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Young musicians take off

They packed the gym at Largo Middle School. Standing shoulder to shoulder, more than 400 strong, they raised their voices in song.

They are members of the 1997 All-County Middle School Chorus and they met to rehearse twice in February and twice in March in preparation for a one-night extravaganza at the Bayfront Center Arena in St. Petersburg.

At 7:30 p.m. on April 2, the All-County Middle School Chorus will join about 1,600 top band and chorus members from elementary schools and high schools throughout the county in presenting "A Flight Through Time," directed by Seminole Middle School's choral director Joey Miazga.

The performance, with themes and music representative of each decade from the 1920s to the 1990s, will be a first of its caliber for many of the pupils. But for some, it is a repeat.

"I was there last year," said Carwise Middle School sixth-grader Mitchell Walker, who sang last year with Forest Lakes Elementary's chorus. "I loved it. It was incredible. Especially the jazz band."

"The jazz band was really neat," agreed Mitchell's classmate Kelly Munch. "My parents couldn't stop talking about it."

Kelly, too, performed with last year's all-county elementary chorus. She, also, is experienced in local productions.

"I played a wicked stepsister in Cinderella and an actor in Give My Regards to Broadway," she said. "You always kind of get nervous, but when you start singing and you remember your lines. . ."

The middle school pupils have a great deal to remember.

"We're singing Power of the Dream, Footloose, Aquarius, Salute to the Armed Forces and America Salute," Mitchell said.

Some of the numbers, Footloose and Aquarius, will feature the middle school group. The others are group productions including band and choral students, said Osceola Middle choral director Brenda Dannewitz.

Last year's production was a return to the glory of times past, she said.

"When I first moved here to Florida, we used to do a big production at the Bayfront Center every other year, but the insurance and the expense to do that got to be so great that the county couldn't do it, and we hadn't done if for a while until last year."

"That was about 10 years ago," Miazga said.

Then, last year, Festival of States chairman Malcolm King and The Second Time Arounders Band director Bill Findeison worked with Pinellas County schools' music supervisor Frank Barringer to organize its return in conjunction with Festival of States activities, Miazga said.

"They wanted to show the progression of music from elementary students through adults," Miazga said, "and last year it was a major success."

As with last year's production, "A Flight Through Time," is a result of donations from corporate sponsors _ including William R. Hough and Co. and Florida Power Corp._ and a grant from the Pinellas County Arts Council. The program receives additional support from the city of St. Petersburg staff at the Bayfront Center Arena.

The middle school group will be dressed in matching T-shirts, which will be their souvenirs of the performance, Dannewitz said.

Dowling Graphics designed the T-shirts and provided them at a discount, and AT&T Wireless Services donated $1,600 and the Festival of States committee paid $400 toward their cost.

"The kids work really hard," Dannewitz said. "It takes a lot of extra time for them and their parents and they deserve some recognition and a souvenir."

Osceola Middle School eighth-grader LaToya Allen isn't too concerned about the recognition. But she is working hard, she said.

"I've been practicing my music, making sure I know the choreography. I don't want to go out there and not know it."

LaToya, who lives in St. Petersburg, hopes to study voice at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts next year. Last year's performance was so much fun that she has been eager to participate this year.

"I didn't think it would be as exciting as it was," she said. "It was a good experience."

What most impressed her?

"The fireworks!" she said.

This year's performance will end with a laser show, Miazga said.

Middle schools participating in the all-county production are Coachman Fundamental, Palm Harbor, Indian Rocks Christian, Kennedy, Clearwater Discovery, Osceola , Morgan Fitzgerald, Southside Fundamental, Dunedin, Baypoint, Tarpon Springs, Safety Harbor, 16th Street Center for the Arts, Pinellas Park, Largo, Meadowlawn, Seminole, Oak Grove, Carwise, Madeira Beach, Tyrone and Keswick Christian.

If you go:

Reserved seats for Bayfront MusicFest's "A Flight Through Time" are $6 each. The performance is at 7:30 p.m. April 2 at the Bayfront Center Arena, 400 First St. S, St. Petersburg. Call the Bayfront Center box office, 892-5798, for information about ticket availability.