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Students audition for Florence Symphony Guild grants

Students audition for Florence Symphony Guild grants

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FLORENCE, S.C. — Eleven talented young musical artists tried out for Kathleen Lazar Baskin – Florence Symphony Guild Musical Grants on Friday at the Florence Country Club in front of a panel of four judges.

For some of the students it was their first time performing before a group of judges.

In January 2021, school districts in Florence, Marion, Dillon, and Darlington counties were contacted about the availability of the grant. On Friday, 11 applicants auditioned before judges Mary Kevin Miller, Michael Best, and Symphony Guild members Joan Billheimer and Michelene Sheehy.

An awards ceremony to announce the winners will be held on May 13 at the East Carolina Community Foundation. Sheehy said there will be a minimum of five winners.

First to audition was Carmah McRae of Florence, a sixth- grade student at Briggs Elementary School. The 11-year-old, who has been taking lessons for only about a year, played the violin.

“She wants to learn more about the violin,” said her mother, Ashli Smart.

She was followed by Ella Nov Gause, 12, who played the piano. She has been taking for about three years.

“It was fun,” Ella said. “But I was kinda nervous.”

Ella is a sixth-grade student at Gause Academy.

Mariah Melton, 10, of Latta impressed the judges with her piano skills after just two weeks of lessons.

She is a student at Latta Elementary School in Dillon.

“She is a very artsy kid,” said her mother, Tramaine Spears. “She loves to play the piano, paint and sing. She describes herself as a ‘creative.’”

Miller said between auditions, “This is going to be really hard (to choose the winners).”

She was impressed at the skills of one violinist who had been taking lessons less than a year.

Brice Ellison of Johnsonville auditioned in two areas. He played the ukulele and sang. He is a fourth-grade student at Johnsonville Elementary School.

The fourth-grader’s favorite subject in school is math.

Brice told the judges that he likes sports, too. He plays basketball, football and baseball. His favorite team is Clemson

He has been playing the instrument only since September.

After his audition, Brice said it was fun and he was nervous at the start.

He said he has always been singing, but the instrument is something new. He said he gets his talent from his dad.

His father, Edmound Ellison, said, “Once upon a time I played the saxophone.”

Other students auditioning on Friday were Sariya Washington, 13, a seventh-grade student at Jonakin Middle School in Marion who plays alto saxophone; Brielle Davis, 11, a sixth-grade student at Jonakin Middle School who plays trombone; Aaliyah B. Crawford, 12, a seventh-grade student at Jonakin Middle School who also plays trombone; Jada R. Evans, 12, a sixth-grade student at Jonakin Middle School, who plalys the flute; Ivory Belin, 13, a student at Johnson Middle School who auditioned on the French horn; Isaac Belin, 15, a ninth-grade student at Timmonsville High School who auditioned on the bari/alto saxophone; and Adonis Rouse, 10, a fifth-grade student at Brockington Elementary in Darlington who played the piano.

The grants are made possible by Kathleen Lazar Baskin and her family’s donations to the Florence Symphony Guild. She gave a $10,000 gift to the guild in November 2019 with the intent of developing a system for awarding musical grants to underserved children in the Florence and Pee Dee area. With one of the guild’s mission to encourage talented young musicians, $9,500 of the $10,000 has seeded an endowment with East Carolina Community Foundation. An additional $10,000 was donated to the endowment in honor of Kathleen Baskin’s 102nd birthday by her family in September 2020, and Baskin donated an additional $10,000. Other small donations have been added to the endowment.

Baskin said that it means a lot to her to have the children be able to have the option to study and encouraged in their desire to follow their musical interest.

She said her own daughters attended music camps and it helped them a lot with their musical abilities.

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