State bands and orchestras this year, and two went on to All-State as well.

Accelerando student Aalia Hanif performs for Michael Tilson Thomas, New World Symphony Town Hall Masterclass at Blair School of Music, April 19, 2017.

Our students also had the amazing opportunity to participate in a very special partnership program with New World Symphony this year: each month from January – March, they had the honor of performing in masterclasses with New World Symphony fellows via cutting edge technology, culminating in April with a remarkable three-way masterclass between Nashville, Miami, and Atlanta in which students performed for Michael Tilson Thomas, music director of San Francisco Symphony, and artistic director of New World Symphony.

We are very grateful to Blair School of Music for their partnership with the Nashville Symphony’s Accelerando program – Accelerando students take music theory classes at Blair, participate in youth orchestras at Blair, and Blair was the host for our New World Symphony Town Hall Masterclass program this year.

This year’s current class of Accelerando students will perform our first ever Accelerando Spring Recital on June 12 before embarking on a variety of summer musical activities.

Accelerando students & faculty 2016-17 ~ photo by Grannis Photography


SphinxConnect 2017

In February, the entire Nashville Symphony EDCE staff attended SphinxConnect in Detroit, The Sphinx Organization‘s 5th annual conference on diversity in the arts – and also their 20th annual competition for young African American and Latino string players. I was honored to speak about Accelerando on behalf of the Nashville Symphony on a panel “Building the Pipeline” about pathways to careers in classical music.

Nashville Symphony Education & Community Engagement staff with Aaron Dworkin, founder of Sphinx and Dean of University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, & Dance, SphinxConnect, Detroit, February 10, 2017. (l to r) WB, Kelley Bell, Aaron Dworkin, Kimberly McLemore, Kristen Freeman.

Kelley, Kristen, Kimberly, and I had a terrific time meeting musicians, administrators, and activists from all over the country (and beyond) at SphinxConnect.

Next week, I return to Detroit to attend the League of American Orchestras‘ annual conference – this year titled “Detroit Rising / Transformation in American Orchestras”. I’m excited to be joining peers from the Nashville Symphony at this year’s conference on a panel titled “Under Development” about the alignment of symphony orchestra EDCE and Development departments, using Accelerando as a case study.

Read more about Nashville Symphony EDCE at SphinxConnect 2017 here.


Young People’s Concerts

The Nashville Symphony has been bringing symphonic music to thousands of students through our Young People’s Concerts (YPCs) every year for more than half a century, and 2016-17 was no exception.


Elizabeth Bailey & Staz Dawson perform with the Nashville Symphony, Vinay Parameswaran, conductor at Pearre Creek Elementary School, Franklin, Tennessee, January 24, 2017.


In late January, third and fourth graders filled Laura Turner Hall for concerts focused on orchestral music inspired by or meant to accompany dance, featuring spectacular ballroom dancers Elizabeth Bailey and Staz Dawson. In addition, the entire orchestra traveled to Pearre Creek Elementary School in Franklin, Tennessee to perform this program.

homeschool families gather on One Symphony Place before a Nashville Symphony Young People’s Concert, March 8, 2017

We completed our annual Young People’s Concerts programming for the season with several concerts in March for students in kindergarten through second grade. This year’s “The Power of Percussion” featured a wide variety of selections featuring the symphony’s virtuosic percussion section and their astounding array of instruments, and even a piece with no instruments at all – Steve Reich’s classic Clapping Music.


Let Freedom Sing

On January 22, the Nashville Symphony presented the 24th annual Let Freedom Sing concert in honor of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This year’s festive musical celebration was conducted by Chelsea Tipton, the music director of the Symphony of Southeast Texas. As in years past, the symphony was joined by the Celebration Chorus and Celebration Youth Chorus, and the 2017 Sphinx Competition winner Annelle Gregory – who Nashville Symphony EDCE staff witnessed win the Sphinx Competition finals a couple weeks later in Detroit – was the featured soloist on Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.


The Nashville Symphony with conductor Chelsea Tipton, the Celebration Chorus, and the Celebration Youth Chorus, Let Freedom Sing, January 22, 2017.


Next year’s Let Freedom Sing concert will be held on January 14, 2018, and will be the 25th anniversary of this very special event. Planning is already underway! It is going to be one of the most memorable events of the upcoming season.


Schermerhorn Invitational Choral Festival

On Monday, February 6, 2017, the Nashville Symphony hosted the first ever Schermerhorn Invitational Choral Festival at Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Three choirs from Middle Tennessee public high schools gathered for a day of music making on the stage of Laura Turner Hall under the direction of Dr. Tucker Biddlecombe, Interim Director of the Nashville Symphony Chorus and Director of Choral Activities at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music.

Students and their directors spent the majority of the day singing together as a mass choir on the stage of Laura Turner Hall. Each choir prepared two pieces by contemporary American composers for the mass choir rehearsals:

  • Dies Irae from An American Requiem by John Harbison
  • Twinkle, Twinkle by Daniel Elder

Each choir also sang for the others, listened to a performance by the superlative Vanderbilt Chorale, and enjoyed a delicious pizza luncheon. A wonderful day of music and camaraderie was had by all as our beautiful concert hall was filled with the joyful sound of hundreds of young people singing for and with each other! For the entire article, including many more photos, click here.


