Palm Beach

Florida Youth Orchestra Teaches Kids High Notes of Success

A mesmerizing cacophony of musical styles and sounds swirls through the hallways of Davie's University School on Monday nights.

A flute orchestra is practicing in one room, a string ensemble in another, and other rooms are occupied by two full orchestras, all playing at the same time.

It's rehearsal time for the Florida Youth Orchestra, a weekly ritual for hundreds of kids.

Thomas Sleeper, a professor of music at the University of Miami, conducts FYO's Principal Orchestra, the highest level among the organization's seven musical groups.

"This is the only team sport where nobody loses, they work together to create a whole," Sleeper says.

FYO draws kids from Homestead to West Palm Beach, ages five to 18, and they rehearse every Monday night during the school year for three hours at a time, after they've already had a full day at school. They work hard.

"They do, and like anything, you get out of it what you put into it," said Sleeper.

"It's a big order for kids, and they rise to the occasion," says Myra Weaver, President and Chair of FYO.

"Kids can do almost anything if you give them the opportunity to do it and the right environment."

Weaver, along with her late husband Bob Weaver, the legendary weatherman at WTVJ, founded FYO in 1988.

The first year, 49 kids signed up. It grew exponentially over the years, with 400 student musicians now taking part.

"It's a game changer for children, they learn behavioral attributes like responsibility and commitment and flexibility," Weaver said, "and they gain a whole new peer group of friends who share a passion for music."

FYO is a meritocracy, parents can't pull strings to get their viola-playing child a better position in the orchestra.

Slots aren't based on age or grade, they're based strictly on ability as shown in auditions. It's not uncommon to see a 6th grader playing alongside a high school student.

Since very few school orchestras are big enough and skilled enough to play advanced musical pieces, FYO provides an outlet for young musicians to grow and learn.

"Think of this as an enhancement of what they're doing in the schools," Sleeper explained. "They support each other, the public schools support this and we support the public schools and we work together to give them a strong education."

"And when you bring a lot of great musicians together it's just something that's really cool," said Carson Poltorack, a senior at Pine Crest School and one of FYO's top violinists.

FYO experience also looks good on a college application. Poltorack, for example, just got accepted to Stanford, Princeton, Cornell and Dartmouth.

"But I would say that's really not the reason why most of us are here at FYO, most of us are here because we love the music," Poltorack said.

FYO plays concerts all over South Florida, from appearances at the Aventura Mall, the Miami Seaquarium, and Lincoln Road to regular concerts at Bailey Hall at Broward College.

Wherever they're playing, FYO's musicians are learning what it takes to hit the high notes of success at a young age.


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