SUN CITY CENTER
Dominick Galati shuffled up and across the risers of the United Methodist Church of Sun City Center. He paused, rifled through a pile of checks and slipped them into the hands of the South Shore Symphony Orchestra's 50 members.
The paychecks — each made out for $65 — won't make them rich, but it's enough to cover the tank of gas the musicians use driving to and from the orchestra's Wednesday night rehearsals.
South Shore Symphony Orchestra principal conductor Jeff Jordan and Galati, the orchestra's founder, know they're not paying the musicians what they're worth. For now, all Galati and Jordan can do is pool the money from the offering collected during the orchestra's first concert in May and cut checks from the donations.
The orchestra might be scraping by financially, but for many of the musicians the group has already exceeded expectations. Several of the members said they had reservations when they joined the orchestra at its inception four months ago. A classical orchestra, they thought, couldn't survive poor economic conditions or develop a fan base in South Shore.
But an audience of more than 450 people packing the wooden pews of the Methodist church and filling donation buckets proved them wrong.
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"Good," Jordan said as the orchestra played the final notes of America the Beautiful. "Please put it away, and take out the Tchaikovsky."
Galati watched the rehearsal from the pews, the same way he drummed up the idea for the orchestra in December. Galati, who books musicians in the South Shore area, was listening in at one of Jordan's rehearsals when, during intermission, he popped the question.
"How'd you like to be a conductor for a symphony?"
"I don't know," Jordan replied. "Call me tomorrow."
After three hours of discussion the following day, Jordan and Galati conceptualized the South Shore Symphony Orchestra.
Cobbled together from Galati and Jordan's contacts and Craigslist, the orchestra's musicians range in age from teenage textaholics to snowy-haired retirees.
Principal cellist Karolyn Silbaugh, 40, is one of the 15 or so musicians to learn about the orchestra through Craigslist. She found the posting when she was on the website placing ads for a music school in Sarasota.
Word of mouth also brought musicians to the orchestra. University of South Florida student Matthew Dick, 20, found out about the group through an e-mail from a friend. Joseph Rose, 32, and Dale Kimura, 75, said they joined after Galati and Jordan approached them about opportunities to play.
Kimura, who played for the Tampa Bay Symphony for five years and quit because of the lack of pay, said she was surprised by the quality of the orchestra. She just hopes the group can hang on financially.
"Sun City Center needs this," she said.
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Sitting outside the church sanctuary, Galati can't stop smiling as he talks about the orchestra's first concert.
"I was high for a day and a half," he said, recalling his excitement.
A line of people filed up to Galati the night of the show, he said, thanking him for bringing classical music to Sun City Center.
Now he's planning the next phase of the orchestra. The group is filing for nonprofit status, an essential step for its financial survival. Galati wants to provide scholarships for music performance and education students studying at local colleges and universities.
He also wants to perform at other venues — most likely churches — throughout South Shore. He said fall concerts have been scheduled, and a newly established board of directors has met to discuss ticket prices. While donations alleviate some of the financial burdens, ticket revenue will help pay for the musicians and scholarships, Galati said.
Florida Orchestra chief executive and president Michael Pastreich said times of economic struggle can be prosperous for music groups. He pointed to the North Carolina Symphony, which was founded during the Great Depression and still thrives today. Even the Florida Orchestra, he said, has weathered the recession well.
Pastreich said South Shore's success will hinge on community support.
"The community gives organizations, whether a symphony or a bank or a restaurant, they give us the resources we deserve," Pastreich said.
In times of economic struggle, he said, organizations have to fight harder to prove their worth.
"If you can prove you deserve it," he said, "it doesn't matter the financial situation."
Galati and Jordan said they think the South Shore community will continue to support the group, whether that means dropping a $5 bill in the donation bucket or paying for a ticket.
But even if the paychecks disappear, many of the musicians say they'll keep playing.
"They're playing not for profit but for passion," Jordan said.
Sarah Hutchins can be reached at (813) 661-2443 or email@example.com.