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Five questions with Karen Vaughn-Smith of the Gainesville Symphony Orchestra
GSO
Karen Vaughn-Smith will perform Saturday with the Gainesville Symphony Orchestra at Brenau University Amphitheater in Gainesville. - photo by For The Times

Patriotic Pops concert
What: Concert by the Gainesville Symphony Orchestra
When: Gates open at 6 p.m., concert starts at 7:30 p.m. July 3
Where: Brenau University Amphitheater, Prior Street, Gainesville
How much: $30 for preferred seating, $27 for seniors, $20 for general admission and $8 for children 12 and older

The performance of "Stars and Stripes and Forever" is the highlight of the Patriotic Pops concert for Karen Vaughn-Smith, a flute and piccolo player with the Gainesville Symphony Orchestra.

Vaughn-Smith is able to show off her talents during the patriotic tune, which is a perfect way to pull the audience into the Fourth of July spirit, she said.

On Saturday, the GSO will present its annual Patriotic Pops concert with special guest vocalist Shawn Megorden at Brenau University’s amphitheater in Gainesville.

Performing alongside Vaughn-Smith will be about 75 other orchestra members. An original core member of the GSO, Vaughn-Smith has played in the Patriotic Pops concerts for about 12 years.

"I actually won the piccolo spot and won that audition in the summer of ’98," she said. "Ever since then, particularly for this concert, it’s a treat for all piccolo players to do ‘Stars and Stripes Forever,’ so that’s something I do look forward to every year. You never get tired of playing that."

We caught up with Vaughn-Smith to talk about the GSO and the upcoming concert.

Question: What is so special about the Patriotic Pops concert?

Answer: First of all it’s an opportunity to directly connect with the greater Gainesville population, see the faces, see them waving their flags. The outdoor aspect is so great, the ambiance when the sun goes down, our vantage point on the stage. We look out on a sea of candles and it is so beautiful.

Q: What are some other patriotic favorites besides "Stars and Stripes Forever?"

A: We have so many patriotic pieces that we play every year, and I think one of my favorite things is the "Armed Forces Salute."

Q: What are some of the other orchestras you have played with?

A: The first orchestra I played with professionally was the Northeast Pennsylvania Philharmonic, I’ve played with the Bartlesville Orchestra in Oklahoma, I have played with the DeKalb Symphony here in Atlanta and I’ve played with the Columbus Symphony and the Macon Symphony. The highlight would be that I was the principal flutist at Chastain Park in Atlanta for Joni Mitchell ... and also for Moody Blues and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys.

Q: Where did you learn to play the flute and the piccolo?

A: I started at the age of 9 with the flute and I think very quickly realized it was what I wanted for a profession. I hold both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I have been playing professionally — this is scary — almost 40 years.

Q: What do you think about the GSO’s recent decision to relaunch and refocus the community organization?

A: I am so excited. I think Candace Monnerie (GSO executive director) is absolutely amazing. I think that she hit the ground running with this and she is going to do amazing things for this group.

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