In just one week, The Florida Orchestra performed for nearly 30,000 people — almost all for free. It was an exhilarating, exhausting run as musicians and staff, led by Music Director Michael Francis, traveled to Pasco County, Tampa and St. Petersburg for hospital, youth, side-by-side and park concerts. A mix of education, inspiration and just plain fun. It would have been 7 concerts in 7 venues in 7 days – except rain canceled Pops in the Park in Coachman Park on the final day. Boooooo. Some highlights:
The power of Shriners and music
Shriners Hospital for Children – Tampa | Tuesday, Oct 17
In the orchestra’s first concert at Shriners Hospital for Children – Tampa for patients, staff and donors, 17-year-old Leigh Dittman stole the show.
The teen violinist has been a patient at the hospital since she was diagnosed with osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease, when she was a baby. The genetic disorder has never held her back, and this year she won the Anne Frank Humanitarian Award for her community service. She spoke eloquently about both the power of Shriners and music.
“Having The Florida Orchestra visit Shriners Hospitals for Children was an absolutely incredible experience,” she said. “As a musician myself, music is a huge part of my life. So is the hospital in which I have grown up. To have two huge parts of my world colliding in such a magnificent way is simply indescribable.”
Experience of a lifetime
Pasco County youth and side-by-side concerts | Wednesday, Oct 18 and Thursday, Oct 19
As Pasco County schools work to build their orchestra program, The Florida Orchestra is happy to play a role.
Two days in a row the orchestra performed educational youth concerts at the Center for the Arts at River Ridge and the Center for the Arts at Wesley Chapel to a packed crowd of elementary and middle school students.
On both days, the orchestra also shared the stage side-by-side with high school musicians from across the county to play Bizet’s L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2. About 80 students participated in all.
“It’s definitely an experience I’m going to remember for the rest of my life,” French horn player Saima Sheikh, 17, of Ridgewood High told the Tampa Bay Times.
“It’s great just to have them play side by side — to learn from professionals,” River Ridge High band director Chris Greco said, also to the Times. “We will definitely take that experience back to the classroom.”
Blake High School, Tampa | Friday, Oct 20
After a rigorous rehearsal, sometimes you just have to “dab” (that’s a dance move, in case you’re even dorkier than we are). That’s Michael Francis doing the dab with musicians from the Blake High School orchestra.
They just finished playing the finale of Elgar’s Enigma Variations side-by-side with The Florida Orchestra, in which the maestro urged students to stretch their boundaries: “Your parents bought the whole bow. Use it,” the maestro said to smiles.
Just 20,000 of our closest fans
Free Pops in the Park at Vinoy Park, St. Petersburg | Saturday, Oct 21
Could not have been a better night for Michael Francis’ first time conducting our biggest concert of the season, now in its 24th year. “I’ve always heard there are 20,000 people here, but I didn’t believe it … It’s true!” he said looking out over an endless sea of picnickers.
Lovely weather. Fantastic music. Fireworks. Great Explorations and NOMAD Art Bus. Food trucks. Tampa Bay Harvest. Even the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ Pelican Pete, pictured below with TFO musicians Zubaida Azezi and Natalie Hoe, came to the party. Perfect.
No lightning but plenty of Thunderbug
Free Pops in the Park at River Tower Park, Tampa | Sunday, Oct 22
The closest it came to lightning in threatening skies was Thunderbug! And he has some serious grooves. Escorted by two Lightning Girls, the Lightning mascot conducted Thunder and Lightning Polka (what else?) like a pro. About 5,000 people packed the park for a great night of free tunes including patriotic favorites and film music from Harry Potter and Star Wars, along with the Instrument Petting Zoo for kids.
Shoutout to the team!
A big thank you to The Florida Orchestra team of staff and musicians. Especially these two: Community Engagement Director Erin Horan and Community Engagement Manager Daryn Bauer. You often don’t see them behind the scenes, but this week couldn’t have happened without them.