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TFO’s community programs jump 47%, reaching 91,000

In just the past four years, The Florida Orchestra’s community and education programs have grown a whopping 47%, reaching more than 91,000 people in the 2018-19 season at mostly free events like park, youth, and hospital concerts. That’s a big jump, up from 62,000 participants in the 2014-15 season.

When you look at The Florida Orchestra’s total attendance for the eight-month season – 208,598 – that means 44% of the people who experienced TFO did so for free or little cost. To us, these numbers are a huge success because they show we’re fulfilling a key part of our mission. As Music Director Michael Francis puts it: If you believe in the power of music, then you have to take it to everyone – even those who can’t come to a concert hall.

One of the driving forces behind the increase is Maestro Francis himself, who is entering his fifth season with TFO. From the beginning, he has been passionate about getting the orchestra out into the community and providing more free or low-cost programs in the concert hall. For example, in his first season in 2015-16, Francis initiated TFO’s casual community sing-along, Sing Out Tampa Bay, and its Inside the Music series, which takes the audience on a journey through a single work. Both are pay-what-you-can concerts. He also conducted TFO’s first free hospital concerts.

In 2016, TFO hired its first Community Engagement Director, Erin Horan, who oversees innovative new programs such as free violin lessons through the Prodigy Cultural Arts Program and Teaching Artists in Pinellas schools. She and Community Engagement Manager Daryn Bauer manage two of TFO’s biggest programs: free Pops in the Park concerts in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater (drawing about 44,000 people) and its annual Youth Concert field trips for 24,729 students in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties.

Because TFO offers so many community and education programs for free or low cost, we count on support from generous individuals, foundations and corporations to offset the cost of bringing world-class arts programming to the entire community. Many programs also receive support from local government because of their economic and social benefits to the Tampa Bay region.

In the past four years, TFO has initiated or revamped nine community and education programs:

  • Free violin lessons through the Prodigy Cultural Arts Program
    • Goal: Use violin to teach life skills to underserved kids. In just one year, the program grew from one site to five in Hillsborough County, reaching more than 100 kids. Most have never picked up a violin before. Coordinated by TFO’s Michelle Painter; funded by University Area CDC and Hillsborough County.
  • Teaching Artists in Pinellas schools
    • Goal: Teach strings to teachers and students in support of music education. Two professional musicians split their time between the TFO stage and the classroom.
      Last school year, violinist Kristin Baird and violist Kaitlin Springer worked with 27 Pinellas classrooms. In partnership with the Pinellas County School District since January 2017; funded in part by Pinellas County Schools referendum.
  • TFO-produced Youth Concerts
    • TFO has performed Youth Concerts for most of its 52 years, but now it produces the concerts, under the baton of Associate Conductor Daniel Black, as well as a 44-page study guide for use all year long in the classroom.
  • Health & Wellness Concerts
    • Michael Francis initiated in 2015, with a combination of free full-orchestra and chamber concerts for patients and staff in hospitals such as Johns Hopkins All Children’s, Moffitt Cancer Center, St. Joseph’s Hospital North, Tampa General and more across Tampa Bay.
  • Inside the Music
    • Debuted in 2015. Michael Francis takes audiences on a journey through a single piece, ending with a full performance. Admission is pay what you can.
  • Sing Out Tampa Bay
    • Debuted in 2016. You can belt one out with Michael Francis at the Mahaffey Theater, either from the stage or your seat. Admission is pay what you can.
  • Woodson Chamber Concerts
    • Debuted in 2017. Sunday afternoon chamber concerts at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum in St. Petersburg. Admission is pay what you can; proceeds benefit the museum. Generously sponsored by Bill and Suzanne Garth.
  • Full-orchestra Family Concerts
    • New format for 2019-20 season, with a space theme and NASA video.
  • Free Happy Hour Concerts at Armature Works
    • Debuted in 2018. Free hour-long concerts at a historic venue, with musician meet and greet afterward.

These are in addition to increased emphasis and participation in open orchestra rehearsals for students, side-by-side concerts with youth orchestras, masterclasses, pop-up community concerts in malls, bars and retirement communities, pre-concert lobby performances by school ensembles, and a huge increase in Instrument Petting Zoo opportunities, in which kids can try out instruments.

For details on this season’s schedule of community concerts, follow The Florida Orchestra on social media and check

Music Director Michael Francis opens his fifth season with The Florida Orchestra on Sept. 27-29 with concerts in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater. The season celebrates 250 years of Beethoven and beyond, including Beethoven’s Fifth, music of The Beatles, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Holiday Pops, and much more. Tickets available at


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