Butterflies were fluttering by, children were enjoying the fresh air and dozens of guests were chitchatting over Sunday lunch at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden on Feb. 9. Then, from under the awning of the Glasshouse Cafe, came the soothing sound of smooth jazz.
Guests began turning around their chairs to face the melodies, created by students of the Frost School of Music.
With more than 350,000 annual visitors, the popular Coral Gables attraction – a short drive south of the University of Miami campus – has been a living museum, a laboratory and a research hub for international horticulture for decades. It is also a training ground for young musicians.
A partnership between the garden and Frost created a weekly concert series called “Sunday Sounds at Fairchild,” in which rotating groups of students perform soft musical pieces to add to the guests’ enjoyment of the 83-acre garden. The concerts run from 1 to 2 p.m.
Frost graduate student Jon Anderson now heads the project as it rounds its third year. Anderson selects the students who play music. The music ranges from bluegrass to classical to jazz. Also, once a month, the musicians hold a concert directed at the children who visit the garden.
“One week, they did a narration of ‘Tortoise and the Hare’ with a brass quartet underneath it,” Anderson said. “The kids really loved hearing it and the musicians really loved doing it.”
The trio of student musicians for the afternoon included Ben Pernick on guitar, Dominique Gagne on flute and Chris Croce on bass. Audience members agreed that they did the Frost school proud with their smooth jazz instrumentals.
“Another wonderful performance this week,” said Carole Reddish, a volunteer worker in the nearby butterfly conservatory, who says she always makes sure to check out the concert.
“It’s the ambience, the people, the food,” she said. “It’s the entire garden that makes the concert a special experience for everyone who will stop to listen.”
The Frost students also get to benefit from playing their instruments to a live audience, rather than their teacher and peers in a classroom setting. Pernick thought that experience was invaluable.
“It was awesome,” he said. “Everyone was very enthusiastic, so we were really comfortable playing for them and it made for a great show.”
“Sunday Sounds at Fairchild” takes place through March 23 – except during Spring Break — at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, 10901 Old Cutler Rd. in Coral Gables.
Admission is $25 for adults and parking is free.