110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
From fiddles to violins
West Volusia offers a wide variety of musical fare
West Volusia boasts a wealth of musical culture.
These small communities, tucked among oak and palm hammocks along a lazy St. Johns River, have roots in the Southern gospel and blues traditions of its past, yet also host world-class classical and operatic performances.
Native to these communities is a heritage of jazz, gospel and rhythm-and-blues artists who have become internationally renowned.
Saxophonist Noble "Thin Man" Watts, a DeLand native, worked in the house band for the popular 1950s TV program Showtime at the Apollo, and later played with Lionel Hampton. Before his death in 2003, you could also catch Watts playing in Downtown DeLand. An amphitheater on South Clara Avenue in DeLand and the annual music festival held there both bear his name.
Songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Maurice Starr may have grown up on the African-American gospel of his DeLand church, but his successes with the pop bands New Edition and New Kids on the Block reached audiences across the United States and in Europe and Asia.
Internationally acclaimed recording star, songwriter, and producer Terence Trent D'Arby spent several years of his youth in West Volusia. D'Arby's music topped British pop charts in the 1980s, and his hit "Wishing Well" hit No. 1 on U.S. charts in 1988.
Although geographically DeLand, Deltona and the surrounding communities are Southern, culturally they display a variety of influences. Barberville, a small crossroads community approximately 15 miles north of DeLand, is home to the Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts, which hosts noted folk festivals twice a year, in spring and fall. More than 50 acts play a variety of styles, including bluegrass, traditional Appalachian, Florida folk, blues and Irish music.
Just down the road in Northwest Volusia, mariachi wafts from vehicles and gathering spots, reflecting the contributions of Mexicans who've immigrated to work in the agricultural community. And, at the southern end of West Volusia, salsa and other Hispanic musical styles are taking their place in a mainstream enriched by Deltona's many residents of Caribbean heritage.
DeLand is home to Stetson University, which is home to the Stetson School of Music. The school's 200 undergraduate students and 47 faculty members are known nationally for their superior performance standards.
The School of Music boasts several ensembles that perform throughout the year, including the concert choir, orchestra, symphonic band, jazz ensemble, opera and theatrical workshop, and the Stetson Chorale. There are also 11 student chamber-music ensembles and two perennial faculty chamber ensembles.
In frequent concerts on Stetson's stages, opportunities abound for residents and visitors to experience superb interpretations of baroque, classical, modern and less-easily categorized musical styles, for a nominal charge.
But West Volusia's penchant for music is hardly limited to formal concerts.
Those on the go may choose the urban, drive-in atmosphere offered at weekly Friday-night bluegrass jam sessions in the parking lot of the West Volusia Regional Shopping Center between DeLand and Orange City.
Several nightclubs and restaurants in historic Downtown DeLand's vibrant business district, and a number of roadhouses in the outlying areas, regularly feature live local and regional musical acts. Bands in these venues perform everything from blues to rock, folk, country and jazz. Some of the best listening is derived from impromptu combinations that form on "open mike" nights at these venues.
Stretching from DeLand and Orange City toward metropolitan Orlando is the city of Deltona. There you will find a thriving musical environment at the Deltona Arts & Historical Center, 682 Deltona Blvd.
The center offers classes for instrumentalists, workshops for songwriters, and a studio for recording artists. A circle of songwriters meets the first Tuesday of every month.
Also, the cities of Deltona, DeLand, Orange City and DeBary regularly sponsor free outdoor concerts that showcase local talent. Seasons for these monthly concerts vary; watch The Beacon West Volusia Calendar (in print and online) for details. Deltona's municipal concerts take place in the City Hall courtyard on the second Saturday of each month, April-December, and feature a wide variety of musical styles, including rock classics, reggae, blues, big band, Latin, jazz, folk and bluegrass.
Christian bands abound in Deltona as part of Youth Explosion for Christ, an organization that produces popular concerts and events, with bands that play regional venues and get some airplay from Central Florida radio stations.
If you like talented local artists who play great original music, don't miss the DeLand Original Music Festival. Billed as the largest one-day independent music festival in the Southeast, the Songwriters Showcase of America produces the annual event. This fall gathering typically features more than 80 acts on at least 15 stages in Downtown DeLand venues.
Another festival is the annual Florida Bandmasters Association Marching MPA (Music Performance Assessment) at Spec Martin Memorial Stadium, in DeLand's Earl Brown Park. High-school marching bands come from all around Central Florida to impress judges and audience members alike!
We haven't even mentioned the ensembles and soloists who come to various halls and churches in West Volusia as part of the Florida International Festival, a biennial event that brings the London Symphony Orchestra to Daytona Beach. Or the variety of talent, local and visiting including the likes of the Bethune-Cookman University Chorale that can be heard in the sanctuaries and family-life centers of more than 200 churches in the West Volusia area.
Shepherd, a professional musician, writes Ad-Libbing, a column about the arts published in The DeLand-Deltona Beacon. He writes much about the West Volusia music scene, reviewing concerts and interviewing artists of any stripe, from beginners to international stars.
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