Q: 2023-2024 is Sinfonia’s 18 th year. She is an “adult” now! How does it feel to reach this
DF: It is truly hard to fathom that Sinfonia is approaching two decades. I say it every year, but
Sinfonia exists because of our amazing community. Our music education outreach and
community engagement initiatives are a void that we continue to fill in our school districts,
however the support of the community for our public concerts and events is what enables us to
exist in the capacity that we do.
Q: You are kicking off the season September 27 with Cabaret at Seagar’s headlined by Laura
Benanti, one of Broadway’s brightest soprano stars … she’s been on Broadway 10 times
earning a Tony Award for Gypsy (Louise) and appeared in our living rooms in The Sound of
Music Live! (Baroness Elsa). You could say this evening is “back by popular demand.” Why is
this particular event so popular and why did you invite this Laura Benanti to headline?
DF: The Seagar’s Cabaret is a magical evening. So many of our patrons say that it is their
favorite concert of the season. The venue (Seagar’s), the ambiance, the incredible cuisine and
wine pairings and above all else, the artists! Watching intimate performances by Grammy-
and/or Tony Award-winning artists up close and personal is like being transported to the iconic
Cafe Carlyle in New York City. It is definitely my favorite way to kick off the season. It is a “wow”
moment each year. I love that we can finally present Laura Benanti, whose pedigree and
resume more than speaks for itself. She and I have never worked together, but we have many
friends and colleagues in common. She is the real deal. A big deal. I am looking forward to
welcoming her to the Sinfonia stage.
Q: November 4 promises another powerhouse performer: Trombone Shorty & Orleans
Avenue. You are essentially presenting the world’s most famous horn player! What can we
expect from this year’s Gala Event and why should people come out to support it?
DF: Energy. Excitement. Booty-shaking musical revelry. All that is Trombone Shorty. Listen, how
do you top Patti LaBelle? You cannot. I knew we had to take a much different path with this
year’s gala. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue are a mind-blowing musical experience. They
are the best of the best musicians. I love that Shorty has his own foundation that benefits music
education. That resonates loudly with me. The gala supports Sinfonia’s most important work in
the community: bringing quality music to school children at no cost to them or their schools.
Hotel Effie at Sandestin will serve as an incredible backdrop for this evening extravaganza. As
always, expect a few surprises throughout the evening.
Q: You are serving up a tasty new treat with the Toast ‘n Jam series at the beautiful
Henderson Beach Resort in Destin. December 3 you present Time for Three (TF3) and
February 11 you showcase Chris Brubeck and the Brubeck Brothers Quartet. Anytime we can
enjoy live music and brunch, we’re in. Tell us more delicious details.
DF: Don’t forget the Bloody Marys and Mimosas! When COVID thwarted our plans to present
Time for Three performing Chris Brubeck’s concerto he wrote for them and orchestra, their
schedules haven’t enabled us to recreate that performance, but we will one day soon. In the
meantime, it was too important to just let them sit without sizzling for our audiences, so we
created this series for them at different times. Time for Three is a phenomenal crossover trio …
make that a newly Grammy Award-winning trio. Chris Brubeck. Well, the name speaks for itself.
Continuing the legacy of his father, bassist/trombonist/composer Chris and his brother Dan, a
drummer, have been playing together for a half century. Guitarist Mike DeMicco and pianist
Chuck Lamb, complete this dynamic jazz quartet. We are looking forward to partnering with the
Henderson on this fun and family friendly event.
Q: Holiday Pops features “the last leading man” … tell us how two-time Tony Award winner
Brian Stokes Mitchell will make our season bright on December 8 with his famous baritone
DF: How fun is it that we get to present Trevor from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air? Brian Stokes
Mitchell is a behemoth of Broadway and concert stage and has quite the festive holiday
program with orchestra. Holiday Pops is always a patron favorite, and this year will be no
different. It is always such a fun way to celebrate the season with the sounds of the orchestra
enveloping you. This year we will have table seating to create an even more festive occasion.
