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How the National Symphony Orchestra Works


The National Symphony Orchestra performs at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
The National Symphony Orchestra performs at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect/Getty Images

It's not the oldest professional musical organization in America, or the largest, or even the first symphony orchestra to be based in the nation's capital. But the National Symphony Orchestra has risen from humble beginnings in the Great Depression era to become a cornerstone of America's orchestral composing and performing arts scene and an international representative of American culture.

Now, after 78 years, the 100-member National Symphony Orchestra performs many of its 175 concerts a year from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, bringing classical, pops, family and new musical compositions to the public in the nation's capital.

The NSO does a bit more than your typical orchestra, though. The group performs for visiting heads of state and also at national ceremonies, including presidential inaugurations, Independence Day celebrations and the National Memorial Day Concert.

The orchestra has a well-developed educational program to provide exposure to classical music for families and students, and it also provideseducational resources for parents and teachers. Every summer, the orchestra plays a series of free concerts on the West Lawn of the Capitol building for the public. Members also put on a series of performances each year at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Va.

The National Symphony Orchestra annually travels to one of the 50 states and participates in the National Symphony Orchestra's American Residencies Project, during which the group gives performances, classes, lectures and workshops based around the culture and music of each state they visit. So far, the orchestra has visited 20 states [source: National Symphony Orchestra].

Development of new musical compositions and arrangements is also an important role of the National Symphony Orchestra. Its John and June Hechinger Commissioning Fund for New Orchestral Works is responsible for the development of more than 60 musical pieces, including cycles, fanfares and encores [source: National Symphony Orchestra].

So how did the orchestra get its start? Keep reading to learn about the history of the NSO.