Pictured above, from left: Dan Allcott, professor of music at Tech, and Rachel Smalling, Tech alumna and director of operations and admissions for the Summer Music Institute.
For Smalling, the role is both a calling and a full-circle moment
Cookeville – When the curtain rises on Tennessee Tech University’s Summer Music Institute this June, attendees will see a familiar face. Rachel Smalling, a Tech alumna from the class of 2014 with a degree in music performance, serves as director of operations and admissions for the School of Music’s annual recruitment and mentoring workshop.
For Smalling, the role is both a calling and a full-circle moment. A cellist by training, she first attended the Summer Music Institute – then known as the Southeast Chamber Music Institute – as a high school student. She was drawn to the program by the opportunity to study with Dan Allcott, professor of music at Tech and music director of the Bryan Symphony Orchestra.
Smalling returned to the event each summer throughout her high school career. Allcott would go on to become a trusted mentor and later, a respected colleague and friend.
The Summer Music Institute provides rising high school freshmen through graduating seniors an opportunity to spend four days learning from Tech faculty, playing their instrument in ensembles and getting a preview of the university experience.
When it was briefly shelved several years back, Smalling played a central role in its return.
“It’s always been about bringing young people to campus to work with faculty one-on-one. This is our chance to showcase Tennessee Tech,” said Allcott. “Rachel really helped reinvigorate the program. She was the big reason it came back and we’re so thankful.”
Even before assuming her staff role with the Summer Music Institute, Smalling had remained close to her university instructors and peers. During her senior year at Tech, she worked as box office manager for the Bryan Symphony Orchestra. Smalling held the position for two years before eventually ascending to the role of executive director. She only recently departed the position to allow more time for her burgeoning career as a business owner and entrepreneur.
Together with her business partner, Smalling bought and refurbished two boutique hotels in the area and is set to open a new cocktail lounge in Cookeville’s historic town square later this year.
“Had you told me five years ago that I was going to be leaving my arts administration career and being an entrepreneur in the community, I would have laughed,” said Smalling. “I feel like I’m always going to stay connected to that world in some way. The Summer Music Institute is something that I’ve done long enough now that, while it’s certainly not easy, it’s an opportunity for me to stay involved. I think we have a good thing going and I don’t want to lose that momentum for the School of Music.”
While Smalling’s years in arts management may seem vastly different from her career as an entrepreneur, there is a common theme of dusting off an old concept – be it a summer music camp that had been on hiatus or a hotel that had seen better days – and giving it new life.
“Let’s take this thing that is old and broken and turn it around and give it something that the people of this town can be proud of,” said Smalling, reflecting on her latest business ventures.
On Smalling’s watch, the Summer Music Institute is flourishing, too. “This year we have seen really strong recruitment numbers even earlier than we did last year. So, we’re in quite a good place,” she added.
Smalling expects between 65 and 70 high school students to attend this summer’s workshop, a figure that she attributes in part to the program’s comparative affordability. Full tuition is $475 and local students who do not wish to stay overnight can secure a commuter rate of $375.
For Allcott, who just marked 20 years of service at Tech and has now begun teaching the children of his former students, the experience of witnessing Smalling’s success is deeply gratifying.
“We want students to come here. We want to give them the opportunity to explore a music degree and help them realize their best path,” Allcott explained. “When that path involves working with us and staying with us, that’s super rewarding. To see Rachel be such a contributor to our town and our university – it is beyond what I could even expect.”
The Summer Music Institute kicks off June 4 and registration closes May 5. Learn more HERE.
Photo courtesy of Tennessee Tech.