Camera lights flashed all around 16-year-old violinist Akili Farrow as she stood on the red carpet at the Marian Anderson Award Gala, celebrating this year’s award winner, Wynton Marsalis. This crisp November evening Farrow watched as Marsalis, feted by such luminaries as Misty Copeland, Kim Burrell and Lalah Hathaway, stood and smiled for fans before entering the expansive Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.
But Farrow’s role at the gala wasn’t simply as an interested audience member—she was the recipient of the Marian Anderson Award’s Young Artist Study-Grant Program, which helped send her to Interlochen this past summer. Farrow was even featured in a film shown at the gala.
Living in Philadelphia, Farrow was recommended for the study grant through her work with the Musicopia String Orchestra, one of several organizations she plays for in City of Brotherly Love; her trip to Interlochen was also funded in part through The Primavera Fund.
Farrow was encouraged to apply both to Interlochen and the Anderson Award at roughly the same time. “It was around the time that you start looking for summer camp,” she recalls. “My old teacher told me about Interlochen, and then Stanford Thompson suggested it as well … it all just came together.”
Thompson (IAC 00-03), who is also a member of Interlochen’s board of trustees, has worked with Farrow since 2010, when she first picked up a violin as part of his Play On, Philly! program. He said the recommendation that Farrow use the Marian Anderson study grant for a camp session at Interlochen made a lot of sense to him.
“Akili was recommended by Musicopia String Orchestra, which is also a partner of Play of Philly, and also just her hard work,” he said. “She’s played in four different groups in town. We’re all really inspired by the work that Akili does—I don’t think it was necessarily a hard choice for us, just because Akili is who she is.
“At this stage in her development, Interlochen was the perfect place for her to develop,” he added. “She’s already one of the top violinists here in Philadelphia, and for her to expand that view more internationally (at Interlochen) I think was perfect.”
Farrow’s take is much the same—a global perspective is exactly what she found at Interlochen Arts Camp, where she was a member of Interlochen Philharmonic.
“I got to meet so many people from around the world, and they had all kinds of different things they like to do, especially for music—I met a lot of pianists and a lot of theater majors,” she said “To see how their world is outside of the music world was pretty fun.”
She also attended master classes with performers like James Ehnes, which she particularly enjoyed, and said her class and studio time—not to mention her fellow campers—helped her grow musically.
“The level of skill that each (student) had pushed me to work harder, to get better—the chamber classes helped me a lot too,” Farrow said.
So what does the future hold for Farrow? Well, she will finish high school—she’s a student at Philadelphia’s String Theory School—and she plans to continue to perform and grow as an artist through her work with Play On, Philly!, The Primavera Fund, and Musicopia, among others.
“She’s still enrolled in (Play On, Philly!) programs and we still provide some mentorship for her, but she’s also connected to the Primavera Fund, which provides her with ongoing private lessons, and also helped to support her time at Interlochen this past summer,” Thompson said.
Farrow said she also hopes her future includes the ability to share the gift of music with young people, much like it was shared with her.
“I would like to create … an orchestra of my own, for kids who are less fortunate,” she said. “But I also want to perform in an orchestra, and if I get lucky enough, be a soloist.”
Thompson believes she is already working toward that goal.
“What she is doing is really setting the path for some of our younger kids (in Play On, Philly!)—we’re trying to do everything we can to support her as far as she can take it, but her setting that path for those younger kids ... that’s what we really like about Akili.”
As for her Marian Anderson Award grant and her time at Interlochen, Farrow has this to say:
“It’s showed me how far I’ve come, and how much work I’ve put into (my music). My mom always says hard work pays off, and it did for me. This award make me want to push for bigger awards, work harder, and go even further with the instrument."