Navona Records presents SPARKS: EYE OF LONDON, an assembly of original fanfares performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. Drawing from the compositional strengths of today’s composers, the orchestra navigates chaos and order, isolation, and ascension towards triumph through passionate orchestral writing reminiscent of the fire that burns within us. Featured on this album is composer Ferdinando DeSena and his piece First of July, a flexibly tonal work composed with a 12 tone matrix.

Today, Ferdinando is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our composers and performers. Read on to learn how he formed his first gigging band, and how he performed for thousands of people at the age of 14…

What were your first musical experiences?

I was always a singer. My first musical experiences were singing at family gatherings. My father was a pretty good singer himself. Often we would both get up and sing a song. So, as early as 5 years of age, I was singing for audiences. In my high school years I sang in neighborhood bands in Queens NY. At 14 I formed a doo-wop group with some of my friends. There was a band that used to back us up at parish and school dances. They asked our lead singer and me to join their trio. Since our lead singer would be the front-man, they asked me to play keyboards. So began my career as keyboard player/singer. That band, Uptown Revue, was really good and locally popular. After moving to Ithaca in my early 20s, I worked 13 years professionally, culminating in leading my own band which, of course, I named Uptown Revue.

What inspires you to write and/or perform?

I am conscious that, having been given a gift, I need to use this gift of music to give back. I love performing for people and bringing them enjoyment and maybe some moments of poignancy. As a performer, bandleader, and teacher of theory and composition, I am sharing my gift and my love of music and artful sound. As a composer I love creating music for performers, especially for musical friends, to help them express their gift and to challenge their artistry. I also hope it will provide interest, discovery, and satisfaction for my listeners.

Tell us about your first performance.

It wasn’t my first performance but it was my first really big one. In one of the bands I played with in my teen years, there were two cousins whose family were electricians and members of the very strong NY electricians union. Also I think they were “connected” in other ways. We wound up playing at the NYC Electricians Union Annual Gala. Thousands of people! Our little band played in between sets of the Ray Block Orchestra. In those days, Ray Block was the musical director on the Ed Sullivan TV show. So there I am, a skinny kid of 14 singing for thousands of people. It’s probably still the biggest audience I ever had.

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?

I would probably have become a professor of history and historian, or perhaps a writer of historical fiction. I’ve always been a good writer and history is a great passion of mine.

What advice do you have for young musicians?

Do music! Practice and perform any chance you get. Also, learn your craft. The more you know, the better musician you can be.

Who are your musical mentors?

My favorite musicians are people like John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, McCoy Tyner, and Frank Zappa; usually visionary and innovative creators of music. Zappa is also one of my favorite 20th century composers, along with Arnold Schoenberg, Edgard Varese, Steve Reich, and Samuel Barber. My most important teachers were Peter Rothbart and Don Wilson for electronic music, and Dennis Kam for composition. From them I learned how to exercise my craft, but more importantly, I learned how to be an artist; how to be aesthetically exacting and ambitious in my work.

  • Ferdinando DeSena

    Ferdinando DeSena is a Miami-based composer who was born in Brooklyn NY. His earliest musical experiences were with neighborhood pop, rock, and doo-wopp groups. He worked as a musician in Ithaca NY for 13 years, playing in several regional bands as keyboard player and lead singer. His final group was Uptown Revue, which he led for seven years.