1. Tampa

Florida Orchestra, Prodigy gain added dollars for violin lessons

Amaya Akbar, 10, and Ky’lee Barnes, 7, prepare for a recent violin lesson at the Cyrus Greene Community Center. Both students receive lessons thanks to a partnership between the Florida Orchestra and the University Area Community Development Center’s Prodigy Program. KENYA WOODARD | Special to the Times
Published Dec. 14, 2018

EAST TAMPA — Outside the Cyrus Green Community Center, cars often ride past with hip-hop blasting from the speakers.

But inside the building, a different genre of music is catching on with youngsters like Amaya Akbar.

Amaya, 10, is already a talented musician who has experience playing the guitar and drums.

Recently, she's taken up a third instrument, the violin. It's not as exciting as the drums — which Amaya likes because they are "loud" — but she's found at least one thing she likes about the string instrument.

"I like the sounds of the 'D' string," she said. "It has a lower pitch."

Makiah Taylor, 10, however, loves the violin.

"My favorite part is learning new songs," she said. "We play songs that some people don't really listen to. It makes me feel that it's going to make them listen even more."

Twice a week after school, Amaya and Makiah join several other students in a large classroom at the center to get violin lessons directly from some of the best musicians in the bay area thanks to a ground-breaking partnership between The Florida Orchestra and the University Area Community Development Corporation's after-school cultural arts program, Prodigy.

Hillsborough County funds the program and the county commission recently approved an additional $100,000 to extend and expand the lessons and other musical experiences to children who might otherwise not have the opportunity.

The additional funding will cover instrument rental and other class supplies, and allow the orchestra to hire a violin instructor and a part-time coordinator dedicated to the partnership.

The grant will continue to fund a program is part of the orchestra's mission to increase community engagement.

The UACDC has a similar objective through Prodigy, which offers underserved youth a plethora of activities and courses at a number of sites throughout the county. Art, break dancing and theater are popular. The violin classes could catch just as quickly thanks to the enthusiasm from Amaya and other students, said Prodigy director Mike Trepper.

"The majority of our kids are not artists," he said. "But through skills develop and mentorship, they do find a niche. And when young people find something they are good at, their whole world expands."

The partnership began over the summer when the orchestra taught group violin classes twice a week to Prodigy kids at Roy Haynes Recreation Center in Tampa – a first for both organizations. The orchestra also performed chamber concerts, hosted Prodigy students and families at a TFO Masterworks concert at the Straz Center and offered the Instrument Petting Zoo at various venues, giving students the opportunity to see, touch and play instruments.

The free violin lessons continued at Roy Haynes this fall and expanded to Cyrus Greene.

In a recent class, the gathering is smaller than usual but that's no bother for instructor Bennett Astrove. He gingerly goes over music scales with Amaya and three other students and then shifts into teaching them Rocket March, a three-part song.

When Ky'lee Barnes, 7, is having difficulty with parts of the latter, Amaya – who's a quick study – steps in to assist.

"If I help others, they'll get better," she said. "I help them catch on so we can move faster."

In addition to violin, students also are taught life lessons patience, respect, communication, focus/effort — or the Four Responsibilities, as Astrove calls them.

A splash of discipline and structure — students cannot miss more than two classes unexcused and must set up and break down their own equipment – also are doled out.

Those characteristics are necessary to learn how to play the violin as well as work with other musicians as a team, he said.

Much of what the students learn on the instrument and in class applies to real life, said instructor Michelle Painter.

"It's sort of a game of patience, which is a skill that everyone needs," she said. (Learning the violin) requires you to slow down. That's sort of the challenging part of it at first."

The 10-week program culminates with a recital where the students can show off what they've learned. And while the violin may not be her favorite, learning how to play it has opened Amaya to another string instrument.

"I want to learn how to play the piano," she said.

Contact Kenya Woodard at


  1. The David A. Straz Jr Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa was one of several buildings named for the philanthropist and banker. [DENNIS JOYCE   |   Times] DENNIS JOYCE  |  Tampa Bay Times (2018)
    The David A. Straz Jr Foundation donated more than $33 million to dozens of organizations in nearly 20 years
  2. Port Tampa Bay president and CEO Paul Anderson. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times (2017)]
    Port commissioners approved the raise after a year with milestone achievements on several fronts.
  3. David Straz and his wife Catherine at Karamu, the annual black-tie gala at ZooTampa in April. AMY SCHERZER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The future of Straz’s foundation remained unclear Tuesday. Meanwhile, police say Straz died of natural causes at a Citrus County waterfront home.
  4. David Straz Jr. passed away this week at age 77. JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The retired banker supported causes from the arts to the zoo. Here’s a sampling of reaction to his death.
  5. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. TMCCARTY  |  times staff
    The driver’s injuries appear non-life threatening, and a suspect is in custody.
  6. Mango Plaza in Seffner has sold for $12.49 million. The plaza is anchored by a Publix and Walmart, making it attractive to a Baltimore investment firm. (Continental Realty Corporation)
    Mango Plaza’s new owners are based out of Baltimore.
  7. Philanthropist David Straz Jr. and his wife Catherine celebrate in March after he advanced into the Tampa mayoral run-off election. Mr. Straz has died at the age of 77. TAILYR IRVINE  |  Times
    The former mayoral candidate who lost to Tampa Mayor Jane Castor earlier this year, died Monday while on a fishing trip in Homosassa. His name, and legacy, are integral to Tampa.
  8. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    The teens were waiting for a HART bus when they were struck by a vehicle involved in a chain-reaction crash, police said.
  9. The Jackson House in downtown Tampa in February. The historic building was a rooming home for African Americans including celebrities during the segregation era. On Monday, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik announced a $1 million gift toward its preservation. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    The gift from the Tampa Bay Lightning owner and his wife will help preserve the African American landmark in Tampa.
  10. Much work has been completed on the Selmon Extension project, but we still have a way to go before the construction and ongoing detours on Gandy Boulevard end by the projected fall 2020 completion date. MONIQUE WELCH  |  Monique Welch | Times
    The ongoing project along Gandy Boulevard began in February but still has a lot of work left before its projected fall 2020 completion date.