91Classical’s Student Composer Fellowships is a program that is building a bridge between classical music’s present and its future. Every year four students between grades 7 and 12 in the 91Classical listening area are selected for a year of mentorship and support for learning the art of composition. Emmy nominee Dave Ragland and Grammy nominee Cristina Spinei guide students studying vocal and instrumental music, respectively. Students are provided with state of the art notation software by Finale, and they have the opportunity to observe dress rehearsals with the area’s major ensembles. The program culminates with a broadcast premiere on an episode of “Live in Studio C” on 91Classical, performed by Nashville’s professional musicians.
Going into its second year with a new class of fellows, this fellowship has exceeded our expectations. A particularly gratifying aspect of the program was how local organizations rallied around the students. The Nashville Symphony immediately offered the fellows season tickets and allowed them backstage before a concert to meet composer Jennifer Higdon. They also set up a masterclass with composer Gabriela Lena Frank and their conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, which was moved to a video conference after COVID-19 closed the concert halls. And, the Nashville Symphony Orchestra’s Composer Lab participants, all young professionals, spent time in a videoconference with the Student Composer Fellows. In addition, Nashville Opera welcomed the fellows in to observe a rehearsal of a new opera by Nicolas Benevides, and contemporary chamber orchestra Intersection opened their rehearsal of an opera by Nkeiru Okoye.
When the city shut down, and the inaugural fellows had their on-air premieres delayed, the Nashville Symphony and West End United Methodist Church stepped up to the plate to organize a group of musicians to perform the pieces. Undeterred by shutdowns, and not to mention a devastating tornado that hit the city on March 3, each of the students finished an astonishing amount of music.
To extend our relationship with the students, 91Classical has named the first class of fellows our Student Composer Ambassadors. They will each act as a buddy to a current fellow, and participate in ongoing activities within the program.