By C.S. Gilbert

The South Florida Symphony, born in Key West in 1998, kicked its annual educational contribution to the school system up several notches yesterday morning.  The two-pronged program was enjoyed—and that may be an understatement—by almost 1,000 Lower Keys first through fifth graders at the Tennessee Williams Theater.

“It was awesome!” said fourth grader Donatonie Philipe on her way out of the lobby and back to Gerald Adams School, next to the theater. Youngsters from other schools were bused in for the 9:45 and 10:45 teaching concerts; previously, professional teaching musicians who —in costume and aided by slides projected on the huge screen above the orchestra—“taught” this remarkable music class with the orchestra. The teacher/musicians visited each school ahead of time to prepare the children for the live audio-visual  performance.

Adams teaching assistant Serena Scott, helping to herd the students outside, paused long enough to comment, “It was nice, very well-informed.” Lessons taught via Florida history and geography stressed care of the environment, doing one’s very best and being kind to each other; the program was titled “Glorious Days” and featured explorer Ponce de Leon, 18th century environmentalist and artist William Bartrum and hotel and railroad magnate Henry Morrison Flagler. The slide show, which included myriad images of seascapes, the Everglades, building the railroad and even the convivial interior of a club car on the railroad, ended with Flagler’s face superimposed on the moon.

The original music by Robert Kerr was commissioned especially for this educational program, sponsored by the Florida Department of Cultural Affairs as part of the Viva 500! anniversary celebration. Staffed by ARTZ Out Loud, the state is sending  15 teachers, all classically trained musicians, to travel statewide presenting the program with different musicians.  Yesterday’s mini-concert “starred,” in addition to Maestra Sebrina Alfonso, Joy Myers on piano and Donna Wissinger on flute. Their quick-change costumes ranged from Spanish explorer to a man and woman in 1912 formal attire, celebrating the Flagler railroad’s inaugural trip from Jacksonville to Key West. “Co-stars” were representatives of the string, woodwind, brass and percussion sections—who contrasted how their mouthpieces sounded first alone, much to the delight of the audience, and then attached to their instruments. Short, illustrative pieces by each group of instruments followed. The entire orchestra, of course, appeared in the supporting roles.

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