Onward: Frank Scinta ends on a high note

By Sydney Bucholtz

Features Editor


Frank Scinta recounts some favorite memories at this last Chorale rehearsal


During the performance of the final verse of Franz Beibl’s “Ave Maria” at Stella Niagara Chapel in Lewiston, the Chorale engages on one point intently: the anticipation of director Frank Scinta’s cue to sing a supported, powerful: “Sancta Maria.”  The saturated sound created after Scinta masterfully indicates the entrance of each section reverberated throughout the walls of the chapel, echoing and moving in waves, in which the audience is visibly moved. The Chorale followed his guidance in each present moment created, and upon its conclusion and the beginning of the Canisius Alma Mater, new waves of bittersweetness were shared with the choir, as many mutual feelings were realized: Scinta loved “Ave Maria,” and following the piece, he stepped aside so that the choir could sing the Alma Mater on their own, as he would be stepping aside from his directing position following this concert season.  

In fact, this framework is starting on what Scinta refers to as a “very stable all-time high in its membership.”  The Chorale has reached a very healthy level of membership, with 90 to 100 singers every year for the past several years.  Its funding is also at an all-time high from the student government, meaning that the student government likely recognizes the value and the importance of the Chorale’s mission is being recognized.  “Its level of collaborations are at an all-time high, and they’re very solid,” Scinta continued, “with organizations on a professional level very happy to work with the Chorale on a moment’s notice: the Buffalo Philharmonic… the Camerata di Sant’ Antonio, the Amherst Symphony Orchestra…”

Granted, the Chorale has expanded and grown exponentially in quality and quantity since Scinta arrived to meet the former Chorale population: eleven girls and two boys, both basses, in a classroom in Old Main in 1997.  Nonetheless, it takes a talented, positive, and intelligent individual to promote this growth and facilitate an environment of learning and love of music as Scinta has.  Inversely, these qualities were created within him since his childhood by way of a lifetime nurturing his own passions for music and teaching.

Some of Scinta’s first experiences with music, in addition to his father’s violin playing, involved the collection of LP records from the AMP or the Loblaws in the lower-middle class to lower class neighborhood that he grew up in on Buffalo’s lower West Side.  His family collected these records, and at a very young age, Scinta learned about works by composers such as Brahms, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Chopin without knowing who these people were.  “I would find myself viscerally moved by this sound or that sound,” Scinta described, and he felt that it ignited a dependence, of a sort, on having these musical experiences in order to peak his imagination.  

Three of his elementary school teachers had the most lasting impacts.  “[They] saw no differences between, you know, the child whose shirt was clean in the morning and the child whose shirt had holes in it and probably not had a good meal in a week,” Scinta remembered.  “And everyone was equal in their eyes because everything was equal under God’s eyes… These nuns worked feverishly and they worked selflessly for very little, if any, reward.  

Scinta shared that this great love and admiration for some of his teachers propelled him throughout his education process and his passions, but ironically, although music was still an instrumental piece in his life, there was no music in his elementary and high school, Canisius High School.  His entire formal training in music, from the time he was about eight to when he entered college,  was piano lessons from an individual in his neighborhood.  “And so I was shunted off to her for lessons, and it’s those nuns and a couple of my high school teachers who really instilled in me the knowledge that teaching is not only a duty, but a great privilege,” Scinta shared.  “Because what you’re doing is you’re working with people — and it doesn’t matter their age; you’re dealing with people who have come to you because in some way, shape, or form, they’re incomplete. They’re unformed, they’re unfinished, and they’re coming to you…  And it’s such a great privilege to be that person who is being asked to guide that person to the door and through the door and watch them go off.”

“Of course, though,” he continued, “after they get through the door, they keep going, and so there’s a certain almost bittersweetness to teaching because your job is to give the student — regardless of age — the certain level of independence that he or she needs then to go off on their own… I’ve always been a professional musician and a professional performer, but I’ve also been a professional teacher, and I’ve been able to combine those two because I believe one has informed the other and vice versa in this life.”

Scinta’s first contact with the name ‘Canisius’ came in 1966, during his freshman year at the high school.  “I had a couple of formative teachers, right in my freshman year, who really changed my path, really affected my path, and I learned things from them that really changed my life,” Scinta described.  

Scinta earned his first graduate degree at the University at Buffalo.  Being still present in the area, Canisius High School offered him a full-time position in 1974, in which he maintained a one-man or two-man music department until 1990.  “In 1990, I left because I felt I had kind of plateaued, and that it was time for somebody new to come in and take over,” Scinta explained.

After 24 years, he retired, however his absence from “the Canisius thing” was really only for a few years, as he volunteered his time throughout the gap years.  Although he was asked to come to Canisius College in 1994, he did not accept the position initially.  ““Instead, I served on a committee that searched for the new director of the Chorale… Little did I know that a few years later, that person would leave, and they asked me again… So I had free time, and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll come to the College and work with the Chorale, but… cannot make any promises. I will not make any assurances.’”

From 1966 to 2017, with very little separating the experiences, Scinta has been involved somehow with Canisius High School or Canisius College.  Throughout his flow of positions, as well as creation of choirs, music, and art, Scinta acquired substantial information about the way teaching is currently perceived.  “There’s a difference between worth and value,” Scinta began.  “I mean, a dollar is worth a hundred pennies, but its value is priceless if something you really need costs a dollar.  So its worth is different from its value… That has to do with teaching.  It has to do with the arts, too, because artists, maybe musicians, dancers, painters… And that is a very interesting parallel to teaching.” he said.  

