For Frankie Skinner, what began as a simple-enough college course assignment – write a review of a music ensemble concert – has turned into an unquenchable passion for classical music.
The 56-year-old student at Southwestern Illinois College has become an enthusiastic advocate for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, speaking steadfastly about the soul-stirring music he hears in Powell Hall.
“Every time I listen to classical music, it’s like it opens up a new horizon,” he said warmly.
But Skinner’s history with classical music doesn’t involve instrument lessons or regular trips to classical concerts. He didn’t grow up in a household familiar with Beethoven, Schumann, or Stravinsky. In fact, he heard a classical concert for the first time this past year, when he attended a SLSO Symphony in Your College chamber concert at Washington University.
Rob Nugent, a SWIC instructor in music appreciation and saxophone study, gave his students an assignment: attend a concert and write a review. At the concert, Skinner met Maureen Byrne, SLSO Associate Vice President of Community and Education Partnerships. Skinner told Byrne he was blown away by the wind quintet concert.
“I love it when someone puts their heart into what they do,” he recalled thinking.
Skinner was fascinated with the talent of the SLSO musicians.
“Frankie was an immediate and genuine fan of the musicians and the music,” Byrne said. “He was so moved by what just five musicians could do, so I offered him a couple of tickets to hear what 90+ SLSO musicians sound like when they’re playing together on the Powell Hall stage.”
Skinner took her up on that offer and has since attended a handful of SLSO concerts with the entire orchestra.
On May 11, he attended a performance of Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique – the classical season finale led by Music Director Designate Stéphane Denève. He talked excitedly about the pre-concert conversation, the informational presentation held one hour before each classical concert.
“I love classical music. I didn’t think I would ever love it the way I love it now. Sometimes I come here by myself and sit back and close my eyes and listen to the story,” he said.
Growing up, Skinner said, he heard classical music as the soundtrack to films and cartoons. Often, he would tune out the visuals and focus on how the music told the story.
“Before television, before radio, all anyone could do is tell stories,” he reflected. “The music, I realized, tells the story.”
With that fateful SWIC assignment long in his past, Skinner still reviews each SLSO concert he attends and sends them to Byrne, the person who connected the dots between SLSO’s community outreach efforts and classical concerts.
“Every classical piece performed was just sweet to my ears,” he wrote of the March 29-31 concerts featuring Karen Gomyo performing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.
By entering a world previously unknown to him, Skinner has become a SLSO super fan.
“Though all the music he has heard is new to him, he has been thrilled with every single concert he’s attended. His reviews are absolutely priceless and incredibly authentic,” Byrne said.
And Skinner is not quiet about his enthusiasm for the SLSO.
He has introduced several friends and neighbors to classical music. On May 11, he brought a neighbor who had never attended a SLSO concert. And he wants to bring others.
He explains: “It’s hard to get people to understand the music, unless they come to hear it. It reaches down into your soul, and then, you know how it feels.”