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Neal Facciuto is an American composer and a conductor of his own works. He is a former student of the Ukrainian-American maestro, Virko Baley. In 2011, he formed “Colors,” a brand of music which blends classical and blues worlds. He has taught courses at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and the University of Hawai’i. He is married to cellist, Rebekah Facciuto, and currently resides in Honolulu.
Neal has released a new album entitled “FLORA,” featuring Honolulu singing talent Amanda Tafel and Hawaiian Idol winner, Kalona. The album was released on June 5th and features classical orchestration behind more popular singing styles.
Recently Neal Facciuto uncovered his musical cove in an exclusive interview with Jamsphere. Neal proves to be a highly intellectual artist without the ‘musical snobbery’ usually assigned to trained craftsmen of his calibre.
1. How long have you been composing and producing original music and how did you get started in the first place?
N FACCIUTO: I started relatively late as a teenager, plucking a guitar that I purchased for 20 dollars; it was a 12-string that someone had hacked up and made into a six-string. Immediately, an interest opened up that I had no idea I even had. I do remember trying to learn popular songs on the radio, but was also piecing together my own music from the start. After about 10 years, I wanted to write for more than one instrument, so I went to school to learn how to do that.
2. Who has been, or are, your major musical influences?
N FACCIUTO: As a teenager, I was attracted to the blues guitar giants—Jimi Hendrix in particular. From the jazz world, Coltrane impacted me in college—especially in his approach to improvisation. And from the classical genre, Stravinsky was and is the most stimulating composer to me.
3. Why this particular musical genre and was it a calculated choice or did it come about gradually?
N FACCIUTO: There is some calculation, but for a large part, it’s simply blending a few genres of music that I enjoy, thereby creating a new one. The simplicity and soulfulness of blues and gospel music has always attracted me; I love the rhythmic excitement from West African music, and I admire the methodology, and the approach to instrumentation found in classical music.
4. Does your wife Rebekah, who is a cellist, contribute to your recordings? And does she have any influence on your musical direction at all?
N FACCIUTO: Yes to both; she does play on occasion for me—but she doesn’t like to! She feels too pressured to play precisely. I don’t help by writing things that are sometimes more difficult than they could be. I do keep her and family in mind when I write though; after all, if I didn’t at least have her support, I would not be able to invest the time, energy and money it takes to sustain a career.
5. What genre of music do you listen to more frequently? And who are your favorite artists currently?
N FACCIUTO: I really do treat all music alike. I listen to everything I can, be it live, on the radio, online or on television. I can usually find inspiration fairly easily from just about anywhere, and I’ll often listen to different things depending on what stage of the composition process I am in.
6. Which famous song or musical composition do you wish you had written and why?
N FACCIUTO: Well, I don’t actually wish I had written it, but my favorite piece of music is probably Les Noces, by Stravinsky. It’s just so raw and original…one of my favorite endings of all time.
7. What do you consider to be the greatest album of all time, up until now and what do you think makes it so great?
N FACCIUTO: Really tough question, and unfortunately I don’t have a specific answer. But I can tell you it would probably be from the sixties jazz genre, since there were so many exciting, fresh and spontaneous moments captured.
8. If you were forced to pick one, which of your original compositions is your favorite?
N FACCIUTO: There is a miniature that I wrote for piano and trumpet that I like called “Tuba Mirum”—it was written as part of an instrumental requiem mass, in memory of a fellow composer who had taken his own life in college. It’s been recorded live, but not released. I’ll probably re-record and release it in the next few years or so.
9. Which ingredient do you think is most essential in making your music the way it is?
N FACCIUTO: I’m not sure that I really have a single ingredient that makes my music sound a certain way. It’s the combination of a few ingredients that are not normally blended together that makes it unique. If you asked a popular musician why my music sounds a certain way, he would probably say, “it has a classical element.” But if you asked a classical musician the same question he would respond, “it has a popular element.”
10. Tell us something about your composing /music producing process? How does it all come together?
N FACCIUTO: At this time, and at the beginning of the writing process, I’ll often listen to blues and gospel music for melodic inspiration. Once I have a rough melody chiseled out on the piano, I may listen to West African music for some rhythmic inspiration. And when the rhythms are working with the melody, I’ll then turn to classical music to help orchestrate the fragments for many instruments. For the final stage, I’ve been influenced by the post-minimalist school: Arvo Pärt, the late Henryk Górecki, and the later works of John Adams.