Nashville Symphony Chorus Interim Director Dr. Tucker Biddlecombe conducts the Schermerhorn Invitational Choral Festival Choir, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, February 6, 2017.


Curb Concerto Competition & Side By Side Concert

2017 Curb Concerto Competition Finalists: (l to r) Maggie Kasinger, Kaili Wang, Chloe Harvel, Daniel Hosny

Every year, Middle Tennessee students ages 14 to 18 compete for thousands of dollars in prize money and the chance to perform with the Nashville Symphony in our annual Curb Concerto Competition, which was held this year on February 25 & 26. Our 2017 contestants included 6 violinists, 3 pianists, and one student each on cello, harp, and flute, all of whom performed their auditions on the stage of Laura Turner Hall. For details about the competition and winners click here.

The Nashville Symphony hosted the annual Side By Side concert with Curb Youth Symphony on May 17, 2017 at Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Curb Youth Symphony – a collaboration between Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music and the Nashville Symphony – is directed by Carol Nies, and this year’s annual Side By Side event was conducted by Nashville Symphony Music Director Giancarlo Guerrero. It included an afternoon and evening of rehearsals on Tuesday – including the traditional pizza party in the break – and Wednesday night’s concert.


Kaili Wang performs the first movement of the Sibelius Violin Concerto with Giancarlo Guerrero and the Nashville Symphony, May 17, 2017


The featured soloist at the Side By Side concert this year was violinist Kaili Wang, winner of both the 2015 & 2017 Curb Concerto Competitions. Her performance of the first movement of Jean Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, Op. 47 accompanied by Maestro Guerrero and the Nashville Symphony opened this year’s Side By Side concert. After Kaili’s sensitive yet powerful performance, members of the Curb Youth Symphony joined the Nashville Symphony on stage for a performance of Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, Op. 14 in its entirety. It was a grand and memorable evening. For details and photos from the 2017 Side By Side Concert click here.

“It is always an honor to work in these side-by-side concerts;” said Giancarlo Guerrero. “I have lots of fun making music with these young musicians and watching them interact with the members of the Nashville Symphony. There is always so much energy and enthusiasm and it is a very rewarding experience!”


Nashville Symphony Musicians in the Community

This winter and spring Nashville Symphony musicians led sectional rehearsals – another program that runs throughout the season – for numerous student ensembles, including:


Nashville Symphony Assistant Principal Flute Ann Richards leads a woodwinds sectional rehearsal at MTSBOA Mid-State Orchestra, January 13, 2017

Creswell Middle Prep School of the Arts
Croft Middle Design Center
Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet High School
John Overton High School
Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet School
MTSBOA MidState Bands and Orchestras
Nashville School of the Arts
Oliver Middle Prep

and community youth orchestras:

Music City Youth Orchestra
Williamson County Youth Orchestra
Curb Youth Symphony
Nashville Repertory Youth Orchestra

Nashville Symphony musicians from all sections of the orchestra who participate in this robust program led more than 165 rehearsals during the 2015-2016 season! This year we anticipate our musicians will lead well over 100 sectionals reaching more than 1000 students by the end of the season.


Nashville Symphony Brass Quintet performs at Nashville Classical Charter School, May 8, 2017


Chamber ensembles comprised of Nashville Symphony musicians presented performances to over 2200 students and seniors this spring.  Schools and after-school programs visited by our musicians for these performances include:

Ross Early Learning Center
Liberty Elementary
Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet School
Cole Elementary School
Montessori Academy
Glendale Elementary School
Nashville Classical Charter School
Susan Gray Head Start
Charlotte Park Elementary School
Hartman Park Community Center
Glenview Elementary School


Zuill Bailey Masterclass

Zuill Bailey coaches cellist Matthew Palazzolo, May 31, 2017, Blair School of Music. Matthew is a Curb Youth Symphony alumni who has just graduated from the University of Memphis.

The Nashville Symphony provided a master class at Blair School of Music’s Nashville Summer Orchestral Institute with guest soloist Zuill Bailey, who was in town to perform the Dvorak Cello Concerto with the orchestra on June 1 – 3 at Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

The master class was held in Turner Hall at Blair on May 31. Nashville Summer Orchestral Institute is an orchestral program for high school students, college students, graduate students and adults from across the nation sponsored by Curb Youth Symphony each summer .


Instrument Petting Zoos & After School Residency

Education staff and volunteers have presented our popular Instrument Petting Zoos at our Pied Piper Concerts as well as at 4 sites in the community since January, with more scheduled between now and the end of July, in addition to those at our upcoming Community Concerts in June.

The Nashville Symphony also participates in an after school residency twice a year to bring music education programming to elementary and middle school students. This spring Education staff presented this after school program to the Glenview Boys & Girls Club at Glenview Elementary School, including an Instrument Petting Zoo, Sound Lab, ensemble performances, and drum circles led by Education staff member Kristen Freeman.


