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Orchestra plays to rock the youth

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

Some sat on the edges of their red cloth-covered seats, clapping their hands and letting out shrill whistles. They hooted and hollered. They moved their bodies to the beat.

But this was no rock concert. This was an orchestra performance. No singing, just the sounds of trombones and flutes, violins and cellos.

Still, the reactions of the elementary school-age audience made the performers _ members of the Florida Orchestra _ feel like stars.

"It's why we love to perform," said maestro Susan Haig, who was caught off guard by the little girls who lined up to give her hugs Tuesday. "To reach people and touch them emotionally."

The Florida Orchestra performed two 45-minute concerts Tuesday for about 3,500 Hillsborough County fourth- and fifth-graders. It was part of an outreach program to expose children to music and the orchestra.

For at least a decade, the orchestra has been giving free concerts to Hillsborough and Pinellas schoolchildren _ about 40,000 students a season _ in hopes of getting them to appreciate music and perhaps even consider it as a career.

For many of the kids, it was their first time inside the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Haig, associate conductor for the Florida Orchestra, hoped the concert would bring them back.

In dramatic fashion, she conducted the orchestra with great waves of her arms. She also drew the kids in by quizzing them and asking them to clap along.

Haig paused to point out instruments, ask them about famous composers and urge them to raise their hands when they heard certain beats.

The interactive concert was the fourth for Emilsa Stas, a fifth-grade teacher at Seffner Elementary School who chaperoned students from her homeroom. "We love it," Stas said. "They recognize some of the music from cartoons. It's a good experience for the kids."

The field trip is tied to the students' music classes, where they learn in advance about instruments, famous composers and musical eras, said Suzette Berkman, who sits on the Florida Orchestra's board of directors.

Another goal: to teach the children concert etiquette.

"This might be their only concert until they're older," Berkman said. "It's such a treat to see their reaction."

The concert ended with catchy music from Raiders of the Lost Ark, which many of the kids recognized.

"It was really good," said Jacob Waite, 11, a fifth-grader at Summerfield Elementary School in Riverview, who plays the guitar.

Kayla Lassalle, 11, said after the concert that she had found another favorite pastime. "It's a cool thing to do with the family," Kayla said. "I'm going to ask my parents to bring me back."


_ Staff writer Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at 226-3403 or

Free concerts

The Florida Orchestra will perform side by side with the Tampa Bay Youth Orchestra on Tuesday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. On Feb. 24, the Florida Orchestra will perform side by side with the Pinellas Youth Symphony at the Mahaffey Theater from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Both concerts are free and open to the public. No tickets or reservations are required.