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School of Music to host benefit concert for alumna

Dr. Ann Fronckowiak

For Springville native Ann Fronckowiak, Class of 2000, SUNY Fredonia has always been more than just the springboard for her dynamic career as an oboist and a teacher. “It’s home,” she told the OBSERVER. “The professors are amazing, and the students are so talented. The way I teach my students was formed upon how I was taught at Fredonia.”

Fronckowiak, now an oboe professor in Texas, has not been able to teach since August, the month she learned of her cancer recurrence. On Friday, Feb. 21, SUNY Fredonia’s School of Music is hosting a benefit concert for Fronckowiak at 8 p.m. in Rosch Recital Hall located in Mason Hall. The concert is free and open to the public; free-will donations will be accepted and can be made online at www.gofundme.com/f/ann039s-cancer-recurrence-and-continuing-care.

In 2014, Fronckowiak was first diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, a hard-fought battle that brought her home to Springville so that she could receive treatment at Roswell Park. During that time, she was able to enjoy visiting campus to play duets with Dr. Sarah Hamilton, associate professor of oboe, who was instrumental in Fronckowiak’s decision to attend SUNY Fredonia.

“I’m a graduate of Springville-Griffith Institute, and my high school music teacher, Bill Cocca, is a Fredonia alumnus,” said Fronckowiak. “I knew the reputation of the School of Music from his experience. In 1995, I went to a woodwind quintet camp that Sarah Hamilton started there, and it was amazing. I fell in love with Fredonia!”

While a high school student, Fronckowiak began taking oboe lessons from Hamilton and participated in several all-state festivals hosted by the college. “I got a music and academic scholarship to attend Fredonia,” she explained, “but I chose the school because of Sarah Hamilton. I majored in oboe performance, and it was the best experience of my life!”

Upon graduating from Fredonia, she went on to earn her Master’s degree in oboe performance at the Manhattan School of Music and her Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the Ohio State University, where Hamilton also received her doctorate. After leaving Fredonia, Fronckowiak stayed in contact with several Fredonia classmates and professors, including Hamilton.

In 2007, while Fronckowiak was working as a freelance musician in Columbus, Ohio, Hamilton talked to her about her upcoming sabbatical. “She came in and took my whole oboe studio on,” Hamilton told the OBSERVER. “I knew that that was something she could manage, even still being relatively young at that point. Keeping them all moving forward is not easy.

Following Hamilton’s sabbatical, Fronckowiak stayed at Fredonia and taught music theory classes until 2010. “I taught oboe lessons and performed a lot, too,” she said. “It’s such a wonderful department, in general, and because I was a former student, the faculty really took me under their wing, mentored me, and taught me how to be an effective teacher.”

A few years later, Fronckowiak landed one of only four openings in the country for a full-time oboe professor at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, where she has been teaching ever since.

“I was closing in on my five year cancer free mark when I found out the cancer had returned,” said Fronckowiak. As she no longer has family in Springville, Fronckowiak opted to receive treatment closer to home at MD Anderson in Houston.

Over the years, Fronckowiak experienced the unique challenges of being a young adult with cancer. “Generally, young adults are underrepresented at many treatment centers,” she said. “Most people are aged 60 or older or pediatric patients. The young adult range, 18 to 39, is not only a small population, but one with very different needs: career goals, going to college, starting a family; we’re not at the age of retiring.”

She noted that Roswell was one of the first centers to have a newer program for young adults with services such as fertility preservation. “Roswell worked really hard to meet so many emotional, mental and social needs, and without them I would not have gotten through it the first time around,” said Fronckowiak.

A portion of the funds raised at the concert will support Roswell’s young adult program, as well as another program close to Fronckowiak’s heart: Angel Flight South Central, which currently flies her to and from treatment in Houston. “The treatment center is about a four-hour drive for me, and I have a visual impairment, so I can’t drive,” she told the OBSERVER. “ Angel Flight will pick me up in a tiny private plane at our military base’s small airport for free. Without them, I probably would not be here.”

Funds raised will also help defray the cost of Fronckowiak’s treatments, including medication copays, expensive tests, and therapies. While she is grateful to be employed and have health insurance, “So many things aren’t covered,” she explained. “For one of my medications, I have a $2,000 per month co-pay. I do have to stay in hotels, hire people to clean my apartment — there are lots of hidden costs.”

For young adults in particular, the cost of cancer treatment can be financially devastating. “I nearly went bankrupt at age 35, during the prime of my career,” she said. “I spent all my savings on cancer treatment and racked up serious debt. I had to stop paying my school loans for several years because of this debt, so those loans have been accruing more interest…the truth is, if you get cancer as a young adult, all of your expenses and financial decisions revolve around cancer treatment.”

Hamilton and many of her colleagues were eager to help put together a benefit concert for Fronckowiak. “She was one of my first students,” Hamilton told the OBSERVER. “I just remember her being so keen, hard working and wonderful to work with.”

She noted that many faculty members have fond members of Fronckowiak, both as a student and a colleague. “I feel like she’s been a part of Fredonia, one way or another, for quite a long time, and she still stays in contact with faculty personally and professionally. That’s why so many people are so moved to participate in this event.”

Friday’s concert will consist of multiple solo pieces by Fredonia students, faculty, alumni, friends and former classmates of Fronckowiak. “When I started talking to people about this, everyone was excited,” said Hamilton. “I’ve not had trouble filling the concert. In a way, I’ve had to turn people away.”

The concert will include multiple speakers, vocalists, a video presentation, and an original piece composed and directed by SUNY Fredonia alumnus Bradley Meholick. Many musicians are driving from near and far to participate.

Performers include School of Music faculty Sarah Hamilton, Barry Crawford, Kay Stonefelt, Laura Koepke, James Piorkowski, Jannis Peterson, and Marc Guy. The program will also feature Anna Mattix from the Buffalo Philharmonic, Robyn Costa of the Dayton Philharmonic, Joann Lamolino a member of the Hawaii Symphony, and Carly Johnson, chair of music at Alabama State University. Fredonia alumni Janice Pylinski, April Hartung, Bill Cocca, John Iocco, Cory Grant, Sarah Lapaglia, Megan Blake, Mona Lungerhausen, Susan Gierthy, and Lydia Herren will share the stage with Ann’s cousin, Kate Wipij, and her former student, Flor Cruz.

According to Hamilton, the program will feature a variety of musical genres and styles and can be viewed anywhere via Fredonia’s livestream at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMJzXzz5rfRMsaWQOE5LJbA. Fronckowiak will be unable to attend the concert, as she is in active treatment; however, she is looking forward to watching it in her home on Friday.

“For me, this concert just demonstrates, in a really tangible way, the effect that Ann has had on so many people,” Hamilton told the OBSERVER. “Some of us know each other, but many of us don’t. She’s bringing together all of these different people from her life that share the common bond of music, but otherwise, we share Ann, really. I think that’s pretty amazing that she can inspire that kind of energy.”

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