By MEGAN HUSSEY
For more than four decades, The Hernando Symphony Orchestra has filled the halls and gatherings of Hernando with the sounds of popular music, performed by virtuoso musicians who play everything from pop hits to holiday music, movie themes to jazzy favorites and Broadway tunes.
The music was silenced this spring, when--in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic--the orchestra's April concert was, like many public events and programs, canceled.
Yet Michele DiLuzio, Conductor and co-founder of the Hernando Symphony, was determined to find a way to let the music play.
"I immediately began looking for a "plan B" for the upcoming season," said DiLuzio. "My desire was to find a new venue that would safely allow for us to social distance, had better parking with lighting, and a venue where we would all be welcomed."
And, with the help of a little 'divine inspiration,' she found a way.
"I am pleased to announce that your orchestra has a new home. This venue will accommodate the orchestra for both our weekly rehearsals and all of our concerts," she said. "The HSO's new home is St. Frances Cabrini Church, located at 5030 Mariner Blvd., Spring Hill."
Aside from its beauty and stylistic dignity, DiLuzio saw the church's sanctuary as the best strategic choice for the orchestra's new concert series.
"I chose St. Frances because of the large capacity. This will allow us to safely social distance," she said. "They also have several large and well-lit parking lots providing our patrons with safety at our evening concerts."
The church, while providing a venue for the orchestra concerts, will not be handling ticket sales or inquiries.
The HSO's debut concert at St. Frances Cabrini will be a free concert open to the public and is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4. Donations will be accepted at the concert.
"Our October 4 concert already scheduled at St. Frances Cabrini is still on," said DiLuzio, "pending our ability to begin rehearsing the full orchestra in August."
The sanctuary also will host the remainder of the orchestra's 2020-2021 concert season, scheduled December 19-20, 2020, February 27-28, 2021, April 24-25 2021. Times for the Saturday concerts are 7:30 p.m., and Sunday shows will begin at 2 p.m.
For those who are currently, or who wish to become season ticket holders, the price is $45 per person, unless the guest was a 2019-20 season ticket holder. Those who held season tickets may renew at $30 per person, to compensate for the canceled April 2020 show. General admission prices will remain at $18, and students in grades KG-12 will pay $5 per ticket.
In proceeding with the HSO concert season, DiLuzio is joining other planners to provide a safer event experience.
"We will be making several changes in order to provide the safest environment and concert experience for you and the musicians," she said. "We will be performing in the sanctuary at St. Frances. St. Frances normally has a seating capacity of 1200, however, due to CDC guidelines, they have already closed off every other row of seating to now hold 600. The seating is in a fan-shaped setting of individual padded pews. There are 4 front sections with 6-7 rows of varied sizes. Every other row is roped off to main social distancing. There are 4 back sections of 9-10 rows of varied sizes. Every other row is roped off to main social distancing. There is ample space to accommodate those with wheelchairs and walkers. There is not a bad seat anywhere!"
Season ticket holders will receive priority seating privileges under this new arrangement.
"The front 4 sections will be reserved for season ticket holders," said DiLuzio. "Tickets are required and you may sit anywhere in the front 4 sections that is not roped off. We will have ushers stationed in this area to check tickets to make sure only season ticket holders enter this area. We will be doing something different with the appearance of a season ticket so our ushers can easily distinguish these from the general admission tickets."
Requests for tickets can be made via mail to the Hernando Symphony Orchestra, PO Box 5711, Spring Hill, FL 34611, or those interested may pay via credit card over the phone at 352-584-1210.
Those who hold general admission tickets will be seated in the back four sections of the sanctuary.
"Tickets are required, and you may sit anywhere in the back 4 sections that is not roped off," said DiLuzio. "General admission tickets may be purchased in advance with a valid credit card by calling us at 352-584-1210, or purchased at the door on the date of the concert."
In order to further optimize the safety and health consciousness of this live music experience, additional safety measures will be mandated for the occasion of these live music performances.
"Currently, St. Frances requires masks to be worn by anyone entering into the sanctuary," said DiLuzio. "Since our concerts will be held there, the mask requirement will be required as long as they have this safety protocol in place. They do have hand sanitizer stations available at the entrance."
In addition, the HSO pre-concert meet and greet - a symphony tradition in which audience members can meet and speak with orchestral musicians -- will be suspended for the time being.
"We will start this again when conditions become safer for everyone," said DiLuzio.
Printed programs will not be distributed at these performances. Instead, the concert's schedule of songs will be run electronically on two large screens that will be posted on either side of the orchestra performance area. And although snacks will be sold in the lobby, no snacks or drinks will be permitted in the sanctuary. And the symphony's signature raffles will be conducted at each concert, including the Oct. 4 concert.
"I know that change can be unsettling for some, but I feel this is the best solution to be able to offer safety to everyone," said DiLuzio. "The orchestra is thrilled to begin our season and our collaboration with St. Frances Cabrini. We have an exciting season planned and are eager to welcome everyone back!"
For more information about the Hernando Symphony Orchestra, visit https://www.hernandosymphony.com/.