As Converse College’s Petrie School of Music prepared to celebrate its centennial in 2010, Henry Janiec reflected on his 42 years as a faculty member, including 27 years as its dean.
“When I die, they can put on my tombstone ‘at least he can keep a job,'” Janiec told the Herald-Journal at the time.
In fact, he could keep several.
Janiec died today at Spartanburg Regional Hospice House, but not without leaving behind a powerful legacy in music that included multiple long-held positions of prominence, primarily in Spartanburg and Brevard, N.C. Janiec was 85.
In addition to his work at Converse, Janiec served for 43 years as music director/conductor of the then-Spartanburg Symphony Orchestra and for 32 years as artistic director of the Brevard Music Center.
Janiec conducted the Spartanburg High School Orchestra from 1953-65, was music director of the Spartanburg Little Theatre from 1953-76 and was conductor of the Charlotte (N.C.) Symphony Orchestra and the Charlotte Opera for several years in the late 1950s and early-to-mid ’60s.
Born Nov 21, 1929, in Passaic, N.J., Janiec arrived in Spartanburg in 1952, hired as an assistant professor at Converse College and taking over the Spartanburg Symphony (now Philharmonic) fresh out of college. By age 22, he had earned bachelor and master’s degrees from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio.
“Oh, it was Van Cliburn, I’ll call him back tomorrow afternoon…”
The son of Polish immigrants, Janiec took his first piano lesson at age 7 and played at Carnegie Hall when he was 12. As a teenager during World War II, he played in a big band combo and in vaudeville theater while also pursuing “serious” music. He played for military hospitals and installations around the New York City metropolitan area with many of the shows hosted by Ed Sullivan.
At age 23, he shared the podium with famed conductors Charles Munch of the Boston Symphony and Leonard Bernstein of the New York Philharmonic in a program at the Berkshire Music Festival (Tanglewood) in Massachusetts.
During his career, Janiec also worked with such notable music figures as Yo-Yo Ma, Beverly Sills, Frederica von Stade, Rudolph Firkusny, Van Cliburn and Isaac Stern.
“I remember being at his house and the phone would ring,” recalled Janiec’s longtime friend Peter Moore, who lived two doors down from him on Spartanburg’s east side. “He’d go in the other room and I’d hear him say, ‘Well, I can’t talk to you right now, I’ve got company.’
“He’d then come back in the room and I’d say, ‘Oh, you could’ve taken that.’ And he would say, ‘Oh, it was Van Cliburn, I’ll call him back tomorrow afternoon.’ That was the type of people he associated with.”
Moore studied under Janiec in the Spartanburg High School Orchestra and later played in the Spartanburg Symphony for more than 30 years.
Janiec “was not only a brilliant musician, he was just a brilliant man in all aspects,” Moore said.
Mary Ada Poole, another product of Janiec’s time as conductor of the Spartanburg High School Orchestra, went on to perform in the Spartanburg Symphony and to hold the position of dean of students at the Brevard Music Center for many years.
“The Music Center grew so much under his leadership, and he was just a wonderful man,” Poole said. “He had a great influence in my musical life and, as far as I’m concerned, he was probably the best conductor I ever played for.”
Internationally renowned opera singers David Daniels and Gianna Rolandi, who grew up in Spartanburg, are among the many students whose lives were touched by Janiec.
“For three decades, when one thought of classical music and opera in Spartanburg and at the Brevard Music Center, one thought first and foremost of Henry Janiec.”
Janiec also was an inspiration to Boston Pops and BBC Concert Orchestra conductor Keith Lockhart, who serves as the current artistic director of the Brevard Music Center.
“For over three decades, Henry Janiec was the heart and soul of Brevard Music Center,” Lockhart said in a statement. “When I was a student here in the ’70s, Henry seemed to be everywhere at once. He had great energy, a great heart and a huge love of Brevard.
“We will miss him, and I will remain eternally grateful for all he did to help create one of our country’s most extraordinary musical resources.”
Throughout his life, Janiec received many awards and accolades, including being named “Man of the Year” by the Kiwanis Club of Spartanburg in 1958, being presented with an honorary doctorate degree from Wofford College in 1969 and receiving the Order of the Palmetto, the state’s highest civilian honor, in 2009.
In 1992, Janiec was honored onstage in commemoration of his 40th season as conductor of the Spartanburg Symphony when the community presented him with a Steinway grand piano and named an endowed scholarship fund for him at the Converse Pre-College (now the Lawson Academy of the Arts).
Janiec retired from Converse in 1994 and from the Spartanburg Symphony a year later. His 42-year tenure at Converse is one of the longest on record at the college, and, in 2010, he told the Herald-Journal he received so many opportunities during his time at Converse that there was no reason for him to leave.
“There is no way we could possibly sum up what our father meant to us in words. We are overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support and are extraordinarily proud that he touched so many lives.”
“For three decades, when one thought of classical music and opera in Spartanburg and at the Brevard Music Center, one thought first and foremost of Henry Janiec,” said Converse College piano professor Doug Weeks, who worked with him at the Brevard Music Center and Converse starting in 1982. “His mark on the cultural life of Spartanburg was profound, and we would not be where we are today were it not for (him).”
In 1964, Janiec became artistic director of the Brevard Music Center, where he also served as principal conductor of the BMC Orchestra and the Opera Workshop while taking its annual summer festival to national prominence as a hub for study and performance.
For many summers following his retirement, Janiec returned to the Brevard Music Center to conduct Pops and Broadway concerts, and the opera company there now bears his name in honor of his tireless work.
“It’s a sad day for me,” said Dean Anthony, the current director of the Janiec Opera Company. “I had never experienced opera in any way, shape or form when I came (to BMC) as a student, and it changed my life, and so much of that can be credited to Henry. … He loved teaching and introducing all of us to what music could be.”
Dorothy Knowles, director of admissions at the Brevard Music Center, added, “Henry was a legend in this region and he will certainly be missed.”
In a statement on behalf of the family, Janiec’s daughter, Katherine “Trina” Janiec Jones, said, “There is no way we could possibly sum up what our father meant to us in words. We are overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support and are extraordinarily proud that he touched so many lives. We are grateful for the compassion everyone has shown to us and love hearing the stories and memories you have shared.”
This story was written by Dan Armonaitis of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.