The Thirty-A Review November 2020

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Let the Music Play Sinfonia Youth Musicians Power Into 2020-21 Season b y C h r i s t o p h e r M a n s o n

Sinfonia Youth Orchestra performance

S infonia Gulf Coast is celebrating 15 years in 2020, and their youth ensembles have been around nearly that long. The Sinfonia Youth Orchestra consists of experienced young musicians from grades 6 through 12, while the Sinfonietta Strings is a smaller group that en- courages younger and less experienced string performers. Sinfonia Gulf Coast was founded in 2005 on Florida’s Northwest Gulf Coast with the mission of redefining the symphony experience. Under the guidance of founder and Music Director Demetrius Fuller and a dedicated board of directors, the nonprofit orchestra is in its 15th season of innovative musical programming designed to entertain, educate, and inspire the community. Youth Orchestra Director Aaron King Vaughn assumed his role in 2019. Before that, he came on as interim director and, says Program Coordinator Anne Hinze, “the kids love him.” Hinze has known Sinfonia’s Maestro Fuller for nearly 20 years. Her oldest daughter was a member of the Sinfonia Youth Orchestra, and her youngest currently plays in Sinfonietta. She says the newest twist in the Sinfonia Youth Orchestra/Sinfonietta Strings journey is their new rehearsal location at Destin Commons. The kids are also set to perform there during the holiday season in front of the Commons’ enormous Christmas tree. Additional weekend performances are a possibility. When the weather nicened up, the doors to the rehearsal space were opened. “People were stopping by and telling us how nice it was to hear music again,” says Hinze. “For us, that’s very encouraging, being able to

share what we do and our purpose, and how the youth orchestra plays such an important part in Sinfonia’s music education outreach programs.” The ensembles currently have around 40 members —30 in the orchestra and 10 in the strings. The geographical makeup extends well beyond Walton and Okaloosa counties. Hinze says one young lady, in her second year in the orchestra, drives from Panama City. There are also students from Navarre. “We don’t have any orchestra programs in the schools in Okaloosa County, and I think there are only two or three independent youth orchestras like us in the Panhandle,” says King Vaughn. “We’re trying to get our name out there so more people know about us. There’s definitely a demand for this.” The Sinfonietta Strings includes musicians as young as eight years old. “The age range can go as low as five or six if they’re committed,” says King Vaughn. “The orchestra is more intermediate to advanced—mostly middle and high school students who can read music, sight read, and have experience.” He adds that two to three years’ experience is preferred in the advanced group. Rehearsals for the 2020-21 season commenced in September, and, naturally, had to be adjusted to mitigate safety surrounding the pandemic. “The kids are very resilient, and they’re happy to be playing music,” says Hinze. The young musicians are spaced out more than usual, and the brass and woodwind players are using special instrument masks. “We’re doing everything we possibly can to keep everyone safe, including our staff.” At least two students have joined the rehearsals virtually,

which Hinze says has been challenging due to low signal strength within the rehearsal space. Among the other obstacles for Sinfonia’s youth programs this year was the cancellation of various fundraising opportunities. “Last year we competed with other local nonprofits at Eggs on the Beach and won $2,500 for the youth orchestra. It’s been cancelled this year,“ says Hinze. “The youth orchestra relies on money brought in from donations, fundraisers, and tuition.” Performances are another area in which the pro- gram has needed to navigate creatively. “Everything shut down in March, so we started doing virtual rehearsals,” says King Vaughn. “We did a ‘virtual concert’ in May, where the students recorded video of their individual parts and sent them in. We put them all together, and it was a nice performance.” You can watch it on Sinfonia’s YouTube channel. Meanwhile, the kids are pumped about upcoming holiday performances at Destin Commons this season. “As far as venues and dates for others, we’re still looking at those,” says King Vaughn. Stay tuned. The orchestra will accept new students for the spring semester in January 2021. Rehearsals take place Sundays from 1 to 4:30 p.m., and parents can register their children through the Sinfonia website.

For more information on Sinfonia Gulf Coast, visit SinfoniaGulfCoast.org, call (850) 460-8800 or email info@sinfoniagulfcoast.org.

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