11. What aspect of the music making process excites you most?
N FACCIUTO: Finding and working with great performers is probably the most exciting, but the polishing stages are the most rewarding. The early writing stages are miserable, and despite what some composers say, the orchestration process is a maddening trial as well. But when the house is finally built, it makes all the bricklaying worthwhile.
12. What aspect of the music making process discourages you most?
N FACCIUTO: Definitely the early stages. When a certain section just isn’t working, or you are having difficulty developing a piece, it can leave you feeling less than confident in your abilities.
13. Which ultimately gives you more satisfaction, teaching new students or composing new material and why?
N FACCIUTO: For me, there is a great satisfaction that comes from both and I believe the type of satisfaction between the two is actually more related than one might assume. Teaching is so self-less, or at least it should be, so the satisfaction is easy to diagnose. The reasons for writing music are different for everyone, but for myself, I actually write with the audience in mind. My end goal is to leave a positive impact on the listener. So there is a deep satisfaction from both jobs, because the intentions are similar.
14. The best piece of advice, in the music business, you actually followed so far. And one you didn’t follow, but now know you should have?
N FACCIUTO: I have the same answer for both questions, and that is to work with others. My first instinct has always been to do everything myself—that’s probably why I chose composition. But the end result will be much more far reaching if you can surround yourself with likeminded individuals who have different skills.
15. At this point in your career, which factor do you desire most (increased music distribution, better quality production, more media exposure, more live appearances etc…) ?
N FACCIUTO: All of these things improve with time, but I’d like to get music out to as many people as possible. Live performance is obviously the best exposure, but media and online exposure are the next best things.
16. How often and for how long do you actually practice or exercise your musical talent?
N FACCIUTO: On an ideal workday, probably 4-8 hours is spent on the compositional process. Usually I work in the mornings, take a break in the afternoons, and probably have the most success in the early evenings. Musicians of this generation are free to write, record, produce, mix, master, and market their own music as they please. There is a lot of freedom, but also a lot more time-consuming responsibilities. A certain amount must be spent honing your craft– because that is the foundation; but along the way, the modern musician or artist, needs to learn and utilize many other skills.
17. How did you get to know Honolulu singing talent Amanda Tafel and Hawaiian Idol winner, Kalona, and what is your working relationship with them?
N FACCIUTO: After writing the music for Flora, I began searching for singers who could read music, but could sing in a more popular style. This was a tremendous challenge—singers who can read music are typically classically trained, and “untraining” them is almost impossible. They generally sing with more vibrato, and use their “head-voice” on higher notes. Annunciation is also quite different. Popular singers will use more of a “chest-voice,” even on high notes. The style of music that I was writing really called for the latter, so it was quite a consuming task. Fortunately, I found two great singers who could pull it off.
Kalona was the first singer that I worked with in Honolulu. I had heard her sing, and immediately knew she would be a great fit for what I was doing with Flora. She has a beautiful voice with a lot of character. I look forward to hearing her own upcoming EP.
Amanda Tafel was working with several composers when I met her. She was classically trained, so I asked her to send me anything that was more popular or gospel oriented. She sent me a recording of her singing in front of a few thousand in New York and it was sensational. So we got her into the recording studio, and she nailed it.
18. Your latest album “Flora,” has been available since the 5th of June. What are your expectations? Would you opt for outright commercial success or accept successful diffusion of a unique genre?
N FACCIUTO: I’d like as many people to hear it as possible. I wrote it for a broad audience, and I’m hoping for a response that reflects that intention.
19. What are your thoughts on the actual state of popular music? And do you think it is important for young artists and music fans to understand and appreciate classical music.
N FACCIUTO: Well, there’s good and bad. Like any industry, much of it is not very good, and often at times the music isn’t even the main selling feature for a pop artist. But there is some craft to be found in most music if you look for it. As far as classical music appreciation goes, I think anyone who creates music would benefit from studying the four-hundred years of history that we have on the subject. However, I’m not one to say that classical music is better than another style. It’s all music, and there are things found in one genre that are simply not found in another. I will say that one technique sorely missed outside of classical or jazz music is modulation. The only time you typically hear a key change in popular styles is the whole-step modulation at the end of a tune. It does take a bit of skill to learn how to do this smoothly, and most popular musicians do not realize they even lack this skill.
20. Is going platinum or winning a Grammy important to you, and where do you see your career 5 years from now?
N FACCIUTO: No, those things by themselves are not important. As Charles Ives said, “prizes are for boys.” But as I’ve said, reaching a large audience is indeed an intention of mine, and prizes often follow with that sort of success.
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