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Young musicians to have place to call home

A couple's donation lets the Pinellas Youth Symphony have a permanent place to practice and play inside Ruth Eckerd Hall.

Published March 1, 2005

CLEARWATER - At 47, the Pinellas Youth Symphony has never had a home of its own.

For the last three years, it practiced at Osceola High School. Before that, it rehearsed at Osceola Middle School and wherever else it could find space.

But in the fall, its transient lifestyle will change.

Thanks to a $250,000 donation by Clearwater residents Ray and Nancy Murray, the company will set up quarters in the Marcia P. Hoffman Performing Arts Institute at Ruth Eckerd Hall and perform in the Murray Studio Theater, which was named for the couple to honor their past philanthropic work.

"There's a lot of good synergy that can happen between us and the orchestra," said Robert Freedman, the hall's president and chief executive officer. "It seemed like the right thing to do."

The Murrays' gift will go toward renovating a 3,186-square-foot building across the street from the main hall. Decades ago, before Ruth Eckerd Hall was built, the structure served as a model for condominiums that were planned for the property but never constructed. For years, it was the hall's arts eduction facility.

The building's makeover will begin in the spring. When it is completed in the summer, it will be called the Challener-Morrow Production Studios in honor of longtime supporters Robert Challener and Nelson Morrow, and will be the permanent home of the Eckerd Theater Company, a troupe that performs shows mostly for children.

With the company across the street, space will be freed for the symphony, which has about 175 musicians in kindergarten through high school.

Nancy Murray said she thinks Ruth Eckerd will be more convenient for students who live in the Palm Harbor area.

"It's difficult for the kids to (get to Osceola High) because it's in Seminole," Mrs. Murray said. "Pinellas is a long county. This will be more centrally located."

When Jane Hine, the orchestra's executive director, first heard the news in October, she said she was "totally blown away."

"It's delightful," she said. "We're going in on a completely independent status, a program-in-residence.

"(The students) can rehearse and then walk down the hall and see the Florida Orchestra play on Sunday in the main hall."

The Murrays recently donated $500,000 to the Pinellas Symphony, and $500,000 to the Tampa Bay Youth Orchestra, which plays at the Patel Conservatory of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

--Eileen Schulte can be reached at 727 445-4153 or

[Last modified March 1, 2005, 01:11:12]

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