During the first week of June 2019, the Nashville Symphony hosted the 74th annual National Conference for the League of American Orchestras. This exciting event brought approximately 1200 orchestra staff from across North America, Europe, and beyond for four days of conversations, presentations, concerts, and more.
The League’s Education and Community Engagement constituency – EDCE staff at member orchestras from across the country and beyond – is one of the most active, and it has been my privilege to participate in sessions at several previous conferences with my colleagues. As it was our turn to host these activities this year, we focused a spotlight on the Nashville Symphony’s innovative Accelerando program.
Accelerando is an intensive music education program launched by the Nashville Symphony in 2016 and designed to prepare gifted young students of diverse ethnic backgrounds for pursuing music at the collegiate level and beyond. I have written about Accelerando regularly since its inception here on Off The Podium – the archive of these articles may be found here. Accelerando seeks to create professional opportunities for musicians from ethnic communities underrepresented in today’s orchestras by providing them with instruction, mentorship, performance experiences and assistance with applying to music schools.
Essentially, Accelerando is a rigorous career preparation program. In addition to participating in their school band or orchestra, Accelerando students participate in or attend:
- Weekly Private Lessons
- Weekly Music Theory Classes
- Weekly Youth Orchestra Participation
- Nashville Symphony Classical Series Concerts Attendance
- Solo & Chamber Performance Opportunities
- Summer Camp and Festival Attendance
- Collegiate & Career Counseling
- Monthly Masterclasses
With very few exceptions (due to availability), Accelerando students take weekly private lessons with a musician of the Nashville Symphony who serves as their mentor through the program, attend Nashville Symphony Classical Series concerts about once per month (or more), and other events at Schermerhorn Symphony Center including our monthly masterclass in the fall. The program is supported by several community partners:
- Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University
- New World Symphony
- MNPS Music Makes Us
- Conexión Américas
- Choral Arts Link
- Sewanee Summer Music Festival
These community partners have been integral to our success, providing a wide variety of resources as well as knowledge and support as we got the program off the ground.
In 2016, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded the Nashville Symphony a grant of $959,000, which funded 75% of Accelerando‘s operating expenses over the program’s first six years. This has been absolutely crucial to our success.
Students are chosen for the program through a lengthy audition process that begins each year in March and lasts through the summer – we announce each new class of students entering the program in August. Accelerando students are not chosen to fit a specific instrumentation, but rather we choose those that show the greatest potential for success in pursuing a career as a professional orchestral musician. Overall we have found three vital aspects crucial to a student’s ability to succeed in the program: native talent, motivation, and family support.
Our first class of six Accelerando students entered the program in August 2016. Since then the program has grown each year with the addition of new students, and we will welcome six new students in August 2019 for a total of 21 students enrolled in the program for the 2019-20 season. We expect to reach capacity enrollment of 24 students in the fall of 2020.
We have accepted primarily students in middle school and high school (we currently have students aged 9 – 18 enrolled) who attend mostly public schools – currently about half of our students attend Metro Nashville Public Schools, and the other half attend public schools in outlying counties, or are homeschooled. Our students come from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds:
- 38% Black or African American
- 19% Asian including Asian Indian, Pakistani, and Taiwanese students
- 13% Latinx
- 6% Pacific Islander
- 25% Two or more races
This broad array of backgrounds among our student population is representative of the community of metropolitan Nashville, Tennessee – a surprisingly cosmopolitan city. All of these ethnicities are underrepresented in United States’ orchestras, which are dominated by white musicians.
This fall, our first Accelerando graduate Aalia Hanif will begin classes at Northwestern University, where she is enrolled as a flute performance major.
Before Accelerando, aspiring to be a professional musician was a mere fantasy – I knew I wanted to go into music, but I had absolutely no idea where to start or how I could ever achieve that goal. As soon as I was accepted into the program, I knew I was in the capable and trustworthy hands of everyone on the Accelerando team.
As musicians from underrepresented cultures, it is our duty and our community’s duty to expand the realm of classical music to meet people from all walks of life. With differing backgrounds, musicians are able to bring their own unique experiences and interpretations…. After all, music is a language we can all understand, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion.
~ Aalia Hanif, Accelerando 2019
Accelerando at the League of American Orchestras 2019 Conference
Hosting a national gathering of our symphony colleagues gave us a special opportunity to reflect on Accelerando‘s first three years.
I met with Kimberly McLemore, who has served as the Nashville Symphony’s Accelerando Manager since the beginning of 2017, and together we planned to make the most of this special opportunity to showcase our program. We worked closely since the fall of 2018 with staff from the League of American Orchestras to make the most of the time at our disposal, and were greatly assisted with these preparations by Najean Lee, Director of Government Affairs and Education Advocacy for the League.
