HT-0613-ORCHESTRA1.JPG

Ellen Paul, director of the Hernando Youth Orchestra, plays the piano at her home in Spring Hill.

SPRING HILL — At a secret and undisclosed climate-controlled location sit musical instruments that await young players who want to make beautiful music.

Hernando Youth Orchestra executive director Ellen Paul wants to get the band back together, so to speak, after so much time lost to COVID and the closures that have resulted from the pandemic.

Rehearsals have begun at Christ Lutheran Church, 475 North Ave., in Brooksville, from 3 to 4 p.m., she said.

“We take kids from the age of 6 to when they graduate from high school,” Paul said. “Typically, when they graduate from high school they’re out, and doing other things. There are a few criteria: One is you must have some facility with an instrument of your choice, and we do need you to read music.”

They play the classics, like Strauss, Beethoven and others but also modern classics like “Night on Bald Mountain,” “Findlandia” and the “Overture to the Pirates of the Caribbean.”

The orchestra was founded in 2007 by John St. John, a professional musician living in Brooksville. He is a musicologist who plays a cello and the piano and has composed and recorded about 250 albums.

“He’s working on his next one right now,” Paul said.

The nonprofit organization also has a lending library. They are seeking unwanted instruments from people who are downsizing their lives and cleaning out their homes. “We get a lot of instruments,” Paul said, mostly clarinets.

Why clarinets? “They’re simple to play, so they tell me,” Paul said. “It is the instrument they give in schools to learn how to play scales, to learn how to read music, so a lot of kids start with the clarinet, and they work in marching bands.”

In the past couple of months, they have received two xylophones. Sadly, she said, they’ve received offers of pianos but can’t accept any more of them.

All the instruments the orchestra accepts for the library are picked up, Paul said, then repaired if necessary. If a child asks for an instrument, they check and can find it in the library. “Somebody wanted an e-flat saxophone; we had an e-flat saxophone.” The deal is that the student gets the instrument if they are participating in the orchestra, and when they leave, they have to return it in case someone else needs it.

Students wanting to take music in school have to rent instruments from the school at a rate of about $40 a month. That's a lot for some families, and students often cannot take the instrument home to practice on their own.

“You’re paying $40 a month to play that instrument in a 50-minute class, then you go home,” she said.

With a loaned instrument the student can take home, they got a lot more time and can become more proficient faster.

They’re looking for students ages 6 to 18, Paul said. At a high point, the orchestra had 35 to 40 kids, and are down to 10 because of COVID.

“We’re now rebuilding,” she said. “We’ve added three new students this month.”

Participating in the orchestra also provides students with community service hours.

There are performances on YouTube and during the pandemic, students got thumb drives so they could hear and practice their parts of pieces that would be played after the orchestra got back together.

Paul is hoping the practices will bring young players back to the orchestra and that they’ll soon be able to resume playing at arts events, assisted-living facilities and other locations. She laments the cuts that always seem to hit music programs when the schools are short of money.

“The kids are excited about playing, the kids want to be playing and be part of an ensemble,” Paul said. In addition to learning teamwork and discipline, she said there are studies that show playing a musical instrument also can help a student improve his or her academic capabilities.

“So when the school systems gut the music programs, they’re gutting way more than the music program,” she said.