By Pete Kennedy
In the early 1960s, after he graduated from eighth grade, Vince Iannone went to audition for the band at Bishop Neumann High School in Philadelphia. He brought the small accordion his father had given him a few years earlier and played Franz von Suppe’s “Poet and Peasant” – an operatic overture that was once featured in a Popeye cartoon. (The sailorman required a can of spinach to perform the livelier parts.)
“When I was finished, the band director said, ‘We don’t have accordions in the band. But I need an e-flat clarinet,’” Iannone said. “Bishop Neumann gave me a clarinet.”
Iannone, now 72, has been playing the clarinet ever since, including two decades as the principal clarinetist with the Delaware County Symphony. That isn’t to say he instantly dropped the accordion – he continued to play for years. He also plays the saxophone. Occasionally the piano. Sometimes the flute.
Music has been the through line of Iannone’s life. As a teacher, he has shared his passion for music in classrooms in the Southeast Delco School District, The Tatnall School in Wilmington, The Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, Immaculata University and Delaware County Community College.
“I always wanted the kids to enjoy the music, and I tried to present music they never heard. I would do top 10 lists of classical songs, playing a minute or two of an exciting symphony, ‘The Nutcracker,’ things like that,” he said.
“I remember one little boy came up to me when I was on playground duty, saying, ‘Mr. Iannone, what was that song you played in class? I really enjoyed it.’ And I thought, they are listening. It made me feel really good.”
Through his work, Iannone has given kids the same musical exposure that he got growing up in South Philadelphia. His father and grandfather, both of whom had emigrated from Venafro, Italy, were also clarinetists.
Iannone’s father was an oil burner repairman. His mother was a homemaker. On Saturday nights, the family of three would watch Lawrence Welk, and young Vince was inspired by the accordionist, Myron Floren.
Not long after the audition at Bishop Neumann turned him on to the e-flat clarinet – which is smaller and higher-pitched than a regular clarinet – his family moved to Upper Darby. He ended up going to Monsignor Bonner High School, where he played in the band.
At West Chester College, he played in the marching band and concert band while earning a bachelor’s in music education. He also formed a little combo called The Dalvin Trio.
“The drummer’s father was a veteran, so we played American Legion posts,” he said. “He liked to go to bars, and he would promote our band. So, we played a lot of shrimp nights and roast beef nights.”
After graduating from West Chester in 1969, he spent a year studying at the New England Conservatory in Boston. For financial reasons, he returned to West Chester College to complete his master’s in clarinet. After that, he started teaching at Collingdale School District, which eventually became part of Southeast Delco School District.
For many years, his connection to music was more professional than recreational.
“When I was teaching at Southeast Delco, I was also teaching the clarinet privately, and I was working on weekends as a pianist in a group. It was getting to be too much,” he said.
Iannone scaled back his side jobs, which left him wanting to play again for pleasure. An ad in the newspaper led him to join the Delaware County Symphony in 1991, which meant weekly practices and four concerts a year. For about 20 years, he led his section as the principal clarinetist.
In 2003, he received the symphony’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2004, he was honored to be the featured soloist at one of the symphony’s concerts. The performance required his intense concentration.
“You’ve got to get beyond the notes,” he said. “Everybody can play the notes. You’re really concentrating on making it musical.”
Iannone retired from the symphony in 2016. He lives in West Chester with his wife, Fran, with whom he has a son, a daughter and five grandchildren – soon to be six.
In his retirement, he enjoys gardening and yoga. And he still makes music.
“I’m the director of The Big Band from the Valley, and I play in a couple other bands,” he said. “I have a group of my own, called Dexterity. Right now, we’re doing the library circuit.”