We prepared a special presentation for the conference’s Education and Community Engagement “pre-conference” day on June 2 which was attended by more than fifty symphony education staff from across the country. In our session, we described the story of how we built and run the program through the voices of so many who helped us over the past few years including Nashville Symphony musicians, representatives from our community partners, students, and parents.
The following day, Monday, June 3, the conference opened officially, and for the Opening Plenary that was held that afternoon in Laura Turner Hall at Schermerhorn Symphony Center, we had prepared something unique.
Back in the fall when we began to plan to introduce Accelerando to our colleagues at conference, we were determined to find a way to have them perform, for we knew that this would make the strongest, most memorable and most authentic impact on those who were encountering our program and our students for the first time. Two of our students had performed at the pre-conference day for EDCE staff on the previous day, but practically everyone attending the conference – from executive directors to conductors, musicians, vendors, as well as the rest of the orchestra administrators in attendance – would be present at the opening Plenary.
Nashville Symphony Music Director Giancarlo Guerrero gave the Opening Plenary’s keynote speech. But before he took the podium, after introductory remarks from Jesse Rosen (President of the League), Alan Valentine (President & CEO of the Nashville Symphony) and other important leaders, we had prepared something very special.
The Accelerando Overture
The Accelerando Ensemble performance was an incredibly valuable and enriching experience. For students, this concert offered the opportunity to observe how their teachers worked in a professional environment. Not only did it give them a glimpse into the professional rehearsal and performance process, but it also challenged them to take part as equal participants. The teachers, on the other hand, were able to observe and gain insight on their students in a completely new context (that of an ensemble setting). This collaborative environment fueled conversations and teaching opportunities not typically available in traditional private lesson formats. I was incredibly proud of the students’ and teachers’ performance and have no doubt that these sorts of experiences are an essential element of education to be preserved and expanded upon.
~ Enrico Lopez-Yañez
Assistant Conductor and Principal Pops Conductor Designate
With hopes of performing at conference, we commissioned Christopher Farrell – an award-winning Nashville composer who has played viola in the Nashville Symphony since 1999 and has been on the Accelerando faculty since the program was launched – to compose a special piece for a specially conceived ensemble that would include every Accelerando student and faculty member.
The one-of-a-kind Accelerando Overture was written for a unique instrumentation that featured students playing alongside their teachers – and with his “insider” knowledge of the musicians who would be playing the piece, Chris was perfectly placed to compose a piece that would best showcase our students before a national audience. Which is exactly what he did.
I was honored to be asked by Walter Bitner, Kimberly McLemore, and the Nashville Symphony to compose a piece for the students and faculty of the program. One of the most rewarding parts of teaching, of course, is watching the progress of your students over time. I wrote each part knowing the individual student that would play that part. Many of these students have been with the program from Accelerando’s first year. To share the stage with them, hear them play together as an ensemble, and for them to play a piece I wrote for them has been a true high point for me. More importantly, our goal with the program was to prepare these students for a possible orchestra career. This marked a high point for the program in that they were able to perform together as an orchestra at the League Conference.
~ Christopher Farrell
To make this experience even more exciting, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with Newzik, the world leader in digital score solution for orchestras. Newzik’s excellent team flew to Nashville from France to equip our students and their teachers with iPads for rehearsal the week before the performance. Students and teachers quickly learned how to navigate the outstanding and intuitive Newzik app with ease, marking their parts, turning pages, accessing the full score, and more with confidence all within a single working rehearsal. It was an exciting opportunity to showcase not only our innovative program, but also the leading digital innovation in orchestral performance practice, both at once in a single performance.
Finally the day of the Opening Plenary came, and the pace of preparations accelerated. After a morning rehearsal, a quick lunch was shared backstage, musicians changed into their performance attire, dignitaries arrived for the photo op, the tech crews made their final adjustments. The doors opened and hundreds of eager orchestra staff from all over filled the hall. Our students and their teachers took their seats on stage and waited quietly for the opening welcome speeches to come to a close. Accelerando student and concertmaster Riya Mitra walked on stage to tune the orchestra. When Nashville Symphony Assistant Conductor Enrico Lopez-Yañez entered, the ensemble stood and the audience applauded. He bowed, stepped onto the podium, lifted his baton, and the music began.
The Nashville Symphony Accelerando Ensemble performs the Accelerando Overture by Christopher Farrell at the League of American Orchestras National Conference, June 3, 2019, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville.