An orchestra that allows the young people of this area to develop and showcase their musical talents. An orchestra that performs free of charge for the community, and costs nothing to join. Since 2007, the Hernando Youth Orchestra has made the vibrant, time-honoured rhythms and cadences of classical music resound throughout the county. And now the orchestra, a non-profit agency which features young musicians ages 5-21, has received a $300 Community Arts Grant from the Hernando County Fine Arts Council.
The mission of the Hernando County Fine Arts Council is to "encourage, promote, and support all the creative arts in Hernando." Since the inception of the Community Arts Grant program in 2017, the Arts Council has, as of 2019, invested $10,000 in 27 projects that have served more than 38,000 people; projects undertaken by Hernando groups and nonprofit agencies to promote art and arts appreciation. The youth orchestra, a repeat grant winner, promotes the arts by performing at Assisted Living Facilities and Homeowners Associations, the Brooksville Town Hall Christmas celebration, Stage West Playhouse and WellcomeOm Center in Spring Hill, and various community events throughout the year.
"The orchestra is there, not only for the children," said Ellen Paul, executive director of the Hernando Youth Orchestra, "but for the community."
The orchestra, under the direction of conductor John St. John, will perform at the Hernando County Fine Arts Council's Art in the Park event, scheduled this year March 14 and 15, at Tom Varn Park in Brooksville.
"This is our way of giving back to the council," Paul said. "We have had a long, wonderful relationship with the arts council."
The orchestra also gives back to its young performers--and in a variety of ways. The orchestra is free to join, and those interested are not required to audition for the main orchestra. They need only attend orchestral rehearsal sessions, 3:30-5 p.m. each Sunday at The Heather Community Center, 9100 Nakoma Way, Weeki Wachee. The orchestra, which features string instruments like violins and cellos (the orchestra even features a string quartet, for which an audition is required), flute and other woodwind instruments, pianos and percussion instruments,
also provides free of charge instrument and sheet music loans and low cost music lessons for participants. The orchestra is staffed entirely by volunteers. And, as an added bonus....
"They can get community service hours they need for school," said Paul.
Participants also receive uniform shirts that proudly declare their membership in the orchestra. The arts council grant will go largely to cover the cost of these shirts, which performers wear as they play everything from The Magic Flute (Overture) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to the Finale to the 5th Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven, Hallelujah Chorus by George Frideric Handel to Ode to Joy by Ludwig Van Beethoven. They also get the opportunity to play newer pieces, such as John Williams' Star Wars and Harry Potter themes.
"We also play the work of modern composers," said Paul, "because a piece of music does not have to be 200 years old to be good."
The orchestra also hosted an Instrument Petting Zoo at the 2018 Band Shell Bash in Brooksville; an activity in which children were encouraged to touch and play instruments of all varieties.
"We were approached by little shy people who didn't want to touch the instruments at first," said Paul. "Pretty soon, they were having a wonderful time playing wonderful sounds."
A charity that depends heavily on grants and donations, the orchestra presently needs another vital resource to keep the music playing.
"We need kids to perform in the orchestra," said Paul.
If interested in participating in the Hernando Youth Orchestra, attend a rehearsal, call (352) 544 8105, or visit http://hernandoyouthorchestra.org/contacts.html.
To learn more about the Hernando County Fine Arts Council's Community Arts Grant program, visit https://www.hernandoarts.org/community-arts-grants.
"Those who join the orchestra learn instrument proficiency, performance skills, confidence, concentration, leadership, collaboration, and many other skills," said Paul. "And they are