SAO Members Celebrate United Nations’ International Volunteer Day

Volunteering is close to the heart of the St. Augustine Orchestra (SAO). Not only do the 44-plus members volunteer their time to play in the Orchestra, but they reach out into the community to share their love of music and teach strings and other instruments to children in St. Augustine and St. Johns County Schools.

December 5th is the annual International Volunteer Day (IVD), mandated by the UN General Assembly. It is viewed as a unique chance for volunteers and organizations to celebrate their efforts, to share their values, and to promote their work in their community, and in the private sector.

Stephen Marr, a clarinet player in the Orchestra, volunteers two days per week with Band I and Band II at Sebastian Middle School on Lewis Speedway in St. Augustine. This is his second year doing so, and last year he was named Volunteer of the Year! He also volunteers teaching saxophone and clarinet at Pedro Menendez High School one afternoon per week (also his second year doing so). “I love the expression on kid’s faces when they learn how to express themselves on an instrument, get the notes right, and suddenly they can read and play the music before them. It’s a lifelong passion that I’m glad I can contribute to them starting early in their lives,” said Marr.

Marr also noted that five members of SAO have a volunteer group called Old City Clarinets that goes into the local schools to teach brass.

Violinist Dr. Dorothy Barrett has been volunteering in St. Augustine schools for 10 years. “I help Sherry Nelson, the music specialist at The Webster School, and Chuck Rogers at Sebastian Middle School. They started the strings programs at their respective schools and I simply ‘string along’,” she said modestly. Barrett took violin lessons as a youngster and was able to join the Delaware Valley (PA) Philharmonic when she was 13. “It was the beginning of a lifetime of opportunities I would never have experienced otherwise. I volunteer because music was a life-changer for me, as I hope it will be for our children.”

Sherry Nelson (also a member of the St. Augustine Orchestra playing violin) began working with interested 5th graders after school in 2006. The Jack Page Project, under the umbrella of the EMMA Concert Association, gave Nelson the 16 instruments that are still used today at Webster. “My hope is that violins are highlighted as not just as a vital section of any orchestra, but also to offer skills like responsibility, eye-hand coordination, decoding, better memory and longer attention span. I think we are the STEAM in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering Arts, and Math),” said Nelson. Other volunteers include Ernie Crews on percussion and Mitch Kolesaire on double bass.

The St. Augustine Orchestra is a partner organization of St. Johns Volunteers! which offers an array of programs and services designed to link individuals, families, organizations, and businesses with opportunities to have a positive impact in our community.

“I am delighted to see how much the city of St. Augustine – and this county – embraces the arts, and believes in the value of music education,” said Music Director and Principal Conductor Scott Gregg. “There is great collaboration and interest in reaching young people and it’s heartening to see Tommy Bledsoe, Arts Program Specialist for the St. John County School District, support arts instruction in all schools and at all levels. It is truly impressive that every elementary school has a full-time music teacher.”

It’s been 14 years since Maestro Gregg helped found the First Coast Community Music School (FCCMS) which assists hundreds of music students access top-notch music education. In 2014, he became that school’s Artistic and Executive Director. Its mission is to bring high-quality professional music instruction to students of all ages to enrich the cultural life of the community. The FCCMS has founded the First Coast Youth Orchestras with students who audition from all over Northeast Florida – Jacksonville, the Beaches, St. Augustine, Clay, Nassau, and Baker counties.

“Classical music is music that has withstood the test of time and yet, music is always changing with the times. The parents of this community want their children to be exposed to music and I’m very proud of the musicians of the SAO in their volunteer efforts towards this end,” said Gregg, adding “Parents and children alike will love our upcoming Holiday program on December 8th. The kids will hear plenty of music with which they’ll be familiar; it’s great fun for the whole family.”