South Florida Teens Combat Gay Bullying with Music

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Members of the Youth Pride Band rehearse for this weekend’s concert. Photo courtesy of South Florida Pride Wind Ensemble

More than 50 talented high school musicians have been rehearsing for weeks for a special concert this Sunday at the Broward Center. The students represent high schools from Miami-Dade County all the way up to northern Palm Beach County and all were selected to participate in the second annual Youth Pride Band.

Founded last year as a response to the large number of anti-gay bullying incidents and rise in suicides among LGBT youth, the band promotes understanding through music, explained Adam DeRosa, coordinator of the project for the South Florida Pride Wind Ensemble, the region’s LGBT and allies concert band.

“We had 23 students last year and the band more than doubled this year to 55 musicians,” he said. “We’re very pleased with the growth. Obviously word has spread across South Florida—both about the band’s mission, but also the excellent musical opportunity for the students.”

While some of the students identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual—one flute player even describes himself as “pansexual”—most are straight allies. Some have experienced bullying in one form or another, but they all share a passion for music.

Natalie Mullen, a senior clarinet player from McArthur High School in Hollywood, tells an especially moving story about a gay classmate who broke both of his legs during a failed suicide attempt while jumping from a second story balcony. Another admitted to friends on Facebook that he cut himself.

“It’s really important to support my friends,” she said. “The bullying really affects their self-esteem.”

“In Flight” is the uplifting theme of the concert Sunday and each of the musical selections relates, from Defying Gravity from the musical Wicked and the Frank Sinatra standard, Come Fly with Me, to Gustav Holst’s classic Mars from The Planets and the finale from Stravinsky’s ballet, The Firebird.

The youth band will perform the first half of the program and the students will be joined in the second by the adult members of the Pride Wind Ensemble for a massed band of more than 100 performers.

Pride Wind Ensemble Artistic Director Dan Bassett will conduct along with guest conductors Brian Worsdale of the Lesbian and Gay Big Apple Corps from New York City and Neil Jenkins, executive director of the Florida Bandmasters Association.

“It was very important for us to provide the students with a quality musical experience,” emphasized Bassett.

In addition to nationally recognized conductors, during rehearsals the students work with adult coaches from the Pride Wind Ensemble, many of whom are music teachers and freelance musicians. The opportunity to perform with the adult band is also a unique experience. This is something they can’t get with county, regional or state honor bands. Five students will receive $1,000 scholarships to continue their studies.

Witnessing the growth of the program over the past two years, DeRosa is optimistic that the program might spread. The Pride Wind Ensemble is a member of the Lesbian and Gay Band Association, of which DeRosa serves as president, and other bands across the country have expressed interest.

“This is a great program that is making a difference for the kids,” he said, “and we’re hopeful that it will continue to grow. We’ve received tremendous support here in the South Florida community and see it as a model for others.”

If you go:

What: Youth Pride Band Concert

When: Sunday, Feb. 24, 6 p.m.

Where: Amaturo Theatre, Broward Center, Fort Lauderdale

How Much: Tickets $25 at BrowardCenter.org

More Info: PrideWindEnsemble.org


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