Gifford Youth Orchestra

More violins - Better Tomorrows


The latest Gifford Youth Orchestra student to hit the headlines in Vero Beach is Jada Alexandria Powell, the GYO’s latest Shining Star.  Jada, 14, has studied and performed with the GYO for seven years, since she was seven.

Press Journal cultural columnist Willi Miller recently wrote about Jada when she (along with four other GYO colleagues) attended the String Camp that Boston-based cellist Mike Block runs annually at First Methodist Church in Vero Beach.      

With its super-star faculty and ultra-creative program, the camp attracts dozens of students from all over the country. It is a highlight of the year not only for the young musicians but for Vero residents, who flock to the performances that are part of the camp experience.

Jada, a freshman at Vero Beach High School, has been playing violin half her life. She began with the Gifford Youth Orchestra in second grade, played in Advanced Orchestra at Gifford Middle School in 6th through 8th grades, and made the cut for the Philharmonic Orchestra at Vero Beach High School. 

Throughout all this time, she remained a student with the GYO both for consistency of training and continuity.  Her teachers there have been Joan Haar, Safa El-Zein and Linda Spiwak.

That’s a lot of music.  But it doesn’t necessarily mean that Jada wants to be a professional musician.  She told Willi Miller she’d rather be a space engineer.  She’s already busy getting the math courses she’ll need, currently taking Honors Geometry in school. 

The idea of space exploration captures her imagination. She finds stars not only beautiful in the abstract but fascinating as a source of study. She can name many constellations and even delves into Greek mythology in her English AP class.  She’s angling for Yale, Princeton, Harvard or Florida State in a couple of years.

But Jada is still a teen and never far from her phone or smart TV.  She’s listening, of course, to music.  She favors Kendrick Lamar and has been listening to Shawn Mendez since she was in fourth grade, when his first song, “Life of the Party,” hit the charts. She also enjoys classical music, especially Mozart and Vivaldi. But her favorite performer is the crossover violinist, Damien Escobar. She would like to attend one of his concerts, meet him and ask him to sign her violin. 

          Being a member of the GYO has helped expand Jada’s horizons in many ways.  It exposed her to Mike Block’s mentoring, for one thing.  Block is a major name in the music business, performing regularly with Yo Yo Ma’s musical collective, the Silk Road Ensemble.  She has developed a personal relationship with Mike and looks up to him.  She even talks about learning to play the cello, “just like Mike.”

          Her GYO background also gave her the confidence to walk into her tryout for the VBHS without nerves, cool as a cucumber.  She aced the test.  But, then, she has been performing and soloing for years before large audiences. 

          As part of the GYO’s “total-person development program” for its students, Jada has also taken etiquette courses and budgeting training.  She is looking forward to Jr. Toastmasters next.

But perhaps the thing that makes her happiest about all the hard work she has invested in learning to play the violin is that it allowed Jada to honor her great grandmother recently at her 80th birthday celebration. 

She followed a jaunty version of “Happy Birthday” with a soulful “Amazing Grace,” a song with special meaning to her great grandmother.  The applause was enthusiastic and some guests cried. But to Jada what mattered most was the look in her great grandmother’s eyes as she played.

SHINING Star of the Month

Gifford Youth Orchestra’s College of Performing Arts “Shining Star of the Month”

“More Violins, Less Violence, Better Tomorrows!”  That is the Gifford Youth Orchestra’s motto. Tatiana Wallace has taken her violin playing into territory where it even helped create “Less Fear” for a group of Vero Beach retirees during Florida’s hurricane season. Read on to see what this exceptional young lady did and why she is being honored as a Shining Star in the Gifford Youth Orchestra.


 When Tatiana was a 2nd grade student at Dodger Town Elementary, she saw and heard the Gifford Youth Orchestra perform at their annual concert.  She was so impressed by their remarkable performance that she decided to sign up for the orchestra right away. It is truly amazing how much she has learned and accomplished in the past five years as a valued member of the orchestra.


 For the past two years, Tatiana and her violin have earned a rating of “Superior with Distinction” in her solo ensemble competition with the Indian River [?] School District. With scholarships provided by generous donors the past two years, she has been able to attend the Mike Block String Camp.  She really enjoys these weeklong summer workshops where she continues to learn music theory and hone practical violin skills to create better tomorrows for herself and others.


Tatiana Wallace will turn 13 on January 13th.  She is a 7th grade student at Gifford Middle School.  She is the first 7th grader to become First Violinist in the Advanced Orchestra. The other First Violinists are 8th graders.  Tatiana is an excellent academic student and this year she is serving as Secretary of the Student Council. Last year she was on the A/B honor roll with perfect attendance. Her dream for the future is to graduate college and become a Forensic Scientist specializing in toxicology or ballistics.


 Tatiana is also involved in the Youth Guidance program where she serves as Sergeant-at-Arms in the Pathfinders Excel group, an affiliate of the Exchange Club of Vero Beach.  In 2017 she won the coveted NAACP essay contest with her excellent paper on the Florida NAACP martyrs, Harry T. Moore and Harriet Moore.


Tatiana already has many remarkable accomplishments to her name.  It is how she brought her violin and her compassionate heart to serve the senior citizens of Vero Beach, however, that truly distinguishes her “Superior with Distinction” achievement.


Tatiana’s grandmother, Alexis Krasotkin, tells the story:  “I work at the retirement community of Indian River Estates.  During Hurricane Matthew, Tatiana and I spent the night there to help make sure the residents remained calm and comfortable.  Tatiana decided to bring her violin.  After hearing some of the residents talking about their fears, she pulled out her instrument and began playing.  People came to the lobby to hear the music.  Once she saw the effect it had on those residents, she decided to play her music in the lobby for a half hour before meals as residents would start gathering. She did the same thing during Hurricane Irma.  Although we did not spend the night during Hurricane Irma, she came to work with me for the two days following the storm. Once again, she played the violin before meals for the residents and staff and they really loved it.”


 It takes skill and commitment to learn how to play the violin.  It takes talent and discipline to perform with an orchestra.  And it takes a truly benevolent heart to intentionally offer up one’s gifts in order to lift others’ spirits in times of hardship.

 That is what Tatiana did.  She is living proof of our GYO motto.  And so it is with great pleasure and immense pride that we bestow upon Tatiana Wallace the Gifford Youth Orchestra’s special honor of “Superior With Distinction” and name her Shining Star of the Month!


 You can reach the Gifford Youth Orchestra at Telephone 772-778-5118 or 772-213-3007 to learn how to become a member/student or to volunteer or become a donor/supporter.  



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