I first saw Sting when I was 16 during the Police Synchronicity tour. I was wearing jeans, standing on my seat and screaming my lungs out. Now he’s 66 and some of us, wearing heels and evening gowns, wondered how we all got so old as we left a reception for patrons before the singer took the stage with the Florida Orchestra at the Mahaffey Theater.
After Sting and orchestra music director Michael Francis, a fellow Brit, joked about bringing their native country’s dreary weather to Florida, he opened with Englishman in New York, accompanied by Natalie Hoe, the orchestra’s 23-year-old principal clarinet.
The crowd, which included plenty of young faces in the midst of many more with lines around the eyes, was in awe to hear this legendary voice come to life in our midst.
But when he played his second number, Every Little Thing She Does is Magic, I was 16 again holding up a lighter at the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum. It wasn’t just the power of Sting, it was the transportive power of music. Live music. Live music created with 62 instruments.
I felt chills again when principal cello James Connors played solos during Why Should I Cry For You and Roxanne.
I’ve known Jim for 15 years, since our children were in kindergarten together. I’ve seen him perform before though not from the third row with Sting at the mike. But it wasn’t Sting that gave me chills, it was Jim. The man I’ve seen drive carpool, work lights for school plays and perform so many other mundane tasks took this rock song to a whole other level than I ever thought Roxanne could reach.
All of these musicians live their daily lives in the Tampa Bay area pumping gas, buying groceries and mowing lawns, and then those same hands, 120 or so of them, come together to create music that moves us to other times and other places. They do it 130 times a year, not just when Sting comes to town.
During the reception before the show I asked Greg Yadley, vice chair of the orchestra’s board of directors what it meant for Sting to play with the Florida Orchestra.
"This is the biggest deal. It’s because it demonstrates the orchestra is not some stuffy thing. It’s vibrant," he said.
He went on to rave about Francis more than the other Brit about to take the stage. Yadley and his wife, Anne, part of the orchestra’s board of consultants, saw Francis conduct another orchestra while they were traveling in Glasgow, Scotland, not long ago.
"He had the same great rapport with the audience there and the same strong connection with the orchestra," he said, adding that Francis’ talent with musicians and audiences goes well beyond us Floridians being enamored with his British accent.
Sting may have been the rock star lure Saturday night, but Francis and the orchestra are the stars year round.
Janet Paroo, the newly elected chair of the orchestra’s board of directors, put it best when she welcomed the 2,000 audience members Saturday night.
"If this is your first time hearing our Florida Orchestra or you haven’t been in a long time, come back."
Katherine Snow Smith can be contacted at [email protected] Follow @snowsmith.