Author: Andrew Delo
“The tenor part is severely tainted.” That was the note that Don Jenczka gave to me, during a 1999 vocal brush-up rehearsal for A USO Canteen Christmas at Artpark. I was the only tenor. He knew that I was just as much the perfectionist he was, and I simply couldn’t go on until I fixed it. He plunked, I sang. He pushed me to do better, chuckling at how unnecessarily personally I took his note.
In the hours after Don’s tragic passing, Facebook was flooded with hundreds and hundreds of reflections from actors, singers, dancers, directors, and everything in between. The common thread between them was Don’s sincere, lifelong friendship to all he knew, and his ability to bring out the best in all of us. He was an institution in WNY Theatre and Sacred Music, having music directed truly countless productions for every major company in the area, and serving in many parishes as organist, choral leader, and Polish singer. For the past ten years, Don brought a number of us together every Christmas Eve, to sing the midnight mass (conveniently celebrated in the early evening), with a twenty-minute rehearsal just before starting. He kept so many of us together with his wild ideas for things like this, and his impromptu at-home musicals…including a driveway performance of A Chorus Line during the early days of the pandemic. He always seemed to be on fire, as he scribbled notes into his score, and worked furiously to adjust tempos and instrumentation during a pause in tech rehearsals, using the music tracking software that he largely designed himself. To call him a genius wouldn’t be fair, as it’s not a strong enough term for his talent.
Like so many others, I was blessed to work with Don dozens of times over the past 30 years. We became better artists together. We struggled through dark periods together. We found the light again together. And throughout, there was never anything but sincerity and hope for tomorrow. Don always saw potential, in both music and humanity, and approached each situation assuming the positive, and the inevitable success. The community in which he worked all rose together, as he was always our biggest cheerleader. It’s impossible for me to imagine how his shoes could ever be filled.
I don’t understand how I’ll say goodbye, as Don’s passing seems anything but real. But I do know how to thank him. I want to thank you, Donny, for years of friendship. I want to thank you for innumerous opportunities to make music with you. I want to thank you for your never-ending support and belief in me, for teaching me, for giving me second chances, for letting me take risks and showing me to how to harness it into the best I could be, and for letting me get to know you, and see you. I’ll always remember you smiling at the piano and just being very real with all of us, and we always knew to trust you. And thank you, Donny, for telling me 20 years later, “the tenor part is just right.”
I couldn’t write about Donny without asking his long-time colleague, co-musical director, and loved one, Amy Brown, if there was anything she’d like to say. I was happy that she shared with us; “One day, he called and introduced himself to me. He had been told ‘that I play the piano, and I was thinking “yeah right”, but you can really play! He hired me to play the second keyboard for The Sound of Music, and the rest is history! He was my mentor and my friend. We could talk about anything. The last time I was in Buffalo, we had a wonderful talk, just us. I’m so grateful. Nothing was left unsaid.”
A mass will be held on Saturday, June 18th 2022 at 11:00 AM at the St Philip the Apostle Church (950 Losson Rd, Cheektowaga, NY 14227).
The family requests, in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Donald R. Jenczka Musician Scholarship Fund.