ZEPHYRHILLS — Enticing kids to become avid page turners is part of the Pasco County's "Libraries Rock" summer reading program. There's always a fun element to bring them in, that this year comes with a musical theme.
For Blake Pole, 9, an afternoon trip to Pasco County's New River Library branch gave him a chance to check out new books and try his hand at playing the trumpet.
As sometimes happens with first-timers, Blake pressed his lips to the mouthpiece, puffing up his cheeks to give it a good blow. Barely a sound came out.
That's because there's a trick to making a proper sound that starts by buzzing your lips just so, explained library volunteer, Kamryn Smart, 15, who then demonstrated. Second time was the charm for Blake, who took a few more turns with the trumpet before moving on to a well-worn violin, and then the cello.
"This is great," said his mom, Jaime Pole. "He's tried the guitar. He plays the drums. Now he's getting to try to trumpet."
That's just one benefit of The Florida Orchestra's Instrument Petting Zoo. The free, hands-on program, presented by the North Suncoast Associates volunteers, is a regular feature at the orchestra concerts and a new summer offering at local libraries.
"We're having a lot of success with it," said Angelo Liranzo, regional branch manager at New River and Hugh Embry libraries. "The kids get very excited about things when it's hands on."
He credits Roz Fenton, president of the county-wide Friends of the Library nonprofit, for reaching out to the orchestra.
"This is the first summer we've done instrument petting zoos in Pasco libraries, at least to this scale," said Kelly Smith, the orchestra's public relations manager. About 10,700 kids and adults tried out instruments at petting zoo events last season, she said. In all, the orchestra reaches about 80,000 people, she said, through community and education concerts and programs. Most are free.
Other family-friendly events include concerts geared to children in kindergarten through first grade and concerts for those with sensory sensitivities. Another program called Classical Kids and Teens, offers a limited amount of free tickets to children ages 5 to 18, for those who attend a Tampa Bay Times Masterworks concert with a paying adult.
Some 60 children and adults attended a morning petting zoo program on July 9 at the Hugh Embry Library in Dade City, said Daryn Bauer, community engagement manager for the Florida Orchestra. Another 50 or so showed up for the afternoon session at the New River Library.
"It's a great way to introduce children and families to the instruments of the orchestra and a great way for them to try them out," said Bauer, who gave children a quick demonstration on the instruments and a lesson on the orchestra sections — strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion.
"The kids who experience the instrument petting zoo are so excited to get their hands on the instruments," he said. "It's amazing to see their faces light up the first time they make a sound.
"Some kids will naturally gravitate to a particular instrument and experiment with different techniques all on their own. ... It's very rewarding when a kid walks out of here saying, 'I'm definitely going to be a cellist,' and the parent is asking where they can take private lessons."
Those kids might join a music program at their schools, helping to foster arts programs there, Bauer said.
At the very least, they might come away knowing what it's like to shake a percussion instrument to create the sound of falling raindrops, or hear the first notes of Mary Had a Little Lamb on a violin, or learn how to buzz their lips in a way that elicits a proper sound from a shiny brass trumpet.
Contact Michele Miller at email@example.com. Follow @MicheleMiller52.