Q: Music of the Knights will save us from the winter blues on January 20. Even the title of this
concert is full of mystery and intrigue. Sounds like audiences are in for some “royal
treatment.” Tell us more.
DF: A musical tribute to Sir Elton John, Sir Paul McCartney, and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber …
featuring vocalists and Sinfonia’s amazing full orchestra. More than 40 years of the most
incredible music that has shaped generations. What is not to like?
Q: Classical Connections will feature saxophonist Steven Banks. Among many prestigious
honors, he is the 2019 Sinfonia Gulf Coast Young Concert Artist prize winner. Tell us why we
need to fill the hall on March 23 to hear this captivating young composer/musician.
DF: The Sinfonia Young Concert Artists (YCA) Prize is very special to me and Sinfonia. Young
Concert Artists is a nearly 70-year-old institution that has introduced incredible classical
musicians to the world. Sinfonia is honored to be able to offer an award to one of the winners
each season to perform with the orchestra, but also go out into our community to work with
schools, local bands, the Sinfonia Youth Orchestra as well as other community engagement
opportunities. Steven Banks is an extraordinary saxophonist whose career has catapulted since winning YCA. Steven is an artist that everyone should know. He represents the future of
classical music and the opportunities and importance that it carries for our culture.
Q: On May 18 Destin-FWB Convention Center will be the scene of an epic, action-packed
adventure with Jurassic Park in Concert. Why should families brave a Film in Concert 65
million years in the making?
DF: That’s 65 million plus three years to be exact. We are finally traveling to Jurassic Park after
two rescheduled dates due to COVID. These film in concert productions represent exactly what
Sinfonia is about…redefining the traditional symphony experience, melding genres, bringing
new audiences into the concert hall. With the amazing custom screen that hovers above the
orchestra, this will definitely be an experience for the entire family to see the more than 100
musicians on stage performing John Williams’s iconic film score. Larger than life in all regards!
Q: As we interview, you are hopping from Festival Napa Valley — where you have forged
long-lasting relationships — to a Visit South Walton media event in NYC, to a Young Concert
Artists Board event at the Aspen Music School. You travel frequently from coast to coast.
How does the local community benefit from your national connections?
DF: Literally anything and everything that you see with Sinfonia is a result of who I know in the
industry, who we already have a great working relationship with, recommendations from
colleagues and artist managers that I have worked with over the last 20 years. The networking
and travel are essential. To remain relevant, you must continually explore new artists, new
venues, new opportunities and I believe that we have done a great job of doing that over the
last 17 seasons. As we have been fortunate to continue to add new and talented staff
members, then we can multiply or reach our potential to introduce the stellar artists through
Sinfonia to our community. Being appointed to the Young Concert Artists Board in 2022 has
been a wonderful experience for me both personally and professionally and the opportunity to
create a partnership for the future is promising. Collaboration is key!
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.”
Sinfonia Youth Orchestra (SYO) has a new director … and plenty of opportunities for student musicians looking for top-shelf music education experience … and fun. More on that later. First, let’s meet Sinfonia’s newest music maker.
Loquacious, kind, and meticulous, 26-year-old Margaret Gordon was born and raised in Fort Walton Beach. Her passion for music began at Kenwood Elementary School where she began learning the viola. She was in Sinfonia Youth Orchestra while a student at Choctawhatchee High school. She went on to earn her undergraduate degree at University of West Florida in Music Performance and a master’s degree in Viola Performance from Appalachian State University. She has taught violin viola and piano and ukulele — and recently has taken up the mountain dulcimer! She is newly married to Cameron Gordon, a middle school band director, and the music making couple recently moved to Crestview.
We caught up with Margaret in between SYO and After School Violin rehearsals and here are highlights of our conversation:
As a former SYO student, you can say you’ve come full circle. What does it mean to you to be the director?
