Frank J. Farina Jr. 2012

Obituary: Frank J. Farina Jr. / Revered band director at North Allegheny
August 17, 2012 12:00 am
By Jonathan D. Silver / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In about fourth grade, Frank J. Farina Jr. attended a music demonstration at school and returned home excitedly with a trombone he could barely hoist off the ground.

Frank Farina Barbara Farina explained what happened next to her husband: "His mother says, 'You can't play that. Take that back!' And he said, 'Oh, no.' "

From that childhood act of defiance blossomed a musical career that transcended scales and notes and clefs. Mr. Farina, a son of West View and product of the music programs at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Duquesne University, became not just a musician but a music teacher -- teacher really being the operative word.

Mr. Farina, who would spend 25 years supervising thousands of youngsters as band director at North Allegheny High School, died Wednesday at UPMC Passavant. He was 72 and lived in McCandless.

His family said the cause of death for Mr. Farina, a former smoker, was pulmonary fibrosis complicated by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

"He meant the world to me and thousands of other people," said Joe Badaczewski, 30, a professional trumpet player from McCandless who played under Mr. Farina in the late 1990s and traces his professional success to the efforts of his mentor.

"The more I've learned over the years, it's funny how his voice comes back and some phrase he said or analogy he made comes back in a professional setting and suddenly I'll get it," Mr. Badaczewski said.

"He was a fantastic motivator. He could get kids to do absolutely anything," Robert Tozier, a former student in the 1980s, said. "Such as it's pouring down rain and we're going to get out there and put on the best show that we can. I'm a 14-year-old kid in the mud and the rain and loving every minute of it. Frank Farina gave us so much more than classroom teaching. He taught us to be humans. He taught us to collaborate, communicate and be proud of what we do."

Mr. Tozier emulated the career path of Mr. Farina, who was also the school district's music director until 1999 -- the post that Mr. Tozier now holds.

"I am basically where I am today because of Frank Farina," Mr. Tozier said. "He was my teacher, my mentor and then he became a good friend."

After mastering the trombone and playing in the marching band when he was young, Mr. Farina, son of a corner grocery store owner, toyed with the idea of medical school but rejected it to set his sights -- and ears -- on music.

He eventually came to believe, though, that he was more geared to teaching than striking out on a solo career.

"He knew he wasn't a top-notch professional to go out and do that," Mrs. Farina said. "And of course he loved kids."

Mr. Farina started as a music teacher in Millvale. From there he got a master's degree in music education at Duquesne, where he was assistant band director. He then worked as something of a consultant to the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, starting music programs in various parishes.

After a brief stint at Bishop Canevin High School, where he tasked himself to establish a marching band in short order-- he gave himself from the start of school until the fall -- Mr. Farina landed a job at North Allegheny.

During the next quarter-century, Mr. Farina would direct several hundred children each year in the marching band.

Wearing a tie clip that read "attitude," leading students in oddball chants that many probably remember to this day and sometimes even dressing in a band uniform to sneak in amongst the students to play, Mr. Farina was fun. But he could also be an exacting taskmaster.

To him, though, the band was not about competition -- something he famously steered away from. His bands were about inclusion over winning.

"He had people with braces, he had people with wheelchairs, he had people with heart problems. Kids that were challenged," Mrs. Farina said. "Maybe they couldn't play an instrument, he made them carry a flag. Maybe they were athletic, he made them a [mascot]. He always found a purpose or a place for kids. He never turned anyone down."

With an eye to giving children experiences beyond the school day, Mr. Farina regularly sought out band engagements at parades, Steelers games, community events and patriotic affairs.

He organized summer trips to Europe for musicians from across the U.S. And a pinnacle achievement was directing his band in 1997 at the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif.

"His focus was always on the kids," said Brian Scott, band director for Pine-Richland High School, another Farina protege. "As a band director, the first and most important thing was how are the kids doing. It wasn't how good was the music or how good a rating we were getting at this performance. It was always what kind of experience were the kids having."

Mrs. Farina, who met her husband while both were at summer school at IUP, would often take their children along on trips and to events. She said she realized early on that if the family wanted to see Mr. Farina they would have to go where he went.

After his retirement, Mr. Farina kept active in his church, St. Teresa of Avila, worked as a regional director of sales and marketing for the Coach USA bus company, and was a player, associate conductor and board president for the Allegheny Brass Band. Instead of making it easy on himself and playing trombone, he took up tuba.

Paul Gerlach, the band's music director and a fellow West View native, said his colleague was "revered" at North Allegheny and tried to help children find the "true joy in music."

"Frank put that as a top priority," Mr. Gerlach said.

And Mr. Farina apparently did the same for himself. Until about six months ago, despite his ailments, Mr. Farina continued to rehearse with his brass band, albeit with a tank of oxygen at his side.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Farina is survived by his three children, all of whom play instruments and were in the marching band under him: Maria DeMore of Shaler; Laura Stephen of Pine; and Frank Farina III of Ross.

Friends were received Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at Devlin Funeral Home in Ross. A Mass was celebrated at St. Teresa of Avila Church Monday, August 20 at 10 a.m.