Part II – A Conversation with our Co-Founders

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Part II – A Conversation with our Co-Founders

We’re back to continue our conversation with the ArtSmart Co-Founders for our second installment of our blog series. This time we’ll explore how our Co-Founders discovered music and how it continues to play an instrumental (see what we did there?) role in their lives.  We have Michael Fabiano, John Viscardi, and Brian Levor for this conversation.

What is your first memory of music?

Michael: My mother and father loved the Dvorak New World Symphony and played it on the record player several times when I was three and I still listen to it today.

John: Sitting on the couch at my grandparent’s house in Queens listening to Oklahoma! with my grandmother.

Brian: Good question. I remember taking piano lessons at a very young age, but the more poetic answer is listening to my dad play The Beatles on the piano while he was waiting for my mom to be ready to leave the house. It’s a good thing they wrote so many songs.

What role, if any, did music play in your childhood?

John: Music was an enormous part of my life for as long as I can remember.  Neither of my parents were musicians but there was always a soundtrack for each action: Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin for weekend dinners; Led Zeppelin while working on my dad’s 1969 GTO; Earth, Wind and Fire or The Bee Gees on a crazy winter night with the extended family.

Brian: No role at all <laughs>…. In fact, it was a paramount feature of my childhood. My parents both played instruments and had a huge record collection. My dad sang terribly in the car, but played drums on the steering wheel in perfect time. I had music all around me from the get go.

Michael: A huge role for me too. I played the piano from age 5 up until 20, actively. I studied the trombone for two years. I enjoyed listening, gasp, to Nirvana and Green Day as a teenager only to discover opera at a late age of 17.

Did you play an instrument or sing when you were growing up?

Brian: My parents started me on piano lessons when I was in kindergarten. I just wanted to play the drums, but they made me learn piano first, which I hated at the time, but am now very grateful for. I never could sing well, but it doesn’t stop me from singing anyway.

Michael: Piano and trombone for me.

John: My mom began teaching me how to play the piano around age five and I started taking lessons shortly after that.  I wasn’t particularly good at it and switched over to voice and trumpet in fourth grade.  In middle school I traded trumpet for French Horn and began taking private lessons in both voice and French Horn. I came close to pursuing French Horn in college over voice.

What was your favorite song when you were growing up and why?

Michael: Holst’s The Planets. The symphonic nature of the music transfixed me and I got lost in the Mercury and Venus renditions. The CD I had of it from the LSO [London Symphony Orchestra] was scratched up and unplayable after a while.

John: Tough question.  Instead of one song I’d have to say Gustav Holst’s The Planets. I would love taking the journey through each world, getting lost in its distinct color, texture and emotion.

Brian: The first album I bought with my own money was Queen’s Greatest Hits, but I remember my first true favorite song being Pearl Jam’s “Alive.” Really needs no explanation, the song just plain rocks all the way through. John and I also learned every word to “Baby Got Back” when we were 8 or 9… which also needs no explanation.

Has your favorite song changed?

John: Absolutely.  My favorite song has never stayed the same for long. To name a few: Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, Pearl Jam’s Better Man, 1st movement of Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto, Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings, all of Verdi’s Otello.

Brian:  I still love “Alive,” but my favorite song now has to be Led Zeppelin’s “Ten Years Gone.” It’s been that way for over 15 years and I can’t see it changing again, but who knows?

“Although the course may change sometimes, rivers always reach the sea.”

Michael: Rachmaninov 3 has always been in my top for orchestral/piano works and it gradually shifted to Rach 4. Verdi’s Otello will always be my favorite opera. I’m also a sucker for Scriabin’s 3rd Symphony and really appreciate Berstein’s West Side Story.

All of you have chosen music as a career in some form.  Tell us more about what led you to that decision.

Michael:  I have a musical family. Aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents. It’s fitting that music played a part of my life. I never conceived of it as a vocation until I went to college and realized the potential that music played in my life. Now, as a professional opera singer, I see the business side of music coming into focus and how I can be a loud voice for the Classical world.  Classical music is not an “other” or a “niche,” but a style of music that is essential for so many people – especially in development.

John: Music has always been an important part of my life and something I felt I excelled at.  In middle school I began taking part in school musicals and an after-school orchestra program. By the time high school came around my entire day before and after school was filled with a music program of some kind — I just couldn’t seem to get enough of it.  When I began considering my area of focus for college the only two choices that existed in my mind were music performance or music business.  I went to school for music performance but have always been involved in both worlds.

Brian: I went into college thinking I would come out a lawyer. It did not take long before I realized that was not the path for me. Once I started studying music intensely, I knew it was both what I loved and what I was good at.

How would your life be different if it didn’t play the roles you just mentioned?

Michael: Music is life. Imagine a day without music. People would go insane. NO jingles on commercials, no Facebook doggie videos with cute (and perfectly timed) music playing in the background, no repetitive pop music to get you motivated at the gym. People would go insane.

John: Music has provided me with a constant source of inspiration.  Achieving mastery of the voice is a lifelong pursuit, one that constantly pushes the limits of your perceived capabilities. Besides inspiration, music has provided texture and color for so much of the world around me.  To put it in the simplest terms, if music wasn’t in my life we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Brian: Everything would be different. My path is a musical path by nature. Melody, rhythm, harmony – these forces are hard-coded into the world around us. Our job is two-fold: to get better at listening, and to get better at creating.

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