“One of the things that I learned being both an artist and a teacher is that every human life has a story to tell and that story has value,” Scinta stated.  “It has value to everyone else who is hearing that story, and just as everyone has a story to tell. Education, health care, things like that, those are the tangents of a civilized society that give truth to the idea that every person has value and everyone has a story that is worth being listened to.  And so I come to the conclusion it’sconclusion, as a teacher and as an artist combined, it’s absolutely essential that we work to provide each other with the basic things that make us able to celebrate ourselves.  One of them is the right to have safety and health care for everyone.

“The other one, and I feel very strongly about this, is the right of everyone to have a good, quality education, at the highest levels, regardless of cost, and regardless of how much a government or a society has to kick in to make that education possible,” Scinta said.  “That is something that every teacher must ascribe to, regardless of where they teach or what they teach.  Every artist must ascribe to that, regardless of what their artform is.  And, I feel, especially every institution that is based on the Jesuit philosophy of the ‘Magis,’ the ‘cura personalis,’ ‘men and women for others,’ any institution that has those as its banners that it flies must do everything they can to work toward celebrating the individual and his or her growth and safety through a good economy, through health care, through universal education, whatever the cost, and that, to me, are the spokes of humanity.”

In this regard, Scinta elaborated upon his decision to move onward and pass the direction of the Chorale to someone else.  “One of the reasons why I’m giving up the Chorale is not because I want to, but because I feel it’s time for the choir to move one step more beyond the [door].  And a good teacher, I think, knows, or needs to know, when it’s time to — for himself or herself — to grow more, and when it’s time to move over and allow the process to move forward.  Twenty years is more than my share of good times; I feel that it’s time to allow another person to experience the wonderful things that I’ve experienced for two decades, for God’s sake.  Four decades, if you really want to count it all.”

“First of all, I want it to be clear that I’m not going anywhere.  I’m staying here,” he laughed.  “I don’t want 200 people coming up to me in the next three weeks saying, ‘Oh, you’re retiring!  Oh, gee!  Good riddance,’ or ‘Hey, I’m sorry.’  I’m simply changing my focus.”  

Scinta plans on returning to the classroom, as well as staying in the piano studio and the conducting studio.  “I will be here until they throw me out, or until I can’t move anymore,” said Scinta.  “But I’m just separating from that one aspect of my job here, not retiring.”  

“The reason I’m moving over is because: Number one, I think the last two or three years with the Chorale have been my best years.  I think I’ve put out my best effort and my best product,” he began.  “And this year in particular, the Chorale has displayed, in my opinion, its greatest level of artistry and its greatest sense of spirit, and belongingness, and community, and camaraderie; and it hasn’t always been that way.  There have been years where the sound is good, the opportunities have been great, but the fabric of the fellowship of Chorale has, not been frayed, but hasn’t been that tightly knit, and… Tthe last two or three years, I have sensed an equal level of kinship amongst the members and devotion to one another and reliance on one another, as much as the music quality.  That quality of kinship and that level of fellowship, I think, has been equal to the quality of the music that the choir has been producing.  I have been wishing and hoping for that for all my time here, and I feel that we’re there now.”

“And being that we’re there now,” he continued, “I feel that I’ve not only accomplished my goal, but I’ve accomplished my own dream and my own wish.  So as not to be greedy, now that I’ve had my cake and eaten it, too, and I’ve seen the fruition of my hopes.  And that is to have a Chorale that not only sounds great, but is very comfortable in each other’s skin, and watches out for each other, and depends on each other, and is devoted to each other, and understands that everyone is depending on everyone else, and that we are truly one body, one voice.  It’s not just a saying, it’s a creed.  It’s a way of living; it’s a way of life.  It becomes a state of mind… And if the school purports to be a community of men and women for others, I’m glad that I finally see, in the eyes of the Chorale they they understand that the others are sitting next to them… and therefore, my goal being accomplished, at least in my mind, it’s time to pack up and move aside… into other areas of the College in which I can be of service.”

Fueled by an overwhelming passion and emotional tie to music since the beginning, Scinta shared his retrospective thoughts about certain moments which steered him and created long-term pathways in his life.  “I will always treasure the fact that I did not pay attention to the teacher in my first year who said, ‘Don’t be an artist, and don’t be a teacher, and above all, don’t be a teacher-artist… an arts educator,” Scinta remembered.  “You get older every year, and they stay the same.  They’re always 18.  They’re always 21.’  I value old age; I work with a lot of older people in my church choir, but it’s such a breath of air to work with young people who are almost always looking forward, often with hope, instead of looking backward, sometimes with regret.  I think that’s what keeps a person young, and vibrant, and vital, and it’s why some of the oldest workers on earth are teachers.”

“I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we spend a lot of our time with the hopefulness of youth, and not the regrets of dreams unfulfilled,” Scinta speculated.  “A lot of teachers, unfortunately, are kind of dried up like raisins in the sun, because their dreams are deferred.  But some of them… They project their dreams onto their students, and they say, ‘If my students achieve, I achieve.  If my students succeed, I succeed.  If my students prevail, I prevail.  If my students live on, I live on.  And I think that’s the kernel — not the raisin,” he emphasized. “The kernel — of the whole path.  And my path’s not over, I don’t think.  So I just look to getting better and better and better at what I do, and more devoted, and more demanding at what I do.  And the word is ‘onward.’”




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