MG: Being the director of SYO is the biggest realization of a dream I never even knew I had. I am so humbled to be able to give back to the organization that gave me my foundations in music. Without the Sinfonia Youth Orchestra, I never would’ve been able to foster the love of music that was in me from childhood. By the time I left elementary school, there were no more strings programs available to me in the schools. Knowing that my job allows me to directly impact the students in Okaloosa and Walton Counties brings me immense joy.
Having a master’s degree in music as well as teaching experience, you are well suited to your role. How does your background plays into your role with SYO?
MG: Throughout my collegiate studies I was a part of numerous orchestras and performing chamber ensembles. During this time, I also taught privately as a graduate assistant. I have experience teaching to groups as well as private instruction of multiple instruments. By working with so many instructors throughout my studies, I have gleaned numerous techniques and styles of instruction that have come to form my personal philosophies on teaching. It is my belief that the best learning happens in an environment where exploration is encouraged, and mistakes are freely made without the fear of judgment. All sincere efforts should be celebrated as teacher and student work together to find better solutions.
SYO is unique in that it is affiliated with a professional orchestra. Why is that important?
MG: Being affiliated with Sinfonia means that students receive the highest level instruction available to them outside of their regular school settings. This mentorship is critical to budding musicians as many need guidance into the professional world. Sinfonia Gulf Coast is comprised of professionals who have walked this path and who can serve as examples of where the student’s journey will lead them with hard work and dedication. Because music is a continual journey, it is hard for a student to understand how far they can go if not presented with the finest examples.
What excites you about being the SYO director?
MG: My absolute favorite thing about working with the students of SYO is to be able to celebrate in the triumphs of each student. Whether the progress happens within the individual or within the group as a whole, it brings me immense joy to be able to see the faces of the kids as their confidence grows.
Many schools do not have music programs, why should kids join SYO?
MG: SYO provides students an opportunity to experience a part of the world that may otherwise be lost to them. Music in general provides so many benefits to developing children. It can help kids with math skills, increase reading levels, and help them to develop high levels of critical thinking. Believe it or not, communication is a large part of music as well. Whether this is happening silently during performance or before and after rehearsal with like-minded peers, SYO provides kids with an opportunity to become more well-rounded individuals. I like to think that when we teach music, we are actually teaching life skills with music being the vehicle to do so. And besides that, it’s fun!
Why do you love playing music?
MG: Playing music allows me to communicate in a way that fully encompasses the emotions I feel when words aren’t enough. A memory I cherish is of a performance I gave in Pensacola. During the performance I had felt a shift take place within me that felt like a release of sadness, joy, and triumph all at once. Afterwards, an older gentleman approached me and confided that my performance had touched his soul. Music is meant to be shared, no matter the form, and to provide people with such an experience is the most selfless thing I can imagine.
What kind of music do you like most?
MG: My favorite music is music that challenges me intellectually. I commute to work, so I spend a lot of that time taking apart the compositional elements of songs and trying to isolate things like rhythm and harmony. But the less snobby answer would be Contemporary Christian, Pop, and Classic Rock. I walked down the aisle at my wedding to a string quartet arrangement of Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.
What are your personal interests outside of music?
MG: I love to read and be outside in nature. Crocheting is also a favorite hobby of mine. If it’s got a pattern, I can make it!
Why is it important for people to support Sinfonia Gulf Coast?
MG: When you support Sinfonia Gulf Coast, you are directly supporting the dreams of thousands of students across Okaloosa and Walton Counties. When we bring educational music programs into the schools, the kids’ eyes light up and their imaginations run wild. The musical knowledge that we have as adults is often taken for granted. Many students live in homes where weekend excursions to the symphony are just not possible. When you support Sinfonia, you support our mission of bringing music to all children, regardless of their situation. You could be the reason a child dares to dream big and, just like me, grows up to be the next conductor of the Sinfonia Youth Orchestra.
Sinfonia Youth Orchestra is accepting applications. Why join SYO? Beyond the fun, there are a numerous valuable benefits. Click here to learn more.