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Florida Orchestra, and Santa, help set holiday mood for hundreds of Hillsborough kids

TAMPA

Imagine a white Christmas.

"Let's pretend it's cold outside," emcee John Wilson encouraged hundreds of kids in the audience. "It's snowing and there's ice on the ground."

The WTVT-Ch. 13 anchor set the mood Tuesday morning as the 23rd Annual Children's Holiday Concert got under way at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

And the orchestra helped.

"I'm going to take you on a sleigh ride," Wilson told about 1,800 fourth- and fifth-graders.

Bells rang. A whip snapped. Horses trotted. One whinnied.

Those sounds from instruments played by the Florida Orchestra gave way to the music of Sleigh Ride.

The concert, put on by the Steinbrenner Family Foundation and the New York Yankees, repeats the performance at 10:45 a.m. Dec. 9 at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

Ballet dancers performed and a father-and-son duo flipped across the stage. Kids went wild.

Karla Ledoux-Coton, a local neurologist and ballerina, danced a selection from the Nutcracker Suite.

Wilson introduced his wife, Mary K. Wilson, as his favorite singer. Breanna LaPanne, 10, watched spellbound as she sang O Holy Night. "She has an amazing voice," the girl said.

Then John Wilson sang the Little Drummer Boy and kids joined in on pa rum pum pum pum.

Little fingers played imaginary trumpets and conducted music.

Osvaldo Estopinan, 11, from Davis Elementary, rose out of his seat when former Yankee Tino Martinez took the stage.

Martinez, who graduated from Jefferson High School in Tampa, told the children it's especially important to be good this time of year.

Osvaldo wore a Yankees jersey and cap in support of the team for his first live orchestra concert.

The children left with a high-five from Santa Claus.

"My ho ho is getting hoarse," Santa said. He asked a fourth-grader what he liked best.

"When you came out," said Alyas Ruz, a fourth-grader at Crestwood Elementary.

Former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner started the concert to expose kids who might not otherwise get a chance to see the orchestra, which he loved.

"We've been doing it for 23 years," said his widow, Joan Steinbrenner, who handed out Yankees gym bags to each child.

"It kicks off the beginning of the holiday season," said her daughter, Jenny Steinbrenner Swindal. "It's special for our family."

This was the second year the family had to come without Steinbrenner, who died in 2010.

Will the tradition continue?

"Oh, heavens yes," said Joan Steinbrenner.

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at eparker@tampabay.com or (813)226-3431.

Florida Orchestra, and Santa, help set holiday mood for hundreds of Hillsborough kids 11/29/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 12:16am]
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