A year in the making: All County Music Festival in the time of Covid

A year in the making: All County Music Festival in the time of Covid

By TFO Teaching Artist Kaitlin Springer
and Steve Harris, Seminole High School Director of Music

During a typical school year, students in Pinellas County have an opportunity to come together for the All County Music Festival to make music with their friends from Tarpon Springs to South St. Petersburg, from Pinellas Park to Seminole. The audition-based festival means a lot to student musicians. But this was not the typical year. How could we safely hold an All County event amid a global pandemic? How could The Florida Orchestra Teaching Artists help? The following is an account from Steve Harris, director of music at Seminole High School and All County coordinator, on how they overcame the odds for the All County Music Festival, with performances May 1 at Seminole City Park:

When this school year began, the All County coordinators and members of the Pinellas County Music Educators Association board had no idea what the event might look like this year – or whether we should have it at all. Through video conferences, we brainstormed, expressed our frustrations and, little by little, came up with a plan. All County would live, albeit in a different form. What would not change was our commitment to give our most motivated and talented students the opportunity to come together to do what they love: make great music come alive with others who share this passion.

We devised ways to have video auditions with online adjudication. As we visited outdoor venues for safety, we clapped hands to test acoustics and used our imagination to envision where kids would perform and where proud parents would gush. We googled what time of the year was most likely not to rain. We carefully studied CDC, Florida and Pinellas County guidelines to understand what we could and could not do safely. We learned about how different it is to play and sing outside, in the heat and humidity, and how to adjust to make the best performance possible.

We did it. It was different. We missed the Mahaffey Theater and Ruth Eckerd Hall. We enjoyed the increased opportunities for school music directors to conduct, due to a greater number of smaller ensembles required for safety. We had a wonderful day catching up with colleagues we hardly ever get to see.

In the end, the marvelous success that left us exhausted but so happy was the same: kids making music together. Getting over their nerves and stepping up to play and sing Holst, Gershwin and Mozart. Giving them hope that, despite a pandemic and so many setbacks that have come with it, the joy of music will continue.

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At The Florida Orchestra, we did everything we could to help make this experience an important and inspiring moment in these young musicians’ lives. Fellow Teaching Artist Kristin Baird and I listened to audition tapes and coached students for dozens of hours on their All County music to help prepare them for the big event. Ms. Baird even took up the baton and conducted the 9th/10th grade orchestra for their All County concert. The students responded with an incredibly beautiful and heartfelt performance at Seminole City Park on that Saturday afternoon.

Since I joined TFO as Teaching Artist, I have always been impressed with the level of community, support and commitment that is shared by the teachers and leadership in Pinellas County, and Mr. Harris highlights these wonderful traits so well. There is truly something special here in Pinellas County where we are able to overcome all obstacles and make the impossible possible so that our students can still have inspiring musical experiences during a time when we need music the most.