Episode One: Piero’s Story
The European tour is over! What a spectacular tour it was! In this tour the guys brought us new songs, new realities and their new individuality! I had the good fortune of seeing the concert in Athens and I can say it and all the European concerts were phenomenal!
Those of you who read my column know that when a tour is over, I rewrite the guy’s story because they have new fans who just want to know everything there is to know about them.
The source of my story is the guy’s first book, “Il Volo, Un’avventura straordinaria, La nostra. If you can read Italian I highly recommend you read it.
My story is their story as seen through my eyes. The guys are present in the Italics of my story. They come in and out of the story moving us along on their journey! Their early lives come alive in their stories and words.
Let me tell you how this book is written. The beginning of the book is three individual stories. In age order it is Piero, Ignazio, Gianluca and it continues this way until the three come together. A very unique idea. Episode by episode we will relive their lives and experience their very beginnings.
Those of you who have read my stories about the guys know, whenever I write a story about one of them there is usually something in that story that I can relate to. There are two things I relate to in this story. One thing is, I can relate to Piero’s family because he was raised as I was. Every word I read brings a smile to my face because it could be my family he is writing about. The second thing you’ll have to wait until the end of story for me to tell you about that.
Let me start by saying, Piero has a very sharp memory. I believe he is very detail oriented. When he does an interview or in stories I’ve read, he remembers every little detail. When an interview is over or he finishes his story, you know the event as it happened and there is nothing more for you to know. He’s told it all. He is very sensitive and very emotional when he speaks about his childhood and his family.
In the beginning of this story, we meet Pietro Ognibene, Piero’s grandfather. When we lost Mr. Ognibene I wrote a story, “The Man Behind the Man,” and I asked the question, “Who is Pietro Ognibene?” The answer is he was a great discoverer. No, he didn’t discover a new land or a cure for anything, he discovered something even better, he discovered Piero Barone!
This is the first time I am writing this story since he left us. I think Piero would agree with me, that the most wonderful thing about being part of a close Italian family is we speak often about our loved ones who have left us, and we keep them alive with our stories. So, without further ado, let me bring this story of Pietro Ognibene alive by telling you about the first time Piero sang Un Amore Così Grande.
In the garden of Piero’s grandparents’ house there is a Mulberry Tree and hanging on that tree is an old-fashioned swing.
As was his custom, Piero’s grandfather Pietro would come out on the terrace every morning and find a cool place to sit. Pietro always had a recorder with him. He had been blind for many years, and he used the recorder to record music, recite poetry and compose songs. Piero says…
When I think back to the first images I have of him, he is sitting on the terrace in the country, with a stereo in his hands.
On this morning, Piero is on the swing, and on the terrace, Pietro is preparing to record a song. It’s just a little song. The song is only two lines, and it is pure Sicilian. Pietro begins to sing. E lu suli talia, talia, talia. Sopra ‘sta petra luci ci duna, that is and, the sun, look, look, look, to this stone gives the light.
Piero recalls… 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? Iddru?” (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. He listened to Piero sing the song and then he made the decision to go to his friend Antonio’s house to record it.
Antonio was a friend of Pietro, and he shared a passion for music with him. Antonio had in his home what was called at that time a “recording studio”. It was not very big but it did have a bigger stereo and a microphone. So, that afternoon they recorded Piero singing his grandfathers’ song in Sicilian. But it didn’t stop there!
The next day they went to the countryside to the Riolo’s house. Piero’s grandparents had a country house and the Riolo’s were their neighbors. Pietro had a good relationship with Mr. Riolo, because he had worked for him in the past and they were family friends. So, Pietro and Piero went to visit Mimmo Riolo. They all sat together under a carob tree because the air was always fresh under that tree. While the men talked, Piero ate prickly pears. (Piero has such great memories in the Riolo gardens, but that’s a story for another day.)
Pietro said to his old friend, “You know, Mimmo, yesterday I discovered that my grandson has a nice voice.”
Mimmo thought about it for a moment and came up with an idea. “I want Piero to listen to one of my favorite singers”.
Piero recalls…. And this is how I listened for the first time to Un Amore Cosi’ Grande by Mario del Monaco. And I learned it right away, but right away. (Piero has a photographic memory when it comes to songs. He only has to hear a song once or twice and he has it.) My grandfather was very proud. And something told me the next day we would go to record Un Amore Così Grande at Antonio’s house.
The day after they visited Mr. Riolo, they went to Anotonio’s house to record Un Amore Così Grande.
My name is Piero Barone. I was born on June 24, 1993 in the Sicilian city of Naro.
What can I tell you about Naro? For me, it is the most beautiful city in the world! There are dozens of baroque churches and above the city the Chiaramonte castle. Below the castle is the beautiful Valle del Paradiso with its green pastures and the green sea that separates Naro from the real sea… and there’s the Spring Festival Narese!
Piero fondly remembers summers in the countryside. He recalls how in the winter the entire family gathered on a Sunday for wonderful dinners and everyone was presents from his great grandmother down to all the aunts, uncles and cousins, who were like sisters and brothers to him. And he says another beautiful thing that happened in the countryside was that in the summer the entire family met for dinner every evening. Piero has said about his time in the countryside…. I swear, they were perhaps the most beautiful days of my life, and I will never forget them.
On the evening, after recording Un Amore Così Grande, as always, everyone ate dinner together. After dinner all the kid’s played soccer while the adults went outside to chat and enjoy the cool of the evening on the terrace. But this evening would be a little different. This evening would be the beginning of Piero’s journey to stardom!
When they finished dinner, Pietro called to his wife. “Rina, get the recorder.” Rina brought in the recorder and placed it in front of Pietro. The recorder was already prepared with the cassette. Pietro turns to Piero’s dad and says, “Listen to this voice, Gaetano.” He pushes the play button and starts the recording of Un Amore Così Grande. Gaetano is amazed, like he has just heard a good thing, and he says, “It’s beautiful, who is it Daddy?” (Gaetano calls his father-in-law Daddy.) Pietro says, “Piero.” Silence! Gaetano has a questioning looking on his face. “How did Piero?” Pietro says, “So?”
On that night Piero’s life changed! His father did everything he could think of to start him on a musical journey. He wanted Piero to start the festivals, but he was too young.
He needed to “put in a base” because the voice alone was not enough. Gaetano asked himself, “What must Piero start to do?” And the answer was, “Piero must start playing the piano.”
His father wanted him to start taking piano lessons, but he didn’t start until he was eight or nine. In those four years between the time he first sang Un Amore Così Grande and the first time he sat at the keyboard of a piano, Piero says…. who took care of my musical education, my grandfather.
Piero’s grandfather had a great passion for music. He composed songs in dialect, and he was a singer of popular music in the country. In Naro there are many folk groups because it is the capital of the Almond Blossom Festival, the Primavera Narese. Keeping this traditional festival alive means keeping alive the musical tradition of the folk groups. Piero says…. so many guys are singing in these groups, and I was singing too. That’s how I started to learn the songs of Sicilian folklore.
Piero began to study piano at the age of eight but, economically, the family could not afford the costs of the lessons. So, Piero’s grandfather paid for everything, and not just from the material point of view. Stefano Tesè was Piero’s first piano teacher. The mother of Piero’s teacher lived on the floor below in his grandfather’s house and the master came to see his mother every Monday. Pietro made an agreement with Mr. Tesè to give Piero lessons every Monday at six o’clock.
Piero says…. the road was very short to my grandfather’s house, I could even go there alone, but here was a second problem, to get there I had to face a dog that was going around in that neighborhood, that dog would approach and bark furiously. And I have a fear of dogs. Squeezed under my grandfather’s arm, he, who being blind needed to be guided, I felt protected as behind a shield: when the dog approached, he shouted: “Passa arrassu!” (fast pass), go away, and the dog went away.
Piero confesses there is a third problem…. every Monday six in the afternoon was a nightmare for me, because I did not like going to the piano lesson, or rather, I liked it only when the lessons were good, when I could play, but at the beginning I was bored a lot with the hammers, solfeggios and all the things that you rightly have to learn to play the piano. Maestro Tesè was a tough guy, and I was always worried that he would scold me. After a while I started to understand how the piano worked and the lessons started to please me.
And so it was that Piero started his classical musical education.
You know how I love including interviews in my stories. This interview is different.
A number of years ago, Enrico Lucci of Ilene did an interview with the boys and their families. During the interview, Lucci asked Pietro Ognibene a question something to the effect of “Can you believe all that’s happened to Piero?”
Pietro: When I’m alone and I close my eyes, I can believe it, if I could see, maybe it would not happen.
Pietro: I could continue my work, my way, without stopping on him. (What he meant was if he had not become blind, he would have been at work, so he would have less time with his grandson. More clearly, he would not have been on the terrace that day.)
Lucci: Is it worth the loss of sight for such a giant success?
Pietro: This is a question too important because, if I tell you it is better not to see my grandson that would be a lie, and vice versa it would be a bigger lie. (He cannot answer because in either case he loses something important. To see his grandson but then Piero would not become famous, or not see his grandson but so Piero has become famous.)
It’s hard to step away from this wonderful story because there is so much more to tell, but this is all I can say for now! We will return the Episode Two of Piero’s story after we hear Ignazio and Gianluca’s story in Episode One.
One last thing, I promised you that at the end of Piero’s story I would tell you what the other thing is that I relate to in this story. Around the time of this event in the garden when Piero was swinging on the swing that hung from the Mulberry tree, I was busy in New York writing a screenplay, the name of that screenplay was The Mulberry Tree!
This is the first episode in Piero’s story. Before I move on, I would like to say that over this last year, I have written more about Piero than the other two guys. Why? Because I watched Piero come into his own. He was always a phenomenal tenor but during the pandemic, Piero had the opportunity to do something that he couldn’t do so easily while on tour; he really started studying Opera. Every afternoon, Piero would come on Instagram and would practice the opera Cavalleria Rusticana. Since his return to the stage after the pandemic, we’ve all noticed his phenomenal tenor voice has because a magnificent Operatic voice. So powerful, so engaging! And when the new individual Piero sings his operas, he does what every opera singer from the time of Caruso has done ~ he follows his opera with Neapolitan songs. When I heard Piero sing Marechiare I knew the task was done, he was ready! Piero you are so ready for an Opera. Whenever and wherever you sing your first opera rest assured I will be there, and I think many of the fans will be with me.
A Note to Piero’s American fans: On November 5, 2023, our Piero will run in the New York Marathan. Piero all of the American fans will be cheering you on! I will see you at the starting line in my hometown of Staten Island.
What I have written here are excerpts from the book the guys wrote about their lives. “Il Volo, Un’avventura Straordinario, La Nostra Storia.” (An Extraordinary Adventure, Our Story) This is just a small piece of each man’s story. The book is written in Italian. If you can read Italian, I would highly recommend that you read it. It’s wonderful! If not, I can only hope that someday it will be translated into English. Or you can use Google Translate to translate it.
I also recommend you read their second book “IL Volo: Quello Che Porto Nel Cuore” (What I Carry in My Heart).
And let’s not forget their album. Available on Spotify, Amazon, and other music media!
Join me next week as I go back Through the Fields of My Mind and open the door to a new adventure. Next week we take a look at Ignazio’s childhood.
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