Three years ago, organizers of the Youth Pride Band of South Florida could never have predicted the success of the program.
Following shocking reports of anti-gay bullying and suicides, the Youth Pride Band was founded by the South Florida Pride Wind Ensemble, the region’s LGBT and allied concert band, in 2012 to promote better understanding through music.
“We could never have anticipated that the Youth Pride Band would be so successful,” said Adam DeRosa, coordinator of the program.
The first group attracted 25 high school aged musicians from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties and performed to a sell-out crowd at the Broward Center. In the second season, the number of students doubled to 50, drawing musicians from as far away as Loxahatchee in northwest Palm Beach County and Hendry County.
This year, more than 90 musicians applied to participate, including nearly all of last year’s members who had not graduated. They range from freshmen to seniors, identify as straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual and even pansexual, and most know someone in their schools who has been bullied or have experienced bullying themselves.
“The program is something they all want to come back to,” explained DeRosa, who added, “They’re coming back and they’re bringing their friends. We’re definitely experiencing growing pains in a good way.”
In previous years, adult musicians from the Pride Wind Ensemble were required to fill out most instrumental sections, but this year only a couple were required. The Youth Pride Band will share the stage with the older musicians again this year and there won’t be much room on the Amaturo Theatre stage.
Titled, “Let’s Dance,” the concert will feature internationally acclaimed composer and conductor Robert Sheldon, who will lead the group in several of his dance themed compositions, including the well known “Choreography.”
Sheldon is a former professor and band director at Florida State University in Tallahassee and now serves as instrumental music editor for Alfred Publishing Company, one of the largest publishers of school band and orchestral music. He maintains a busy schedule conducting honor bands across the country, including the Youth Pride Band.
Pride Wind Ensemble Artistic Director Dan Bassett prepared the students for the concert in a series of three weekend rehearsals, noting the talent of the students continues to impress as word spreads to the best musicians in the region’s strongest school music programs.
Just as participation has increased, DeRosa stressed community support has also grown in the first three years. In addition to support from the Broward Cultural Division, Community Foundation of Broward and Pride South Florida, the program received its first statewide grand this year from the Cultural Foundation of Florida.
Several outstanding students will also receive $1,000 scholarships. While the band guarantees five awards, private donors have stepped up each year to fund additional scholarships. Many of these private donors participated in band and music programs while they were in school and enthusiastically accepted the opportunity to reward the students. DeRosa hopes to award 10 scholarships this year.
Other logistical issues have been challenging with such a large group this year, DeRosa said, pointing out the challenges of uniforming, equipping and feeding more than 100 musicians and support staff. He particularly thanked Humpy’s Pizza for their assistance.
In future years, the program may need to be reevaluated. The 700 seat Amaturo Theatre nearly sold out as soon as tickets became available, although a handful of seats are still available for purchase online.
“We’re looking at what we’ll have to do to accommodate the interest and still provide a quality experience for each of the kids,” DeRosa said. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great problem to have, especially only three years into the program.”
If You Go
What: Youth Pride Band of South Florida, South Florida Pride Wind Ensemble
When: Sunday, Feb. 16, 7 p.m.
Where: Amaturo Theatre, Broward Center, Fort Lauderdale
Cost: Tickets $25 at BrowardCenter.org