CLEARWATER — A piece has been commissioned for the occasion. Alumni are invited. There's even a trip planned to Europe.
The Pinellas Youth Symphony is celebrating 50 years with a gala concert Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall. There will be speeches and a video in honor of Aileen Chapman, the last living PYS founder. She is 100.
Mark Sforzini, past principal bassoonist of the Florida Orchestra, composed an overture for the occasion, which will debut Sunday.
However, the highlight of the 50th anniversary celebration for many of the kids who dedicate their Sundays to rehearsals is a 12-day European concert tour. Next month, about 55 students from the senior level orchestra perform in Italy and Austria.
"I think it's definitely a big deal especially because we're going to Europe," said trumpet player, Sam Jones, 15.
"I've never been out of the country and I think it's cool to have that opportunity."
The program includes beginning strings classes, chamber groups and orchestras. About 200 kindergarten through high school-aged students participate in the program. Students must audition to participate in the symphony except for beginning classes.
Amy Adams, 18, is a flute player and senior at St. Petersburg High School. She wants to study material science at the University of Florida but intends to continue playing in an ensemble there.
She's participated in PYS for six years.
"I really enjoyed being in the senior orchestra because we play essentially what are professional level pieces," she said. "We just take a longer time to learn them."
Lauramarie Laskey, 18, a senior at Palm Harbor University High School has played the cello with the symphony for 10 years. She will continue her musical studies at Florida State University next year, where she intends to double major in music performance and music therapy.
"I think it's really monumental for the group that it's able to stick around that long and we've had enough benefactors to keep it going," she said.
Laskey won't be able to make the European trip. Sunday is her last PYS concert. There's a tradition of recognizing the seniors.
"Honestly, I can't believe I'm at the point where they're going to announce my name," Laskey said. "It always seem like the names they announced before were so much older."
But there's a young, local cellist out there who will take her seat and continue the PYS tradition in its 51st year.
Tamara El-Khoury can be reached at (727)445-4181 or firstname.lastname@example.org.