Sinfonia Gulf Coast is delighted to announce the recipient of the 2023 Grace Fulcher Memorial Scholarship. The $1,000 scholarship is awarded annually to a high school senior in the Sinfonia Youth Orchestra, in honor of the memory of Grace Bernice Fulcher, a Niceville High School student and violinist who was an exemplary member of the Sinfonia Youth Orchestra.
This year’s scholarship has been awarded to Maxine Sculthorpe of Shalimar, Florida, a senior at Fort Walton Beach High School.
Sculthorpe has been playing the violin in the Sinfonia Youth Orchestra for one year, and she expressed her gratitude for “the opportunities it provides for musicians to learn from each other and for the visits from professional musicians.”
Her scholarship application showcased her impressive achievements, including participation in Girls’ Varsity Lacrosse Team, Academic Team, Art Club, Beta Club, National Honor Society, Music National Honor Society, Science National Honor Society, “Murals with a Meaning” painting project and ballet.
In her scholarship application, Sculthorpe shared her ambition to attend the University of Florida for her bachelor's degree in architecture and then attend Cornell University to earn a master's degree. She also plans to audition for student orchestras at the University of Florida to continue pursuing her passion for music.
“As an architect, I hope to combine aspects of philosophy, sustainability, music, and art in everything that I create. I want to help build a more beautiful and accessible future for all people, one that reflects the things that are already innately beautiful in our world: the arts,” she said.
To qualify for the scholarship, student applicants must plan to attend, or currently attend an accredited college or university on a full-time basis, have a minimum GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, have acquired acceptance to or be enrolled at the college of their choice, and be an enrolled full-time student for the fall semester of 2023.
Demetrius Fuller, Founder and Music Director of Sinfonia Gulf Coast, expressed his pride in supporting Sculthorpe as she pursues her education and career goals. "Maxine Sculthorpe is a deserving winner of the 2023 Grace Fulcher Memorial Scholarship,” he said.
The Grace Fulcher Memorial Scholarship is just one of the ways in which Sinfonia Gulf Coast supports and nurtures young musicians. Through its various music education programs and performances, the organization is dedicated to inspiring and educating audiences of all ages about the transformative power of music.
On March 8 the Emerald Coast Convention Center in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. was transformed into an electrifying concert hall when Sinfonia Gulf Coast presented its 9th live Link Up concert performance “The Orchestra Moves,” a national program it presented in partnership with New York’s Carnegie Hall Weill Institute of Music.
This year’s Link Up program — conducted by Sinfonia Gulf Coast Music & Artistic Director Demetrius Fuller — showcased the talents of more than 2,000 local 3rd-5th grade students from Okaloosa and Walton Counties performing on recorder and singing.
With recorders in hand, the students performed from their seats when given their cue by Maestro Fuller to join the Sinfonia Gulf Coast orchestra for a range of pieces from Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Márquez, The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss and Toreador from Georges Bizet’s Carmen and others. But these inspired kids didn’t stay in their seats, at this spirited performance they were up out of their chairs singing, dancing choreographed moves they have been practicing for months.
This curriculum is geared towards 3rd-5th grade students, and in many cases locally, is the only music education that they receive during the school year. The theme of this year’s Link Up program was centered around movement. Students learn how we can perceive music as moving through space from high to low, filling the spaces in between with harmonies, timbres and textures. They learn that when music moves us, it evokes a full range of emotional responses, and compels us to move our bodies and create dance.
The program definitely “moved” kids. While waiting to enter the theater third grader Damen Wilson said, “I really liked learning the recorder and am excited I get to keep it so I can practice at home for my mom.” Fourth grader Anniston Carver said she was “excited to dance to the music” and hoped to hear a piano.
Sinfonia’s Link Up program is funded in part by the St. Joe Community Foundation, the Dugas Family Foundation and the Emeril Lagasse Family Foundation. Additional funding from Sinfonia Gulf Coast’s Crescendo! annual fundraiser, Treble Makers, an honorary membership committee of Crescendo!, and community donors, has helped Link Up steadily grow to the Sinfonia’s largest education initiative.
“We are so honored to sponsor this incredible Sinfonia Link Up initiative for the students in our community,” said April Wilkes, executive director of the St. Joe Community Foundation. “For 10 years, the Foundation has made an investment in this program and it has been great to see the growth and impact that it has on all of these students.”
Crescendo! —Sinfonia Gulf Coast’s largest annual “fun-raiser”— has become the “must-attend” social event of the season, attracting over 750 patrons.
The festivities included a January kick-off lunch by Chef Jack McGuckin at Bijoux Restaurant + Spirits in Miramar Beach and five intimate, vintner dinners hosted on Friday, Feb. 24 in lovely private homes and venues along the coast. Pairings included Darioush with Chef Dan Vargo of Fine Coastal Cuisine at the home of Amy & Joe Scherzinger; The Lerner Project with Chef Frank Szymanski of Blue Fin at Churchill Oaks Clubhouse; The Vines with Chef Jude Tauzin of Tony Chachere at the Kelly Plantation Owner’s Club; Arietta with Chef Fleetwood Covington at Seagar’s Prime Steaks & Seafood and Perus Wines with Jack McGuckin at Bijoux Restaurant + Spirits.
On Saturday, Feb. 25 Churchill Oaks Club House welcomed invited guests to the Panerai Watch Bar party. Guest sipped “timeless” cocktails by Better Together, nibbled bites by Chef Frank Szymanski and shopped Panerai’s latest time pieces.
