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Thanks to grant, would-be musicians get hands-on opportunity

At the start, it wasn't like listening to a symphony.

Young hands moved bows over their violins and out came high-pitched screeching.

But the kids were eager to learn, said Linda Gaines, a violinist with the Florida Orchestra who spent part of her summer as a teacher for a program called Prodigy.

Prodigy - funded by a $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. - provided six weeks of free violin instruction to kids ages 6 to 12. Classes were held twice a week at the Roy Haynes Recreation Center, in the Carrollwood area of Hillsborough County. After-school programs also were offered at two other locations in culinary arts, performing arts and music production. Skateboard Park of Tampa was a sponsoring partner.

Josie Rocco, program manager of the Prodigy Cultural Arts Program, said the goal was to help kids who aren't typically exposed to the cultural and performing arts. Rocco also hoped they would walk away with life skills.

Gaines, a violinist with the Florida Orchestra since 1992, said many of the students, like 12-year-old Xavier, had never had the opportunity to hold a violin. The Times is using only the kids' first names to respect the program's privacy requirements.

"I feel like it's very magical, it's very magical for somebody to play," Xavier said.

On the last day of classes, Gaines led the group in renditions of Mary Had a Little Lamb, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and Alouette, Gentille Alouette. She loved what she heard.

"Remember we talked about how special you are," she told the class. "You need to tell yourselves that every day, and I am so very proud of you."