An emotional and collaborative tour de force, composer and conductor Dominick DiOrio’s FETTER & AIR presents the Mendelssohn Chorus of Philadelphia’s own words set to a haunting soundscape that explores each member’s innermost hopes, fears, dreams, and desires. The personal thoughts and interweaving arrangements create a raw expressiveness and intimacy, ultimately rendering a reminder of how our own stories echo within us.
Today, Dominick 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 his love for cooking influences his creative process, and how his latest release stands out from his other repertoire…
When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist?
I was a shy and introverted teenager, but when I joined the marching band and the chorus, my world changed. I realized that music had a powerful social energy. It could help people connect with each other across differences, and it could be a way of uniting people around a shared challenge or goal. Nothing helps people to deepen bonds greater than overcoming an obstacle together; music helped me to realize that, and I learned that being an artist was about doing, making, and connecting.
If you could make a living at any job in the world, what would that job be?
If I couldn’t be a musician, I think I would probably want to be a chef! I enjoy the creative and fire-filled energy of the kitchen, and cooking gives me the chance to have a more immediate outcome for the effort involved — dinner in 45 minutes! — as opposed to the longer process of writing a new piece of music or rehearsing for a concert. I also love how I can be inventive and improvisatory in the kitchen… I’m pretty sure some of this impetus translates into my creative work as a musician too!
If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I am a very active person… and by that I mean, I am always working. Even when I’m resting on the weekends, my mind is constantly in motion, thinking about solutions to problems in compositions I’m working on or organizing the rehearsal schedule for a project to come. What this means is that I’ve learned about myself that truly disconnecting is very hard for me, and so the idea of a creative retreat is almost provocatively problematic. So, I think I would want to travel somewhere where I could be inspired by the food, culture, music, and art without having to worry about any projects I’m working on. I’ve loved the time I’ve spent in Italy, and I’m going back for a project with KI Concerts and Mendelssohn Chorus of Philadelphia in June 2023 — as we kick off MCP’s 150th anniversary season — so I’m gonna say that for now!
What was your favorite musical moment on the album?
FETTER & AIR has been a truly magical journey of creative discovery and collaboration. In centering the hopes, dreams, anxieties, and worries of our Mendelssohn Chorus of Philadelphia family — in spoken word and in song — we turned our process of processing into a creative enterprise, reimagining what new music could be for a large, volunteer chorus like ourselves. To this question, my favorite moment is the moment where the anxieties/worries shift into optimism/hope: “We’ve come this far…” All of the voices of the chorus come through at once, in a powerful statement of joy. It still gets me even after dozens of listens.
What does this album mean to you personally?
It is such a personal album, because the nearly 70 singers of the Mendelssohn Chorus offered so freely their own personal stories. In a way, it’s a reflection of our collective grieving process for what we have lost since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In another way, it marks a truly new direction for myself as a creative artist. I’ve never worked with “found voices” before in my creative music, or allowed the improvised audio tracks of so many to influence the final recorded artwork. It’s a work that has my name on it, yes, but feels so much less like composition and so much more like a liturgical or therapeutic process. I don’t know if I’ve ever made anything like it before, or if I will ever be able to again. It stands apart from my other work, in the best of ways.
Is there a specific feeling that you would like communicated to audiences in this work?
What’s great about FETTER & AIR is that you can’t just perceive one specific feeling… you hear the voices and concerns of so many people… with every listen it’s a new experience. And every time I hear it, I hear a different person come through. So, no, there isn’t a specific feeling I want you to feel as you listen, but I do want you to be open to receiving the power of these singers words, diffuse and focused, separate but unified, created in isolation but heard as one. That is the essence of our art.