New Castle News

December 26, 2012

Wilmington teacher composes for PSO

Tory Irwin
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Music has the power to unite people, and for a local choir director, to make dreams come true.

Wilmington High School chorus teacher Jonny Priano is realizing his goals after being commissioned to write an a cappella choral piece for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. His new piece, “Sing as One”, will debut April 20 at the orchestra’s “Singing City” choral concert.

Priano, who previously has published three choral pieces with Alfred Publishing, calls the experience the high point of his career.

“Honestly, what I tell my friends and family is it’s all downhill from here,” he said. “I can’t imagine it getting any better, any bigger, than this event.”

The process began in June when Priano received an email from the orchestra that he originally mistook as a sales pitch for season tickets. When he opened the email, he found a message from Christine Hestwood, a choir director in Upper St. Clair and a PSO affiliate, who had seen his published work and knew him to be a local composer.

She had taken his composition “Search Me, O God” to orchestra director Manfred Honeck and was requesting more of his work to determine if the group might be interested in commissioning Priano to write a piece for the “Singing City” choral concert.

Priano was asked to work on something while they deliberated, so he began writing a song set to biblical text. At the end of the summer, Priano said, Honeck viewed the piece and liked it, but felt that the Christian text didn’t fit the mission statement of the concert.

“The concert is called Music of the Spirit, and the focus of this concert is music’s power to unite people regardless of religion, race, creed, nationality, that music has this power to unite everyone,” Priano said.

“Because of that, and already this concert is including a few religious pieces, mainly Christian pieces, he felt like he wanted something different.”

Priano called up his college friend Aaron Gottier, who wrote new lyrics more fitting to the concert’s theme.

Now, the music is in the hands of the 2,200-member choir that will be performing the song in April at the Peterson Events Center in Pittsburgh, and Priano couldn’t be happier.

“I’m a religious person and I believe that God is using the gifts that he’s given me to spread his word,” he said. “And even though this piece of music isn’t a religious piece in particular, I can still be a representative of him.

“So I can help to share that message, and maybe this will be a chance for me to introduce more of that kind of music into the world — because, really, the goal in composing isn’t to sit there and write a bunch of notes on a page, it’s to move people. It’s to have a message that you can spread throughout the world.”

Priano also believes that his platform as a choir director is important in sharing his message with students, and won’t be leaving anytime soon, even if more composing offers arise.

“I think I’m going to be staying in the same place, doing what I love and continuing to write, and praying that I get more opportunities like the one that I have.

“I’m just thankful for everything I have in my life. I don’t see any need to change any of that any time soon.”