Let me tell you about the day I fell in Love. Not with one guy but with three. I turned on my TV and there they were three handsome teenagers stepping on the stage at the Detroit Opera House. I had seen them before on American Idol and Good Morning America but, on this day, I would lose my heart to them.
Every note they sang went straight to my heart! Just amazing! Ever song they sang was wonderful but when they sang El Reloj something happened to me! I knew no other group would ever take their place in my life or my heart. They totally reached me with that song! For me I wanted the CLOCK to stop at that moment in time!
Why this song? They sing so many beautiful songs. What was it that captured me that night? It wasn’t so much about the song as it was about the voices. It was how natural the delivery was. Teenagers with such maturity! Such strength in their voices. Voices that flowed through the air! It was the simplicity of this song and how they delivered it that captured me.
Their voices form a symphony. Gianluca’s voice vibrates and expands to realms I’ve never heard before. Ignazio’s voice makes your heart stop as you journey along his notes that lead to absolute ecstasy. Piero’s voice fills all your sense and brings you to such heights that you have to stop and breathe.
If you want to present a voice, in this case three voices, this is the way you do it. They were together such a short period of time and yet they were perfect! And it went beyond the voices. It was their personalities, their presentation, their interaction with the audience. They were young but they had it all. They won the people with their voices but, they totally captured them with their charm and personality.
A few months ago, I wrote a story “On the Road to PBS” about how the guys got to where they were. So, I’m going to revisit some of that story so you can see how they came to the PBS stage.
Piero, Ignazio and Gianluca grew up on PBS. From their first concert on October 27, 2011 at the Detroit Opera House, they won the admiration of the American people and stole their hearts. They have done six concerts with PBS over the past 10 years. And now for their 10th Anniversary, PBS will televise the Tribute to Ennio Morricone in America! Great news for America especially since we not only love our guys but also love the music of Morricone. A marriage made in heaven.
When they began, they introduced America to a new style of music. Operatic pop! A very different kind of music for teenagers. Their aim was to show young people how good this music is. They won over the children, parents and grandparents. They were an immediate sensation. America fell in love with them. But where did it all begin for them. Let’s listen to what the guys had to say about how they were discovered.
Piero will take us back to his grandfather, Pietro Ognibene’s, back yard where he is swinging on a swing that hung from a mulberry tree. His grandfather was sitting on the veranda, as he usually did, at this time of day. His grandfather has been blind for many years and so he always had a tape recorder with him which he used to record music and poetry. Piero’s grandfather is also a singer. On this day he was recording a little Sicilian song which Piero said his grandfather wrote. So, let’s listen to what Piero had to say…
“I was swinging on the swing, I was about four or five years old, I was really, very small. I listened to him a little and at a certain point, when he stopped singing, I started: E lu suli, talia, talia, talia. Sopra ‘sta pedra luci ci duna. What can I tell you? It just came out like that.”
His grandfather turned off the recorder and called his wife. Rina came out on the terrace and he asked her, “Unni è Piero?” (Where is Piero?)
She replied, “In Altalena” (He is on the swing)
Pietro asked, “Ma cu cantava? Iddu?” (But who was singing? He?)
She replied, “Eh, si.” (yes)
He told Rina to call him.
So, Piero got up and went to his grandfather. Pietro lifted him up and put him on the table next to the recorder and told him to “sing the song again.” Piero sang the song exactly as his grandfather sang it. And so it begins….
Ignazio’s discovery would come about because of Nina’s pianola.
Ignazio remembers, “When I was three or four years old – I played with the piano my parents had given my sister, Nina. My mother says I was one years old when I played. Nina taught me to play Happy Birthday with one finger.”
Nina’s famous pianola gave Ignazio an passion for music.
Ignazio continues, “I do not remember the first day of school, but I certainly did not take long to get noticed. If you’re thinking of scenes of me being put in the middle of the class to sing, forget it. I had a passion for music but, I had an even greater passion for pranks. I tell you, since I started talking and walking, mine was an escalation of agitation.”
