The Accelerando Overture

Mike Lawson • ChoralFeatures • August 29, 2019

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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.


SBO featured a story about Accelerando in the November 2015 issue – the Nashville Symphony had just announced intentions to launch the program. It’s exciting to reflect on how quickly it has grown!

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. This unique program 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 including Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University, New World Symphony, Metro Nashville Public Schools, Conexión Américas, Choral Arts Link, and Sewanee Summer Music Festival. These community partners have provided 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.

Accelerando is a 100% scholarship program

“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,” said Aalia Hanif, Accelerando’s first graduate. “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,” Hanif added.

Aalia Hanif will begin classes in the fall of 2019 at Northwestern University, where she is enrolled as a flute performance major. 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. 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. 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 on the first day of the conference in Laura Turner Hall at Schermerhorn Symphony Center. So, for the Opening Plenary, we prepared something unique.

The Accelerando Overture

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.

“One of the most rewarding parts of teaching is watching the progress of your students over time,” said Christopher Farrell. “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.”

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. Hundreds of eager orchestra staff from across the country 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.

To watch and listen to a video of the Accelerando Overture performance at the League of American Orchestras National Conference on June 3, 2019, visit

Walter Bitner is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, conductor, and teacher, and serves as Director of Education & Community Engagement for the Richmond Symphony Orchestra in Richmond, Virginia. He writes about music and education on his blog Off the Podium at

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