MA Top 30 Professional of the Year: Titus Underwood
By Zachary Lewis
December 7, 2021
Musical life as Titus Underwood knew it came to a halt in June 2020. Citing an $8 million loss to the pandemic, the Nashville Symphony, of which he is principal oboe, suspended all activity for a year, putting musicians and staff on furlough.
Underwood, though, isn’t the type to sit around. “I chose to use this difficult year to create art of my own,” he said in an interview. He reached out to the Nashville Ballet, Nashville Metro Schools, the Voices of Vision Community Choir, and his Nashville Symphony colleagues, including their Music Director Giancarlo Guerrero, to produce We Are Nashville, a video featuring dozens of local children remotely singing an original song by local composer Bryson Finney. The project, his first as executive producer, went on to win a regional Emmy award. “It went a lot further than we could have imagined,” Underwood said.
His second pandemic project was a remotely recorded music video of Lift Every Voice And Sing, in an arrangement for winds by Fred Onovwerosuoke, featuring prominent Black musicians, including Underwood. The video, a gesture of solidarity with racial justice advocates, has garnered more than a million views. “This was our way of protesting through art,” he said. “This was our way of saying something through art using all these voices and platforms combined together, unified, to inspire and move people forward in the right direction.”
Even as the Nashville Symphony has returned to live performances at the Schermerhorn Center, Underwood is at work on his next project, A Tale of Two Tales. A partnership with cellist and photographer Titilayo Ayangade, it explores what he calls his “dual experience in classical music” through music, clothing, and visual art. His proudest pandemic achievement, though, may be winning the 2021 Medal of Excellence from the Sphinx Organization, the group’s highest honor. It was especially important to him, he said, because it was his late sister, a violinist, who introduced him to the organization 15 years ago.
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