Sebastian Sapienza

My Father

by Frank Sapienza

It was in the little town of Lentini, Province of Syracuse, where Sebastian Sapienza was born on Wednesday, September 17th, 1889. His father played the baritone horn in the town band, and it was that horn that Sebastian, at the age of seven, started his musical career. It was a heavy instrument for a little lad to hold and carry. Many times, he told us that when he first laid sight and heard the melodious tones of the light carrying B-flat clarinet, he said goodbye to the baritone horn.

At the early age of 14 years, he started to play professionally in local bands and orchestras, and it was in 1907 at the age of 18, that he left home to play in the Opera house orchestra in Caltanasetta, Sicily. On a late summer evening, during the performance of the opera, Rigoletto, the conductor of the Termini Imerese Opera House Orchestra was in the audience, and he was moved when the clarinet soloist, Sebastian Sapienza, thrilled the audience when he played the "Quartet from Rigoletto Solo!"

Caltanasetta's loss was Termini's gain when the conductor from the Termini Opera House Orchestra lured Sebastian to be the clarinet soloist in his orchestra. He boarded across the Strada from Rosa Concetta Corso, and when he would practice, she would sit out on her balcony and listen, and he would notice her and serenade her with his beautiful cadenzas. They were married and with three sons, Thomas, Louis and Joseph, they came to this great country of ours, America, where three more sons, William, Frank and Julius were born.

Within two weeks, he was playing in the Alvin Theatre Pit Orchestra in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when a musician friend, Barth Cannistra, recommended him to the orchestra conductor. It was there that his clarinet solos moved Tom Vastine, the director of the Westinghouse Electric Band, like the conductor of the Termini Orchestra; he went back stage that evening, and lured him to play in the Westinghouse Band and KDKA Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Victor Saudek. He was always grateful to his dear friend, Barth Cannistra, for starting his musical career in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was through that friendship that Barth Cannistra sponsored Sebastian's son, Salvatore Thomas, at Confirmation, who added Barth to his name.

When Tom Vastine lured Sebastian to play in his band, the Westinghouse Band played concerts at noon lunch hour. One afternoon, Dr. Frank Conrad whose experiments led to the first commercial radio station, KDKA, asked a young clarinet player in that band to test his instrument over the airwaves, and he played " Annie Laurie!" It was the first clarinet solo played over commercial radio. That young clarinet player was my father.

For many years, Sebastian, instructed music students in a studio room in his home. Many of his students eventually played in Symphony Orchestras, well known Bands, including the Benny Goodman band. At one period of four years straight, his students won first place in the Pennsylvania High School Forensic Clarinet competition; and another year, one of his students won first place in the trumpet competition.

Sebastian and Rosa lived to celebrate their 60th Wedding Anniversary, and with devotion and love raised six sons! Rosa passed away on July 2nd, 1972, and Sebastian on September 11th, 1974.

The painting above was painted by Ike Martone, who is a brother to one of Frank's sister-in-law's. The photo below was taken by a photographer from the daily Pittsburgh newspaper and was featured in that newspaper. This painting shows the Chiesa Madre church of Termini where Sebastian and Rosa were married, and Chiesa San Luca Evangelista of Lentini, Province of Syracuse where Sebastian was born and raised. Seated in the front seat of the cart is Frank's grandfathers, Salvatore Sapienza and Liborio Corso. Man on back is a hitchhiker. Frank presented this painting to his parents on their 55th Wedding Anniversary.

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