Composer Frank William Brazinski dies at 80

Frank William Brazinski, of Amityville, a renowned composer Frank William Brazinski, of Amityville, a renowned composer who was nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize in music, died of respiratory failure in a Cleveland hospital on Aug. 11, 2012. He was 80. Newsday's obituary for Frank Brazinski
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Frank William Brazinski of Amityville, a renowned composer who was nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize in music, died on Aug. 11 in a Cleveland hospital from respiratory failure.

His family will hold a Long Island memorial service Saturday at 11 a.m. at Simpson United Methodist Church in Amityville.

Brazinski, 80, spent 27 years teaching music at public schools in East Los Angeles and Long Island before beginning a second career as a prolific composer of classical compositions. His work has been performed at Carnegie Hall, by the Long Island String Quartet, the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and the Cascade Symphony Orchestra in Washington state.

"His music was highly emotional and evocative," said Tristan Willems, who worked with Brazinski on a monthly Long Island concert series known as Britten-on-the-Bay.

Elizabeth James, 45, Brazinski's youngest daughter, said her father "grew up without a dad and used music as a way to express himself. Music was all he ever knew."

Born in Upper Darby, Pa., Brazinski was raised in Elizabeth, N.J., during the Depression by a single mother, Lithuanian immigrant Sophia Pavidis. Brazinski's father, Frank Sr., divorced Pavidis when their son was 6 months old and never played a role in his life, James said.

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Brazinski's passion for music was piqued when he was 4, as he began hammering away on his mother's Kurtzmann upright piano, even finding a way to remove a lock on the instrument. Pavidis soon enrolled her son in music lessons.

Years later, Brazinski obtained a bachelor's degree from Oberlin College's Conservatory of Music in Ohio and a master's degree in composition from the University of Southern California.

While at Oberlin, Brazinski met Janet Ruth Villers and the couple married in June 1959. Villers, a music teacher in the Amityville public school system, died in her sleep of cardiac arrhythmia in 1992.

The couple, who were married 37 years, moved to Amityville in 1969. Brazinski began working with the Amityville Community Theater and as an organist at Simpson United Methodist Church of Amityville. He worked at the church, including as its choir director, for more than 40 years.

Brazinski dreamed of writing scores for Hollywood films like Marvin Hamlisch, but found it difficult to make money. He turned his focus to education, spending nearly three decades teaching music, first in Copiague and later in Oceanside.

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After his wife's death, Brazinski retired from teaching -- he later returned to teach part time in Oyster Bay -- to pursue his music career full time. The decision paid off.

Brazinski's music portfolio includes nine compositions for orchestral music, 30 works for chamber music, 24 choral pieces, three concert band compositions, 13 instrumental works and six vocal works. In June, Brazinski's "Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano" premiered in London.

Rose Marie Johnson, executive director of the Long Island String Quartet, recalled how Brazinski crafted and narrated pieces for public school students. "The children just embraced his music," she said.

Brazinski was nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize in Music, received two Ford Foundation Fellowships for the Arts, two BMI grants for composition and was recognized on the Marquis list of Who's Who In The World.

In his later years, Brazinski formed and played the piano in the Bay Big Band, a swing band that performed across Long Island. Brazinski was also an avid music collector and owned roughly 20,000 records.

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But, James said, her father was more than just his music.

"He had a great sense of humor and loved history," she said. "He had this big, hearty personality but also had a soft side that everybody loved."

The family has established a fund that will provide one student in the Oceanside School District with a college scholarship to pursue a music career.

Brazinski is survived by his three daughters: James, of Novelty, Ohio; Tamara Wehrmueller, 52, of Basel, Switzerland; and Karin Grizard, 50, of San Francisco; and two grandchildren.

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