Thirty-five years ago, a handful of local musicians organized the Flamingo Freedom Band to march in annual Pride parades.
In the decades that followed, the ensemble grew and evolved, changed its name and expanded its mission.
On Sunday, Nov. 7, the South Florida Pride Wind Ensemble (SFPWE) — more than 70 musicians strong — will celebrate both the organization’s past and its future at a special concert in the Broward Center’s Amaturo Theater. The performance will be simultaneously streamed for audiences across the country and those who may still be cautious about the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re 35, so we’re going to have to start dying our hair, apparently,” quipped Dan Bassett, who has conducted the band for nearly half of its history.
He’s planned a program of audience favorites from previous concerts and invited several past conductors, assistant conductors and guest artists to return to the Broward Center stage for the occasion.
The band will perform band standards, such as the march from Gustav Holst’s “First Suite in E-flat for Military Band” and Clare Grundman’s transcription of Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to “Candide;” as well as contemporary wind ensemble compositions by Robert W. Smith and Robert Sheldon. The program will also include popular numbers, including a medley of Broadway show tunes sung by James Perkowski and “When You Believe” from “The Prince of Egypt” and sung by Marie Cowley. Perkowski will also perform Puccini’s famous aria, “Nessun Dorma.”
Bassett will be joined on the podium by SFPWE’s current assistant conductor, Sara Cowley, along with former director Dr. Ron Hughes, Chris Schlenker and Jessey Andris.
Adam DeRosa, a horn player and the band’s president several times over the past two decades, said the band has not only been visible in South Florida’s arts scene, but is also a leader in the international LGBT band movement.
The Youth Pride Band, an outreach initiative to LGBT and allied high school musicians, has been modeled by other bands across the country. SFPWE has also hosted the organization’s conference on a regular basis since 1989, drawing musicians from around the world for workshops, rehearsals and a concert performance.
“This band has been willing to try and do new things,” explained DeRosa, who is serving his second stint as the president of the international association. “That initiative and drive is something that our group is known for.”
Bassett and DeRosa advocated for the band’s name change in 2006, better reflecting the artistic achievements and the diverse range of music they performed in concert settings. A jazz ensemble was launched, as well as smaller brass and woodwind groups that perform frequently throughout the year. The band’s concerts frequently integrate dancers and costumed performers, as well as video and spectacular lighting effects.
Bassett noted that during the pandemic, the more intimate ensembles allowed musicians to safely gather and make music with minimal risk and he hopes they will continue, even as the full band can now rehearse and perform.
What’s next? Building on the theatricality of SFPWE’s productions, the ensemble will team up with Island City Stage in 2022 for a semi-staged concert version of “A Chorus Line.”
Bassett promised singers, actors and a little bit of dance, but definitely “the largest pit orchestra ever created.”
Tickets for the South Florida Pride Wind Ensemble 35th anniversary concert on Sunday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. in the Amaturo Theater of the Broward Center are available at BrowardCenter.org. To watch the concert online, go to SouthFloridaPride.StreamAlly.live.