Walter Bitner

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Accelerando: The First Year

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Accelerando Class 2016-17: Aalia Hanif, Isabel Evernham, Bernard Ekwuazi, Antonio Thai, Emily Martinez-Perez, & Cedric Quinn ~ photo by Grannis Photography


As the Nashville Symphony’s 2016-17 season comes to a close, so does the first year of operation of our award-winning new Accelerando program.

Here is a brief review of highlights from our first year, including links, photos, and videos, and a look at what’s ahead as we prepare to move into our second year.

(For a more extensive review and history of Accelerando, access the Accelerando category archives here on Off The Podium.)

We announced our inaugural class in August 2016, and these students began participation in the program immediately. Accelerando is a comprehensive program designed to prepare students from ethnicities underrepresented in American orchestras for careers as professional orchestra musicians. Key elements in the program include:

  • weekly private lessons with a Nashville Symphony musician
  • participation in school band or orchestra
  • participation in community youth orchestra
  • weekly music theory classes
  • monthly attendance at Nashville Symphony Classical Series concerts

…and much, much more. The entire program is provided free of charge.  View the Accelerando program description on the Nashville Symphony website here.


Nashville Public Television (WNPT) featured Accelerando on the station’s weekly feature Arts Break in October 2016.


The fall was an exciting time as students and families stepped up the pace of their lives to get oriented to the many facets of the program, with several new commitments to attend every week and an increased demand for daily practice to work into an already busy schedule each day. Nashville Symphony EDCE staff held several meetings for students and families to educate them about Accelerando and coordinate all these details. At the same time we were meeting with Accelerando faculty, and searching for a manager to take on primary responsibility for administering the program.


Accelerando student Aalia Hanif, 1st chair flute, Tennessee All-State Band & Kimberly McLemore, Accelerando Manager, April 8, 2017 ~ photo courtesy of Shahnela Hanif

We were extremely fortunate to add Kimberly McLemore to Nashville Symphony EDCE staff as Accelerando Manager in January 2017.  Kimberly’s experience as a musician and educator have already proven to be tremendous assets to our staff and her role as Accelerando’s administrator.

83% of our students won chairs at MTSBOA Mid-State Band and Orchestra Festival, and 33% of our students went on to participate in TMEA All-State Band as well.

In February, the entire Nashville Symphony EDCE staff attended the Sphinx Organization‘s 20th annual Competition and 5th annual conference in Detroit, retitled SphinxConnect this year. This year I was a featured speaker at SphinxConnect, sharing the story of Accelerando as part of a panel discussion Building the Pipeline about pathways for students from underrepresented ethnicities to pursue careers in classical music.


Building the Pipeline, SphinxConnect 2017 — Lee Koonce, President & Artistic Director, Gateways Music Festival; Walter Bitner, Director of Education & Community Engagement, Nashville Symphony; Sarah Johnson, Director, Weill Music Institute, Carnegie Hall; John Kieser, Executive Vice President and Provost, New World Symphony. (Originally broadcast on Detroit Public Television)


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.


Nashville Symphony musicians and Accelerando faculty reflect on their experiences teaching in the program ~ (l to r) Jessica Blackwell, violin; Leslie Fagan, flute; Christopher Farrell, viola; Julia Harguindey, bassoon; Paul Jenkins, trombone.


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.

(l to r) Accelerando students Emily Martinez-Perez & Isabel Evernham assist with Accelerando auditions, March 4, 2017

In March, we held auditions for our second Accelerando class at Nashville State Community College – these auditions were for students who will begin the program next season. The Accelerando audition process involves many steps and takes about five months to complete – our finalists for the new class are currently in the midst of trial lessons, and we will announce the incoming class in August. Our hope is to find 5 more students and grow our enrollment to 11 for 2017-18. Accelerando is scheduled to continue to increase enrollment each year until we reach capacity at 24 students in 2020, and ideally maintain our numbers at that level thereafter.


Isabel Evernham and Aalia Hanif pose with designer Zac Posen at the Nashville Symphony Fashion Show, April 18, 2017


Our students presented our first ever Accelerando recital on June 12 – a full recital in which each student performed on the stage of Laura Turner Hall at Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Emotions were running high as our students gave an exciting and moving performance – all of them played exceptionally, received a standing ovation, and the event was even covered in the Huffington Post here! 


Antonio Thai, Accelerando Spring Recital, June 12, 2017, Schermerhorn Symphony Center ~ photo by Sally Bebawy


Bernard Ekwuazi, Accelerando Spring Recital, June 12, 2017, Schermerhorn Symphony Center ~ photo by Sally Bebawy


Cedric Quinn & Julia Harguindey, Accelerando Spring Recital, June 12, 2017, Schermerhorn Symphony Center ~ photo by Sally Bebawy


Emily Martinez-Perez with legendary strings educator Anna Maria Miller (MNPS, Tennessee Youth Orchestra), Accelerando Spring Recital, June 12, 2017, Schermerhorn Symphony Center ~ photo by Sally Bebawy


Last week 5 of our students (Aalia Hanif was attending Tennessee Governor’s School for the Arts) spent an entire week in music theory camp – every morning at the hall with Kimberly McLemore and me, and every afternoon with Tyler Meredith at Montgomery Bell Academy.


Accelerando solfège intensive, June 21, 2017, Schermerhorn Symphony Center


This just in! ~ Accelerando student Aalia Hanif performed recently on WPLN’s Live in Studio C, as one of four superlative young musicians representing Tennessee Governor’s School for the Arts. The entire broadcast can be heard here.


Aalia Hanif performs on Live in Studio C ~ photo by Nina Cardona, WPLN


We are very grateful to all of our community partners: Blair School of Music, MNPS Music Makes Us, Conexión Américas, and Choral Arts Link, New World Symphony, our Official Education Partner NISSAN, and our leadership funding provider The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation – without the support of these organizations, Accelerando would not be possible.

I would like to personally thank the staff and musicians of the Nashville Symphony, and the entire Nashville music education community, who have embraced and supported this program so wholeheartedly. I am amazed at how quickly what was a spark of an idea less than 3 years ago has become a reality. We’re building a school at the symphony! It’s really happening!

*       *       *

Leadership funding for Accelerando is provided by
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation



Nashville Symphony Official Education Partner



1 Comment

  1. […] For a summary of Accelerando: The First Year, click here. […]

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