Bonita Springs Concert Band at Riverside Park

Bonita Springs Concert Band at Riverside Park

By D. K. Christi


Musical magic happens when young talent meets seasoned musicians, combining their shared enthusiasm for large group performance. Both the Bonita Springs Concert Band (BSCB) and Philharmonia, a new ensemble from Florida Gulf Coast University, are delighting local audiences with mixed-generation musicians.

“It’s not just the musicianship that these combined youth and seasoned musicians experience but also the cross-generational camaraderie and social interactions that energize the rehearsals and performances,” said BSCB trumpet player Ken Carper.

The community band was formed 15 years ago, drawing many retirees and professionals who didn’t make music their careers but still wanted the opportunity to play instruments they learned in their youth. About nine years ago, the band was having trouble filling spots for some of the less common instruments, explained Conductor Gary Smith. That’s when the scholarship program was created.

“When we added a scholarship program for high school and college students, benefits went both ways,” he said. “Students are exposed to a much wider range of music repertoires than in their education – and they need to be quick sight readers with around 80 pieces of music and four rehearsals from November to May for seven community concerts.” 

Philharmonia director Kyle Szabo in rehearsal

Philharmonia director Kyle Szabo in rehearsal

Former American Bandmasters Association president (2018) and University of Illinois Director of the Marching Illini, emeritus, Smith brings top line experience to BSCB. He notes that BSCB has been selected to perform at the National Convention of the Association of Concert Bands on May 17, 2023, in Orlando.

Musicians of every age and every walk of life are welcomed to audition for the band. Students are awarded scholarships based on the number of concerts in which they play. 

“The older generation appreciates the experiences playing with students,” said BSCB member Greg Billings. “Gary challenges the band with difficult materials that the retirees have more time to absorb than students with full school and music schedules. It’s terrific working with these fine young musicians.”

A former owner of Steinway Piano Gallery, Billings plays timpani/bass and electric bass/guitar alongside FGCU student Tristan Rosal.

“It’s been a uniquely rewarding opportunity to be a part of the band,” said Rosal, who also plays the alto saxophone. “An unexpected melting pot of people gets together on Thursday nights to make music, and it provides a wonderful sense of community and togetherness.”  

As a music major, Rosal has a full schedule, but he enjoys the BSCB experience. 

“Simply having a large ensemble to be a part of is gratifying for any musician, but one filled with members of your community who are there just for the love of music makes it all the more special,” he said. 

Many former scholarship recipients continue with the band after graduating and starting their new careers. Linda Picone directs the scholarship program and mentoring.

Bonita Springs Concert Band’s diverse repertoire includes classical, pop, Broadway, film soundtrack, rock, jazz and patriotic marches. All monthly concerts are free to the community and held on Sunday afternoons at the Riverside Park amphitheater in Bonita Springs – where the vibe is joyful. Donations to the scholarship fund are appreciated. 



Kyle Szabo, director of orchestras for the FGCU Bower School of Music, also knows the value of blending emerging and seasoned talent to not only develop future generations of musicians but also to delight audiences.

FGCU’s newest ensemble, Philharmonia, is a 60-member ensemble where exceptionally talented student musicians have the spotlight, along with professionals from the community. Szabo holds all the parts in the performance together as conductor and communicates the choreography to the musicians for cohesion of the whole.

To assemble Philharmonia, Szabo began with music majors in primarily classical ensembles, then expanded to non-music majors with experience in ensembles or orchestra. Community members also were invited to audition. In the end, Philharmonia members represent nearly equal parts FGCU students, community musicians and alumni. 

“The orchestral experience at FGCU is all about mentoring, whether faculty working with students in rehearsals and lessons, or experienced students and community members providing leadership for less experienced ones,” Szabo said. “All orchestra members benefit from one another’s experience, and mentorship is an integral part of the structure.”

FGCU’s Chamber Orchestra, started in the fall of 2016, is invited to perform at a variety of venues statewide. Szabo has also been appointed conductor of the Southwest Florida Youth Symphony Orchestra and is a guest conductor with other professional and community orchestras. 

Philharmonia practice

Philharmonia practice

Strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion form the core of Philharmonia. FGCU’s ensemble performances are generally held in acoustically friendly indoor concert environments with comfort seating. Performances include collaborations with FGCU choral ensembles such as the annual holiday concert, “Joyful & Triumphant” at Moorings Presbyterian Church.

FGCU’s Bower School of Music and the Bonita Springs Concert Band both provide an innovative opportunity that builds a cadre of young, talented musicians well-acquainted with local audiences and stage performances early in their musical experiences. Meanwhile, experienced community musicians gain the joy of sharing their knowledge – and the sheer joy of performance.

This month’s Bonita Springs Concert Band performance is Sunday, Feb. 12, from 2-4 p.m. at Riverside Park. See the BSCB website at for the band’s complete season schedule and information on auditioning. 

To view FGCU’s schedule of upcoming performances,  visit Student ensembles usually perform at least once per semester, and performances are free to the public. Locations vary.

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