Music City true to its name with W.O. Smith Music School
It was a somber evening in November 1994. There was a torrential downpour, and Lynn Adelman had received the call…Ken Wendrich–executive director of the W.O. Smith Music School–had just been killed in a car accident. She turned to her husband and said, “I need to go let his wife know.”
At that time, Adelman was Assistant Director at the school, where low-income Nashville children could take 30 minute music lessons for 50 cents. Over the years, the prices have remained unchanged.
History of W.O. Smith
For many Nashville children in the 1980s, the Blair Music School (aka Blair Academy) was not an option, due to the high cost. William Oscar (W.O.) Smith, a jazz bassist and Tennessee State University professor, wanted a music school that was accessible to all of Nashville’s youth. The school was founded in 1984, though as one might imagine, Smith faced many challenges along the way. Although he faced resistance in the racial arena (he was at the time, one of the only African-American members of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra), he was no stranger to these challenges; he experienced the ugliness of racism as a child when his family was threatened, as well as in other instances. However, Smith focused more on the financial challenges when it came to founding the school.
Where did Smith turn? John “Del” Sawyer of the Blair Academy and…a bit of scotch. The two became friends at weekly social gatherings, and Sawyer provided know-how, perspective, and funding. Together, with the help of other music industry professionals, they founded the W.O. Smith Music School in 1984. At that time, the school had just over 30 teachers and approximately 70 students.
Lynn Adelman’s integral role
By that same year, Adelman had earned a degree in Music Education from UT Knoxville, a graduate degree from Scarritt Graduate School (now Scarritt Bennett Center), had some experience teaching in an Atlanta high school, and was then working at McKendree United Methodist Church. Despite working full-time, she made time to volunteer at the new school.
Lynn came from a family of teachers, going back as far as her great-grandfather. In her volunteer capacity at W.O. Smith, she first taught private piano lessons, and was providing full-on choral instruction by 1990. Ken Wendrich had been the school’s executive director until his death in 1994, when Lynn took a full-time position as Assistant Director. “I don’t know how we did it, but Bill [Lynn’s husband] really did a lot for us during my transition from McKendree to W.O. Smith,” said Lynn. “Our Christmas program was coming up at the church, and everything seemed like a whirlwind, on top of the tragedy of losing Ken. Everything was a blur, but before I knew it, I was full-time at the school.” The Board of Directors hired a new Executive Director, Jonah Rabinowitz, in 1995, following the death of Wendrich. Together, Adelman and Rabinowitz have operated the school for more than 20 years.
Currently, Adelman actively engages volunteers for the school and ensures students’ needs are being met. “We’re now in the process of setting up a music studio and recording program. We continuously try to find ways to be efficient with our space,” says Adelman. She recounted how the school had faced financial hardship over the years, but how Nashville’s music industry and businesses have ensured the success and vitality of the school.
Volunteering with W.O. Smith
Adelman works to make sure every timeslot can be consistently accounted for, and is excited that the school has recently added lessons for less-common instruments, such as bassoon. “Our mission is to transform lives through music,” said Adelman. The school now has 500 students, with numerous private lessons and several ensembles. In addition to volunteer teachers, the school seeks volunteers for special events and welcomes financial donations. Please visit the school’s website for more information on how to qualify as a student or volunteer: wosmith.org.
W.O. Smith Music School has become a cornerstone of music education in Nashville–Music City. By ensuring the gift of learning music is accessible by all, the school carries on the spirit of its founder, William Oscar Smith–a true testament to Being About Change.
Meet 2017 Be About Change scholarship recipient, and W.O. Smith student and volunteer, Darchelle.