But as Ignazio explains, this agitation passed and the most important event in his life began to take shape…
“With the passage of time, I found something good to do at school, that is, an activity that was able to hold my interest enough to prevent me from slipping into some disaster. I joined the school choir. I always liked to sing, to be ‘in the middle’ of the music. And more and more passionately I began to understand how to make better use of Nina’s famous pianola. I learned how to start the musical bases and flip through them. And that’s when I discovered La Donna È Mobile. I liked it so much that I sang with the base and invented words. I don’t remember the words but, it certainly was a song about Pavarotti. Having seen Pavarotti on TV, I knew he always had a big handkerchief so I would invent text and sing on the air La Donna È Mobile.”
It seems at three years old Ignazio was already composing wonderful music!
Gianluca tells us that his life was different from Ignazio but, in many ways like Piero’s.
“My life as a child seems so far away. I remember very little of my childhood! I’m not like Ignazio I was born and raised in Montepagano. I was traveling only with dreams. What made me dream? Music naturally. Dad and mom realized that I had something special in my voice when I started to sing at the age of three or four years.
My parents tell me when I was three years old, I sang ’O Sole Mio in the town square in front of all the elderly gentlemen friends of my grandfather who, sitting around the bar table, were listening to this little boy with such a particular voice.”
Each boy has now been set on the road to PBS so where did they go from here?
Over the years, each boy approached his musical education in a different way.
After his discovery in the garden, Piero embarked on a classical music education. He began piano lessons at the age of 8. At 10 years old he joined the Little Singers of the Philharmonic Association – Santa Cecilia of Agrigento. And then he began the competitions around Sicily.
In Marsala, Ignazio sang with his first singing teacher Lilliana Andreanò. He continued his singing lessons moving on to other teachers as he progressed. He took three years of piano lessons. He also participated in competitions around Sicily. Even after moving on to other teachers, Ignazio continued his relationship with Lilliana Andreanò. She advised him every step of the way right up to his audition at Ti Lascio Una Canzone which she convinced him to do.
Gianluca, unlike Piero and Ignazio, never had a singing lesson or piano lesson. He joined the Piccolo Choir of Roses. At one of their events, he was discovered.
As you know they came in first, second and third on Ti Lascio una Canzone. But their biggest win was becoming Il Volo.
After American Idol, they did many shows but the one show that really set them “in flight” in America, was the PBS special “Il Volo Takes Flight.”
Their concert was shown on PBS stations across the US and Canada.
After they performed on PBS, things really started moving. They were now bringing their bel canto around the world. One of the most memorable moments of their lives was touring with Barbara Streisand.
After seeing the guys on the PBS special, Barbra Streisand invited them to join the “Back to Brooklyn” tour. They were an integral part of the tour. They performed with Barbara Streisand in 12 of her shows in the United States and Canada.
Their first ever live album titled “Il Volo Takes Flight” was released in 2012.
The hit “Il Volo” rose to first and second place in the Billboard Classical Crossover charts.
In 2013, ”Más Que Amor” was certified “Gold” in Mexico and Argentina and, this catapulted the guys into the Latin market. From that day on they took the Latin market by storm.
In February 2014, they receive two nominations at the 2014 Latin Billboard Music Awards, as “Top Latin Albums Artist of the Year, Duo or Group” and “Latin Pop Albums Artist of the Year, Duo or Group.” At the awards show they were awarded as ”Best Group of the Year in the Latin Pop Album” category and they also won the “El Pulso Social Award,” as the artist who dominated interactions on social networking sites during the Billboard Awards. This is unheard of! Three Italian kids taking over the Latin market! What a win!
But for the guys, the close of 2014 was the highlight of it all!
