Work under way to get concert boat shipshape

PAHOKEE — Cosmetic renovations are under way on the historic floating arts center docked at the Pahokee Marina, in preparation for the envisioned instruction of young musical instrumentalists aboard it that is the Point Counterpoint II’s main purpose in being here.

The Point Counterpoint II, docked in Pahokee, will get a new apparatus to make boarding safer as part of the renovation work. Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker

American Wind Symphony Orchestra (AWSO) conductor Robert Boudreau, owner of the vessel built for America’s Bicentennial, also visited the area for several days during late September, engaging in meetings with University of South Florida music professors in Tampa who formerly were students in his program in Pennsylvania, school district officials in Palm Beach County and a marine industry labor union executive in Fort Lauderdale who has signed on to assist in readying the vessel for its intended functions.

Robert Boudreau

Mr. Boudreau is working closely with the Pahokee Chamber of Commerce director, Regina Bohlen; a committee they’ve put together to handle fundraising; Palm Beach County School District officials including District 6 School Board member Marcia Andrews and a wide range of other people in Florida to establish a program he calls “Winds Over the Glades.”

It would provide individualized tutoring and mentoring for young musicians to help them achieve the proficiency that could win them lucrative college scholarships and rewarding careers. This wind-instrument training organization would be modeled on the “Winds on the Mon” program he established with school districts along the Monongahela River in Pennsylvania 20-plus years ago that produced some of the college educators he met with in Tampa, along with hundreds of successful musicians, teachers at other levels and the most commissioned musical compositions ever created by any entity in history — a vast library of hundreds of works that he and the AWSO organization may be looking to donate to a university.

Traveling to the coast with Pahokee Chamber Director Regina Bohlen, he met with executives including Deputy Superintendent/Chief of Schools Keith Oswald at the Palm Beach County School District to talk about what assistance it might be able to provide. “It went well,” said Mr. Boudreau, adding: “But, you know, they’re so focused in so many different directions. Sometimes the impact has to come from the families.”

Then the pair drove to Broward County, where they had a “wonderful meeting with Kris Hopkins. He’s the assistant vice president of the Gold Coast Seafarers International Union of North America in Fort Lauderdale. They’re doing the painting and all that kind of stuff on the boat,” said Maestro Robert, who’s 91 and insists on being called just by his first name.

He complimented the volunteer laborers the union leader has brought on board, saying “they’ve been working on it right along” since getting involved within the past several weeks.

“We just volunteered to assist them in trying to get the barge back in order,” said Mr. Hopkins. “We have been out there a few times already. He was there with his wife and several other tradesmen on Saturday, Oct. 6, working aboard the PCII. Other groups that have been involved are the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 728, some members of VFW Post 64 in Okeechobee, as well as helpers from the Florida Alliance of Retired Americans. “A lot of people are into it,” he said.

From left, Seafarers Union International volunteers Mauricio Fernandez, Kris Hopkins, Jack Craft and Pedro Valdez prepare to mix up some paint they were applying in the art gallery that lies below the acoustically engineered concert shell on deck, which is lifted up on hydraulic jacks for performances. Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker.

“Right now, the volunteering is being done through the Greater South Florida Maritime Trades Port Council, and … the affiliates that belong to that organization have all gotten together to assist in just doing cleaning, painting, just some basically cosmetic work so that they can begin to use it for its purpose,” Kris explained.

It will take them several months of work to get the PCII toward the desired state of “shipshape,” where “they can start teaching on board,” he said. Some engine and drive work will also be required, as Robert has acknowledged. “That’s an expensive endeavor,” Mr. Hopkins said, but resources are available to assist, and Ms. Bohlen is working on that angle of the project, too.

“We just take the position that any time that labor can step up and help out the community, that’s what we’re doing,” Kris said.

One more thing they’re doing, he added, is trying to put in place a better way to board the ship. “We’re working now to get a safe, suitable set of steps built, and that’s going to be done … so that you don’t have that ladder propped up alongside (and) there’s a safer way of boarding the barge as time goes on and more people want to take tours and stuff like that.”

But it’s actually convenient that weeks’ worth of physical work still remain, because Maestro Robert, who’s planning another visit in mid-October, and Ms. Bohlen still would like to get more financial backers involved, such as foundations based in the region, and eventually if not sooner include participants from other school districts around Lake Okeechobee — something he believes that might happen from the ground up with those who would participate.

“Sometimes the impact has to come from the families,” Robert explained. “The families have to raise their hands and say, ‘We want this to happen.’ They have a big impact. For me to come in and say something is one thing, but for their local constituents to come in and say,

‘We want this to happen,’ and it happens.”

He said he hopes to meet with young, musically inclined children and their families who might be interested in committing to carry on with their education into the field that Robert has found so rewarding since he first picked up a trumpet as a young boy, 80-some years ago (he appears to be in his 60s), when he thought he was destined to be a poultry farmer.

It’s a story he loves to tell that he hopes to update for 21st-century families in the Lake Okeechobee region.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment