Key West Is Still Home

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Sebrina Alphonso  – Key West is still home

Born in Key West, Sebrina Alphonso is a 6th generation Conch. She remembers big family parties resulting in instruments coming out, with music, singing, and dancing into the night.

She attended Truman Elementary (now the Harvey Building) and joined music programs starting in the first grade. In the seventh grade, the student band had a new band director, Martha Stark. Stark’s ability to control the orchestra to perform well became a life-long inspiration to Sebrina to conduct.

In the 70s, her step-father returned to the Navy and was stationed in Naples, Italy where Sebrina attended the ninth grade. On one field trip, she wandered into a theater in the middle of the day and saw the audience, sobbing, listening to the passion of Puccini’s La Boehme. Sebrina then realized the capacity of music to influence.

Sebrina Alfonso graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, earning both a Bachelor’s degree (BA), with a major in horn and minor in piano, and a Master’s in Music (MM) in conducting. She completed her Doctoral Studies in conducting at the highly-regarded Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, MD (a division of the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University).

After returning to Key West, Sebrina formed the Key West Symphony in 1998. Within a year, there was great support and the two-night concerts were sold out. Sebrina would bring classical musicians from all over Florida and the Southeast to Key West. Because Sebrina felt an obligation to provide children the opportunity to hear a symphony, they performed an equal number of concerts to a children’s audience. Key West is small so the educational programs reached the entire island.

On a cool evening in April 2007, the Key West Symphony performed a free Pops-Style Concert at Fort Zachary Taylor to a packed audience of over 2,000. They performed the music of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, and many others

The Tennessee Williams Theatre was damaged during the hurricanes in 2004 and 2005. It was closed for three years. The symphony had to perform at the high school. The recovery changed Key West and the audience for the symphony. In 2009, the Key West Symphony relocated to the Broward-Dade county area and reformed as the South Florida Symphony.

The seventy piece South Florida Symphony often performs with a 90-member chorus. For every concert the South Florida Symphony performs in the Dade/Broward area, Sebrina also tries to bring them to Key West. The musicians use to be able to stay overnight but local ownership of Key West hotels has changed and expenses are difficult. The Symphony musicians endure a six-hour bus ride down to Key West, perform a full concert, and then another bus ride home. It’s a very long day but the musicians love coming to Key West, and to Sebrina, it’s still home.

The normal size symphony (65 to 70-piece orchestra) is a huge logistical effort to move. After 25 years, Sebrina says they have a solid staff of seven performing their duties with enough experience that it has become routine. New musicians are auditioning all the time. The musicians involved are committed professionals that also perform with other organizations. Many also teach music at the local colleges and schools.

Pre-COVID, the South Florida Symphony performed approximately 100 events yearly, with an annual budget of $2.5 million. There were holiday concerts, children’s concerts, special concerts, pops concerts, and chamber music, using both inside and outside venues.

Sebrina says they are planning some special concerts in 2023 to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the founding of the Key West Symphony. They are working with the Keys Arts Council to bring Handel’s Messiah and the Hallelujah Chorus to Key West for the holiday season, using our community chorus and high school chorus.  Hopefully, they will be able to perform at the Coffee Butler Amphitheater. Sebrina would like this to become an annual event.




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