Then, on Sunday, Feb. 26, this year’s elegant Ebony & Ivory-themed fête transformed the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa into a sophisticated black and white ball. Bodacious black and whimsical white clad ladies (and gents) flowed in to mix and mingle. But first, they were greeted by the sounds of Sinfonia Youth Orchestra string and horn players remind everyone why they were gathered — to raise funds for Sinfonia Gulf Coast’s music education programs.
Next, a beautiful woman in a shimmering ball gown cascading with chilled sparkling wine flutes — a one-woman party all her own welcomed one and all. But the “champagne dress lady” was just the beginning of what was around the corner… and just like that, the party of the season was underway.
Everywhere you looked were festive balloon filled archways, wondrous floral walls, and chic high contrast décor. The alluring ambiance was made even more fun with luxurious lounging spots, keep sake photo booths, a live portrait session and delicious wine tasting stations.
Sipping colorful cocktails guests enjoyed pay-to-play party games and bid on beautifully displayed silent auction items before enjoying a delicious catered lunch. The strawberry cheesecake was delicious and so was the get your heart pounding performance by the sensational Big Band sensation Sergio Vellatti!
And with the help of fantastic silent and live auction lots, the giving began.
Three bottles of 2019 cult wine Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon sold for $3,500 in the Silent Auction, while an unforgettable weekend in Napa Valley at the McClelland House fetched $35,000 in the exciting Live Auction.
With the help of staff and a dedicated team of volunteers, Beth Clavier, director of events and patron services for Sinfonia Gulf Coast, staged the soiree of the season to be sure.
What does it take to pull off the must-do benefit bash of the year? Here are just a few figures to give you an idea.
Crescendo 2023 By the Numbers
4,000 balloons used for decor at the Crescendo Main Event
750+ bottles of donated wine at the vintner dinners and main event
740 bracelets made by Renee Krul at Bijoux de Mer
400 swag bags
350 flowers (including roses, snap dragons and orchids) intertwined with 400 stems tinted silver and black to form a 25-foot floral cascade designed by 1920 & Co
108 silent auction items
100 Box Pull gifts valued at $21,486
15 dedicated volunteers
9 Sinfonia Youth Orchestra students, along with Sinfonia Youth Orchestra Music Director, Margaret Gordon performed during the reception
5 live auction lots, including an in-home concert by Sergio Vellatti
7 “atmospheric” entertainers, dapper emcee hosts, chill “champagne dress ladies,” DJs and live fashion illustrators
1 sensational Big Band featuring Sergio Vellatti!
The Surprising Story Behind California’s Big Band Sensation
By Zandra Wolfgram
Some of us dream of chucking our “day job” and doing what we really want to do — insert requisite dream job here. In 2009, Crescendo! 2023 featured guest artist Sergio Vellatti did just that. Two years later, the civil engineer-turned-performer walked onto a Los Angeles stage with hundreds of faces gazing at him and a full big band behind him. The evening hosted by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation paid tribute to Harrison Ford and other notable attendees. It would be a thrilling moment for any young singer. For Sergio Vellatti’s, it would be his first public performance. He was 27 years old.
“Up until then, I wasn’t even a singer, but I had aspirations,” the now 39-year-old said during a phone interview from his home in Laguna, California.
Growing up in Golden State’s San Gabriel Valley, the voices behind Disney characters captured Vellatti’s young imagination. He was taken with the idea of being a voiceover artist. With tape recorder in-hand, he would “produce” elaborate narrations complete with characters, plot twists and music. He joined the junior high band to play clarinet, later switching to drums in the marching band in high school. Fortuitously, he gravitated toward the sounds of big band, jazz and American popular music.
Yet, the idea of singing still never occurred to him.
“I grew up in the most nonmusical household. We didn't have a record player. The only exposure to music that I had was going to driving to and from the golf course with my stepdad. I would sit in the car and Golden Oldies would play on the radio station,” he tells.
Marvin Gaye, the Supremes and any band with big horns and a rhythm section got this entertainer’s toes tapping.
“That’s what I consider great music,” he says. “Big band transports you to a different time. The lyrics are timeless. They don't they don't write music like that anymore. And it just evokes so many feelings of nostalgia and romance.”
Curious to explore the boundaries of his voice, the unemployed draftsman began to sing. Recording a handful of standards to orchestral tracks, family and friends encouraged Vellatti to post his recordings on YouTube. Soon, his channel had more than half a million views.
Surprisingly, singing came naturally … as did opportunities. Within month of meeting an award-winning record producer while in Los Angeles for a job interview, Vellatti tuned out engineering and turned his full focus to music.
After relocating to Los Angeles in September 2011, he was invited to be an artist in residence with the acclaimed music department at Citrus College, performing with the institution's touring big band. After his heady aforementioned first public performance, Vellatti went on to perform at marquee venues throughout California, Hawaii and Florida.
His “musical” dream was in full swing.
Inspired by musical icons such as Ray Charles, Tony Bennett and Joe Williams, this crooner is focused on building a career as a concert performer and recording artist to fulfill his new-found dream. After nearly a decade on stage, this big-voiced singer has clearly found his “happy place.”
“It’s a playground and I get the front the best seat in the house! I get to listen to the band up close which is my favorite part of performing, and I like wearing a tuxedo!” he confesses with an easy laugh.
As he reflects on his circuitous path to music, Vellatti is heartened his performance will benefit Sinfonia Gulf Coast and its music education community outreach initiatives.
“It is an honor. I love it because, we were all children, and we remember what it was like being creative kids. I'm working to get back to that — being that creative kid and being uninhibited,” he says.
What can Crescendo! audiences expect on Sunday, Feb. 26 from California’s surprising big band singer sensation?
“They can expect satin shoelaces,” Vellatti teases, “and great, timeless music!”