Accelerando Welcomes New Class of Students While Preparing Farewells For First Ever Graduate | Nashville Public Radio

Accelerando Welcomes New Class of Students While Preparing Farewells For First Ever Graduate

Aug 7, 2018

Parents snapped cell phone photos and looked on with pride as the beaming new class of Nashville Symphony's Accelerando program was introduced at the Schermerhorn last week. This class marks the program's third year of preparing gifted young students for careers in classical music through mentoring, performance opportunities and private lessons with Nashville Symphony musicians. 

With 16 students, this will be Accelerando's biggest year yet. The program kicked off in 2016 with six students, with plans to cap the number at 24 over the next two years. Program manager Kimberly McLemore says that while the growth in numbers is exciting, it is matched by each student's musical development.

"The musical growth is outstanding," she gushed. "It's astonishing. At the first recital we had, you expect the level of musicianship to be high, but I was blown away by the progress [students] can make in one semester." 

At the end of this year, the growing program will reach another milestone: they'll send their first-ever graduate off to a music conservatory. Aalia Hanif has been studying flute in Accelerando since the program began, and says it has changed her life.

"Before Accelerando, aspiring to be a professional musican was a mere fantasy," she remarked at the new class announcement, "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." 

With the help of her Accelerando team, Hanif has been preparing for her transition to college for the past year. She's created a list of her top schools, and has researched everything from audition requirements to expected test scores and grade point averages. This summer, Accelerando strategically arranged for Hanif to attend programs that would introduce her to professors from her chosen schools. 

"This is the first year we've had students involved in summer programs," McLemore explains. "They're away for 4-8 weeks doing nothing but music all day."

Hanif spent six weeks at Tanglewood Music Center, experiencing what describes as "the most musically-inspiring summer" of her life. While there, she studied with a professor from one of the top conservatories on her list. "That audition process will be a little easier knowing that she has a professor in her corner," McLemore adds. 

Aalia Hanif performing on Live in Studio C earlier this year.
Credit Kara McLeland / Nashville Public Radio

This fall, Accelerando will pay for Hanif to visit and take guest lessons with professors at her top schools. The program will also pay for travel expenses for her auditions. But McLemore says that Accelerando is still looking for ways to support graduates throughout their college careers. 

As of now, because of funding limitations, students who are studying with instruments provided by the Nashville Symphony will not be able to take those instruments with them to college. "We're exploring the possibility of a patron, donor or corporate sponsorship to make that happen," McLemore explains. 

Providing college scholarships is another area Accelerando is exploring. The program is built to support students from diverse backgrounds who could be eligible for minority scholarships, but like other scholarships the students might apply for, receiving one is not a guarantee. Right now, McLemore says that Accelerando opens dialogues with potential schools about scholarship opportunities and provides college counseling for students to explore which college might be the best financial fit for their family. 

The ultimate goal, she says, is providing their students with better access to top-notch schools. But with overall tuition prices soaring in the last few decades, some of those schools also come with top-notch costs. For the 2018-2019 school year, for example, tuition and fees at Julliard can cost up to $69,830. At the New England Conservatory of Music, $67,341. The Curtis Institute of Music is one of the rare schools that offers free tuition for its students – but that also comes with one of the most selective acceptance rates (between 4-5%) in the country. 

As Accelerando continue to grow, new students are grateful to have the opportunity to look up to their more experienced peers. Tenth-grader Treasure Eckles has watched her friend and fellow violist Emily Martinez-Perez navigate the demanding program for the last two years. The two attend Hume-Fogg High School together.

When asked if they are excited to have each other as support, they exchange a glance and fall into a fit of giggles. The question, apparently, is a no-brainer.  "Some of my other friends play viola too, but they're not here. She's an expert at this now," Eckles says about Martinez-Perez. "She even helped me prepare for my audition." 

And as for Martinez-Perez's advice for Eckles? "Mostly, pay attention to what your teacher tells you to do, because the repertoire gets really hard," she says.

"Harder than Hume Fogg?" Eckles asks, with just a touch of apprehension in her voice.

"Oh yeah," Martinez-Perez responds, "and the music festivals you do will give you symphony-level music, so it's like stuff that the Nashville Symphony would play."

For two teenagers who dream of playing professionally one day, that's music to the ears. They both give big smiles. 

This year's incoming Accelerando class is: 

Icsis Church, clarinet 

  • 8th grade
  • Bellevue Middle School, Nashville

Treasure Eckles, viola 

  • 10th grade
  • Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet High School, Nashville 

Angel Elbano, flute  

  • 4th grade 
  • Una Elementary School, Nashville 

Rose Majett, cello 

  • 8th grade 
  • homeschool student, Nashville 

Xavion Patterson, bassoon 

  • 10th grade 
  • Stewarts Creek High School, Smyrna 

Mario Shaw, percussion  

  • 11th grade 
  • Stewarts Creek High School, Smyrna 

Alexander Vinson, cornet 

  • 7th grade 
  • MLK Jr. Magnet Middle School, Nashville