December 3, 2010

Stephen Caracciolo on Joy of Christmas Program

In preparation for this season's Joy of Christmas performances, we sat down with composer and conductor, Stephen Caracciolo to get the scoop on his biggest influences and inspirations. Hear his work -"The Lamb" from Songs of Innocence - in action at this season's Joy of Christmas performances at Washington National Cathedral and the Music Center at Strathmore

How old were you when you first seriously considered making music your career?
About 12. I was singing in a men and boys choir and fell in love with the whole idea of making music with others. The Anglican liturgy was beautiful, and the way music, liturgical action, and spoken word was combined has informed the rest of my life.

Who supported and inspired you to make the choice?
First my mother, second my HS choral conductor.

Do you have a pre-composition ritual or practice that helps you get started?
Not really. Finding good texts is the hardest thing for me. I'm really selective.

Which composers most influence your style?
Almost anyone British, any era.. Also, as strange as this may sound, Alfred Burt, whose carols I sang in high school. His tonal style but with near "jazz" colorings I find creeping into my music even when I didn't intend it too. Have you ever taken a Burt Carol and added a rhythm section to it? You get something close to a jazz chart. Sometimes my scores have that same character. "The Lamb" has seventh chords, and added note chords, and twists of harmony that sound something close to jazz if you add a "beat".

In light of the recent economic downturn, what advice would you give to aspiring singers and composers?
Become very good at your craft while still diversifying. My real job is serving as a conductor and teacher, but I compose and sing on the side. Enjoy working with people. Get some business experience in while you are young, you may have the opportunity to work in arts administration to help support yourself. Get into the very best university program you can, aim high. Most importantly, after you graduate with whatever degree, do not be afraid to simply volunteer your time to other musical artists and professionals whom you respect in your community. Established mentors in the field can help you find a productive slot in the local musical scene. If I had my life to live over, that is what I would do.

Could you briefly tell us about the creation of The Lamb?
If I recall, "The Lamb" was one of those Summer Christmas itches. I settled on the text, wrote the melodic material first, then created the harmonies around that. A very simple construction. My scores tend to explore the tension between dissonance and consonance. Where is the harmony going? How tight can I twist the dissonances before I release them? That character is especially clear in this short setting; at "We are called by his name", for instance. Just weeks after completing this text, I received a new commission, so I selected three additional Blake texts and created a set, "The Songs of Innocence". Thank you for singing the setting of "The Lamb" from that set. I look forward to seeing you at next Monday's rehearsal.

Stephen Caracciolo is a choral conductor recognized for his passionate artistry, creative teaching, and is a nationally known composer and arranger whose choral works have been performed throughout the United States and Europe. Mr. Caracciolo is currently Assistant Professor of voice and conducting at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

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