The Christmas Concert at the Italian Senate on December 21, 2014 gave them new hope for their presence in Italy. Ignazio wrote in their book: “We want to talk about the thrill of singing in front of the highest offices of state! What twenty year old boy has something like that happen to him? It happened to us, and it seems to me a beautiful result, an honor. You cannot imagine the emotional feeling to be called ‘guests of honor’ inside the Senate. We were accompanied by the, fantastic, Filarmonia Orchestra Veneta conducted by Diego Basso. Half the beauty of the song is in the orchestra.
The most exciting moments? Every one! But the hymn of Mameli was the heart-pounding one, the first song, singing in that place, with everyone singing along with us, including Giorgio Napolitano, (President) and Pietro Grasso (President of the Senate). It is one thing that I cannot explain.
And then, of course, the pleasure of shaking hands with the President of the Republic and of feeling that he knows Marsala, he has been there.”
What a way to close out 2014 but, what would happen in 2015 would set them on a new path, one which they hoped for from day one.
Next week we follow the guys as they make a big decision which will determine their future! This is a journey that will lead them back home. We follow the guys along a very bumpy path with many twists and turns that lead Through the Fields of My Mind….
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Last week I received and email from Sharon Bear in Detroit. Sharon wrote:
I had received a clip of Il Volo from a 90+ year old man in Marco Island. A dear friend. That promotional clip was maddening in that I could not play it enough – dancing with my Rottweiler who was deaf but learned to feel the music, his front paws bouncing up and down as I held them up and danced. He enjoyed my playing the song. Same song. Oh about 1000 times more or less.
It became part of my being. (The song. The guys’ voices. The air is different when you listen). I wondered where they were going to perform. Then it hit me – hey! Detroit is a major music market! Duh! “Maybe” they’ll perform here!!! Clicked a few links and voila!!! They were coming to the Fox Theater for a concert in a couple weeks. “Donation” to PBS was $40 for a ticket. I ordered my ticket as quickly as I could dial the phone.
At that concert it finished. The Capture of me. I’d try to explain it but why try. You know what I’m talking about so no need to “Preach to the choir”.
Then at the end of that concert they announced that in 10 days the guys are coming back to film a DVD at the Opera House. You can buy a seat in the audience for $40. They would pass out seats in the order the calls came in for tickets. Oooookkaayyyy. How should I time my call? Not too early to be staring straight up at the lights and not too late and be sitting in the rafters. I called an hour or two after it opened. Not everyone is going to know these guys so, seats won’t be sold out too early I figured. I was right. And it was a God-thing as we say. My seat was right on the end of the third row, front and center. It was the families first row. Music producers, labels, financiers’, directors second row. Then me! Third row!! Yessss.
I woozy with the thrill of these voices. Their boyishness yet adult focus and performance. I’ll remember this forever I realized. Then came The Song – the song everyone knows, ‘O Sole Mio. People applauded, yelled when they recognized it. In mid-song Piero and Ignazio entered the audience from side doors singing their solos. Women young and old reached to touch them as they passed in the aisles singing.
Piero walked directly toward my row, casually stopped beside me, reached down and took my hand. Huh??? What? Is this real? I’m having a serenade of this song by Piero??? Yes. It is true. And, sadly, to say all the muscle memory in my arms and hands reverted back to those 1003 times I had taken my Rottweiler’s paws and bounced up and down with him to the beat of the song. Yes. Like a muscular stuck in a rut moment, I started to bounce Piero’s hand up and down as he sang. But I did “get a grip” and cherished the happening. Sometimes looking back at the video, I want to yell at myself – “that’s not the dog! It’s not dancing with the dog! It’s the ‘real Piero’ singing it! Ok. Whew. You quickly realized it was real and enjoyed it.” Too funny. How we can react when amazed and shocked. The brief goofiness didn’t count. The stirring reality of being part of this Birth of these guys coming into the world as a force of goodness, music and unity which will change lives and enrich in ways beyond music That evening was a thrilling episode in life I always will hold close – and now I’ll remember it’s Piero’s hands and how the world felt being serenaded that incredible memory.
What makes this letter so absolutely wonderful is I found the video to go with it! Enjoy!
Credit to owners of all photos and videos.