Kristen Freeman leads a drum circle at Glenview Boys & Girls Club


Open Dress Rehearsals & Is It A Fiddle Or A Violin?

The Nashville Symphony EDCE Department coordinates reservations for our Curb Open Dress Rehearsals for Aegis Sciences Classical Series concerts, which are attended by students in grades 5-12, college and graduate students, and seniors (through our Lifelong Listeners program). We hosted 6 of these Open Dress Rehearsals this year – 4 of them since January, including:

  • The Rite of Spring
  • Ravel’s Boléro with Edgar Meyer World Premiere
  • Bernstein’s Serenade with Anne Akiko Meyers
  • Mozart & Rachmaninoff

Over 1000 people attended these dress rehearsals in 2016-17!


David Coe & Lauren Saks, Is it A Fiddle Or A Violin? ~ May 16, 2017, Schermerhorn Symphony Center

We’ve hosted 8 Is It A Fiddle Or A Violin? programs since January – this rich program serves hundreds of elementary school students every year and features tours of both Schermerhorn Symphony Center and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum capped by the delightful title program presented by violinists/fiddlers David Coe and Lauren Saks .

More than 1000 students attended Is It A Fiddle Or A Violin? in 12 programs presented this year.


Pied Piper Concerts

Nashville Symphony EDCE staff are integrally involved in the planning and production of our Pied Piper Series of Children’s concerts – from programming the themes and repertoire for these concerts in collaboration with the conductor and artistic staff, to writing scripts, forging relationships with community partners, and planning pre-concert activities. 4 of these concerts are presented each year on Saturday mornings.

young patrons create their own storybooks ~ pre-concert activities, Nashville Symphony Pied Piper Concert, April 8, 2017

EDCE Program Manager Kelley Bell wrote delightful, educational scripts for Nashville Symphony Associate Conductor Vinay Parameswaran and guest actors, and our department collaborated with operations and production staff to encourage a heightened sense of engagement for the young children who attend these concerts.

For Around the World on February 4, the Nashville Symphony journeyed around the world with our audience through the power of music and song. The program included selections from Mexico, Argentina, Russia and beyond, and guest appearances from Global Education Center, Chinese Arts Alliance of Nashville and Upasana Performing Arts Center.

Green Eggs and Ham on April 8 featured a fun-filled adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ classic rhyming book by Rob Kapilow, which showcases the full orchestra and guest vocalists to marvelous effect. Our final Pied Piper program of the season also included selections from Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony No. 3 and Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre, and local children’s authors Susan Eaddy, Mary Uhles, and Jessica Young signed copies of their books in the lobby for patrons during the pre-concert activities.


Chinese Arts Alliance perform at Nashville Symphony Around the World, Pied Piper Concert, February 4, 2017


Sensory Friendly Concert

On Saturday, March 25, the Nashville Symphony presented our first ever Sensory Friendly concert, Reach for the Stars. It was a family-friendly concert for everyone, including young children, children with autism, and children with disabilities that cause sensory sensitivities.

Nashville Symphony Sensory Friendly concert, March 25, 2017

The safe and welcoming environment for all concertgoers featured music by John Williams, Beethoven, Sibelius, and Shostakovich, and included special accommodations including:

  • Flexible seating
  • No shushing
  • Booster seats
  • Quiet spaces
  • Pre-concert activities
  • Specially trained staff
  • Accessible seating

Reach for the Stars was a great success! The Nashville Symphony has already scheduled next season’s Sensory Friendly concert for February 10, 2018.


Pre-concert activities at Reach for the Stars Sensory Friendly concert, Nashville Symphony, March 25, 2017



The Nashville Symphony’s free OnStage chamber music series of performances conceived and performed by our own musicians brought several beautiful chamber music concerts to the stage of Laura Turner Hall:

  • Adventures with Viola, featuring Principal Viola Dan Reinker
  • Three’s Company, featuring Assistant Concertmaster Erin Hall
  • The Farrell Violin Concerto featuring violinist Jessica Blackwell as soloist on the new concerto composed by Nashville Symphony violist and composer Christopher Farrell

And we were thrilled to present the return of Jazz OnStage on March 14, featuring all-new arrangements by Ryan Middagh, Director of Jazz Studies at Blair School of Music. My Favorite Things: A Tribute to Richard Rodgers featured an all-star ensemble comprised of Nashville Symphony musicians, Blair School of Music faculty, and local jazz professionals.

Nashville Symphony Jazz OnStage 2017


*       *       *

As always when I read through all I have written and prepare to post a review of our programming, I am astounded at the wide variety, and at the depth of our organization’s commitment to music education and community. Thank you to everyone who helped us do all this and participated in our programs! Now it’s time to move on to our summer programs, and plan for another season of exciting events and programs at the Nashville Symphony.


Reach for the Stars! Nashville Symphony EDCE: (l to r) Kristen Freeman, WB, Kelley Bell


  1. Susan Dupont says:

    Wow! Very impressive to see it all laid out. Congratulations on such a vibrant program!

  2. Jay Bitner says:

    WOW! Outstanding…very COOL! What a post! very informative and appreciated.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Follow Walter Bitner on
%d bloggers like this: