I’m Sam, I’m a second year in the college majoring in computer science and I play the cello. Hi my name is Mario I’m also a second year in the college majoring in computational and applied math and I play the piano. Hi my name is Angelo I’m also a second year in the college, majoring in math and econ and I play the violin.
Three Italians, three different instruments. Sam Whalen, Mario Peracchi, and Angelo Rustichini talk about their respective experiences with classical music training and their continued love for a musical genre outside the scope of mainstream sound. Check out the video clips for scenes from the interview!
Carlotta: When did you guys start playing your respective instruments?
Sam: I actually started in 8thgrade, but before that I started playing the piano, I was forced to by my parents, that’s how it started out. I played piano for a couple years and then my mom came up to me and told me I had to choose between violin and cello for a string instrument, and I have a little brother and he also had to choose one, so we made sure we chose different ones to not fight over who was better than the other, and I remember I chose the cello because you could sit down while playing it. And then I’ve been playing ever since.
How come your parents wanted you to play so badly?
I have literally no idea, I’d give you a better answer but I have no clue what was going through their heads.
What about you Mario?
Mario: In seventh grade-
Sam: Wait can you cut that part out because it was kinda a bad answer, yeah.
How about me, well I started I believe in about 7thgrade kind of like Sam because my parents wanted me to play an instrument. I chose the piano because at that time my cousin was playing the piano and I remember everyone would look at him like he was really good, it would impress all the people around us. So obviously, I wanted to be that kid who could impress all the people around us, so I chose the piano as well and I’ve been playing ever since. And it started as a competition thing but now I really enjoy it and it’s an important part of my life.
Angelo: I started when I was 6, and I wish I had a better reason for why I started but there was a girl in my grade who also played the violin and I wanted to impress here so that’s why I started and then it turned into a real thing and yeah, that’s pretty much the only reason I started.
Good reason yeah.
Sam, did moving to Italy have any effect on how much you played?
It definitely did, at that point I was still playing the piano. And so basically, in Italian middle school, you go from 8 till 2 in the day and it gave me so much time in the afternoon to play. So I would play for hours and hours and hours until the evening, and that was when I was still super into the piano. Then I got introduced by my cello teacher to a junior orchestra, and then I started playing there and that’s what really got me into playing cello, and in fact I still play in the symphony at the university. But basically yeah, there because it was affiliated with the Rome orchestra which is a pretty big name, we’d get a bunch of soloists to come in and directors to come and conduct us. So yeah, made a lot of close connections there and got to play a lot of good music that some pieces we’ve even played here again. I knew once I started in an orchestra I’d never not want to be a part of one.
Well one because you form really close connections with the people you play with especially in your section, and two because playing in an orchestra, working so hard for weeks to play pieces that are usually way over your head, and then pulling them off in concert gives you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that you really don’t get in other circumstances.
Mario for you the opposite question: moving from Rome to Dc, how did that influence your playing?
I think your teacher has one of the biggest roles in your musical formation. When I was in Rome I really liked my teacher and we did play a lot and I learned a lot from her, but I was never as enthusiastic about it as I became later when I moved to Dc. Actually, in DC I had two different teachers, one that I had at my high school and I had a terrible time with her. She would make me play pieces that I had played for two years before and she wasn’t very good at playing the piano either so I was basically forced to play pieces I had already learned how to play and it was very boring. So, I actually moved to this music school where my professor, a Russian teacher, very harsh, with him I learned really a lot and I think at that point he realized that at that point I liked playing the pieces I actually enjoyed, even if they were too hard for me, whereas other teachers I’d had used to make me to the scales and all the arpeggios, which I always found boring. So, he encouraged me to play things that were harder and that I wasn’t currently able to play, and that pushed me forward a lot and I got new skills and pushed my appreciation for music, maybe because I could appreciate the difficulty or even because I just got older, but I attribute a lot of this learning process to him.
Angelo what about you, how was your music schooling?
Yeah, I learned at school, playing with my friends mostly and working with my teacher there and that’s where I learned most of the technical things, and probably when I hated it the most. Uhm, yeah back then it was a chore, but as I got older and it got more complex, the techniques were flashier and the pieces were more colorful, I started to like it a lot more. It went from being a chore and homework to being a real hobby. That’s when I was having most fun and spending hours practicing and listening to music in the car and playing instead of doing my homework. I’d hear songs on the radio then go home and try to play them and that’s definitely when I had the most love for it. That’s the story of my love for it, then slowly in high school it started to go away. The work started to pile up, the stress for college and the love started to go away. It started to become time away from things I wanted to do more, and from worries of actual adult life but still now when I have time I like to play songs that I like and enjoy it, instead of it being a task.
Did you guys ever find it kind of hard to appreciate the kind of music you played considering the people around you and the age meant they probably didn’t listen to that kind of music?
Definitely a reason why I found being in an orchestra a lot of fun, because there you’re surrounded by people your age who you can talk about the pieces with and you’re all doing the same. Like one, you can share everything, pieces you’ve played and liked with others. And so many people play things you haven’t or listen to music you haven’t so being surrounded by that really expands your music taste and your classical music base. You hear your friends talking about pieces they are playing that you might end up playing yourself. And definitely being in middle school and high school when I was in Italy, not many other people listened to classical music so it was a bit hard there.
I also do think that music, especially when you’re playing it, becomes a very personal thing. You don’t necessarily need to share with other people, it’s about how it makes you feel and it’s about how people who listen to you, how you want to make them feel. I never thought it was something negative, having not many people around me listening to the same music I did. And I mean I still listen to other kinds of music, not just classical, but I do feel that the personal aspect of music, especially for classical, and especially because we play it is very important and so having people around you not be as interested in it is not a negative factor.
Yeah definitely, I also think I was lucky to find a balance with it especially in middle school because my teacher she really wanted me to focus on finding my identity in the music and finding pieces that I liked and letting me develop the technique and the style that I liked, but in high school I performed in an orchestra too, and that helped me appreciate a lot of the beautiful pieces that you can’t play alone and the arrangements they can put together.
Also, one of the best things about, if you can appreciate classical music, is still that so much of it is a question of interpretation. So, you go to a concert and hear your favorite piece played a million different times, okay well maybe not a million, but yeah many different times and different ways over the course of a year, which always give you the creativity when you go back to the piano to go in and have your idea of what the piece should sound like and still have the time to develop a different taste for it and have your ideas develop and in a year go back to the piano and look at it a totally different way. And I definitely listen to many other genres than classical, but I still think one of my favorite things about this is that you can listen to a piece played like twelve different ways and appreciate it.
Yeah it was always about emotion for me, and so classical music has its own range of emotions that you can’t always find in pop or rap and so if thats what you’re looking for classical music is nice to be able to appreciate.
What are biggest misconceptions people have about classical music?
Probably that you have to be really uptight to like it.
You know with most new things you have to develop a taste for things, and most things do not appeal to people right away, especially something that requires a little more effort to understand, which is the case I think for classical music, it is not something a lot of people are willing to put in.
Also I feel like a lot of people have the wrong idea about it because, yeah a lot of people that you talk to will say ‘Oh yeah I took piano lessons for a year when I was young, yeah my parents made me,’ and for them you’ll always hear stories along the lines of ‘oh I had a really harsh teacher who made me practice scales all day,’ which is really boring to be honest, for a lot of people that turns them off to it at a really early age but now living in Chicago, where you have access to one of the best symphony orchestras in the world, it’s pretty easy to get back into it at a later age and learn to appreciate it.
Yeah, a lot of people have the misconception that you need to know what’s going on in order to appreciate it, you need to know more about the scene to like it and that not true you can know absolutely nothing about classical music or famous composers. In reality you can just go downtown and listen to the symphony orchestra and still get something out of it.
Sam, you mentioned you are part of the symphony. What made you decide to join and how much of a commitment is it?
It takes up a decent amount of time, but that being said I always try to put my studies before that, even if my director might not want to hear that. What made me decide to audition for it is probably Barbara Schubert, she’s a fantastic conductor, given the range of abilities within the orchestra and the range of backgrounds, she is still, every concert, able to pull off an amazing performance. She’s fantastic, she’s made a name for herself in the classical music circle, at least in the States. And definitely having been in an orchestra before in Rome made me want to continue and probably step it up a notch; its definitely intense, I spend maybe three to four hours practicing for it.
How many concerts do you perform a year?
6 a year, so two a quarter, one before finals and one about midterms time.
Mario, you are part of pianists of UChicago; how come and what is it like?
Well, I never in my past performed in front of big crowds and people, and being part of this group allows me to get over my stage fright and get out there and play in front of other people which is a big part of being a pianist. Because, as I said earlier there is definitely a big part of it that’s personal when playing an instrument but if you are very enthusiastic about the music you play and the way it makes you feel, you want to share it with people and there is no better way than doing that than through a concert. Having said this, I actually did not perform often last year, just a couple of times, a few different pieces, and I still found it very difficult to get up in stage and play for people. It might be different in an orchestra where you have a lot of people on your side playing with you but it’s different when you’re alone on the stage with just you and the piano and a lot of eyes on you watching and waiting to see. But obviously, I love playing piano and I love being part of this group. Most of the practicing is on our own time, and most of the people in the group have been playing for long enough that they can guide themselves basically. There are meetings with the director of the group to let them know what our progress has been, and she guides us around and she tells us what we think we should improve in the way we play a particular piece, but mostly individual.
Angelo, how do you keep up with music since being here?
Yeah unfortunately I didn’t bring my violin here with me, since I’ve been at school. I really wanted to try and focus on my studies but I make a point of listening to as much classical music as I can, the one I listened to as a kid. I miss it yeah, it’s was a really relaxing part of my day. I know people say this about sports and whatever but really when it’s you sitting down with your instrument you don’t have the time or ability to think about anything else, it’s really just you doing something you love to do. Its definitely harder not having that as a relief sometimes.
Some favorite pieces?
Yeah that’s a hard question.
I do really enjoy listening to Mozart piano concertos-
I grew up listening to the Four Seasons when I drove to school. That was a big part of me growing up so when I hear it, it brings me back.
As a pianist, I have to say I like Chopin even though my Russian teacher back in DC used to tell me Chopin is like chocolate, everyone likes it but it’s not necessarily that good for you. You can eat a lot and play a lot but you need to diversify your repertoire, but yeah, he’s one of my favorites to play and listen to.
Yeah, he is as well, but I think the pieces I listen to tend to be very diverse and just pieces I enjoy playing.
Interview: Carlotta Verita
Recording & Editing: Carlotta Verita