Musolino brings deep roots to Italian Holiday Concert
Michela Musolino was born and raised in New Jersey to an Italian-American family. The adults around her would speak Italian when they wanted to have a conversation that did not include the children. This piqued Musolino’s interest.
“When I was a kid, I started to study Italian,” she said. “I said, ‘I’m going to learn what they are talking about.’”
She developed a love of language and literature and went on to receive a degree in French and Italian. Over the years, she traveled back and forth many times with her father to Italy, where she found herself drawn to the folk and roots music of Sicily. Today, Musolino travels throughout the United States and Italy to share her interpretations of those sounds.
On Sunday, Dec. 22, at 4 p.m., Musolino will perform with Rosa Tatuata in an Italian Holiday Concert at Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church in Shepherdstown, W.Va.
“We’ll be showcasing Christmas music from southern Italy and it’s really about Christmas,” she said, “not about a winter wonderland and not about reindeer. It’s about what really happened on Christmas.”
There will be songs referencing shepherds who kept watch on the night of Christ’s birth.
“That will be really cool in a town named ‘Shepherdstown,’” she said.
Musolino had found success in business and other endeavors outside of music when she came into her own as a world fusion artist “kind of by accident.”
“By chance, I encountered a folk group in New York City,” she said. “I was taking workshops in folk dancing when I was asked if I wanted to audition, and I started performing as part of this folk group.”
Musolino became increasingly enthralled with the music of her native land. She studied and researched it as she continued performing, often playing the traditional frame drum. One day when she visited her father, she learned that doing so was in her bloodline.
“I told him I was playing the frame drum. He said, ‘That’s your tradition. That’s what women do,’” Musolino said. “My dad did not talk this way — ‘men do this, women do that.’ What he meant was, ‘In your tradition in Sicily, women drum.’ My grandmother and my great grandmother had been known in Sicily for folk dancing and for drumming.”
Her grandmother had actually brought a frame drum with her to the United States when she came from Italy, Musolino learned.
Her research and study of the music of southern Italy led her to connect with others who shared her passion. For about four years, she has played along with Phil Passantino, Charlie Rutan and Jeffrey Panettieri as Rosa Tatuata. Named after the Tennessee Williams play about raucous life in a Sicilian American neighborhood, the group plays traditional instruments including the tamburro, a Sicilian frame drum; the marranzanu or jaw harp; the brogna, a conch shell; the friscalettu or reed flute; and the zampogna, which are Italian bagpipes.
Musolino’s background in languages enhances her ability to arrange and express the organic music of Sicily.
“It worked out well because I use the languages I have to translate the songs,” she said. “This journey has been like a ship that takes me to all these different places and experiences. If I was working in an office somewhere, I wouldn’t have met these people and I wouldn’t have this life. I’ve gotten to a point where I can’t imagine anything else.”
Musolino has performed at the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center and at St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery in New York City. Her debut CD, “Songs of Trinacria,” was recorded both in New York and in Rome, Italy and has been played on programs of the British Broadcasting Corporation and National Public Radio.
While the usual fare of Rosa Tatuata is a mix of ballads and dance tunes, the holiday concert will focus on seasonal favorites of Sicily.
“These aren’t the familiar Christmas songs one would expect to hear, simply being sung in Italian. These ancient carols are exclusively Sicilian and pre-date many common traditions,” Musolino said. “They convey the universal spirit of the season.”
She is mindful “that this music wants to be heard.”
“It’s just using me as a way to get to the people,” she said.
Musolino believes that folk music too, despite its origins, is universal.
“Yes, you connect with things in your background, but real folk music touches everybody. It has elements of humanity that we all plug into,” she said. “It’s universal in the true sense of really being together. It’s a beautiful feeling.”
At the end of the concert, she hopes that everyone who attends will feel a sense of connection.
“There is not necessarily any connection among the people in the audience before they come in, but that idea is something we try to keep at the forefront,” she said. “What can I do to get that feeling out through this music? How can I bring it out in a way so that everybody loves it as much as I do?”
If you go...
What: Italian Holiday Concert with Rosa Tatuata
When: Sunday, Dec. 22, at 4 p.m.
Where: Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, 100 W. Washington St, Shepherdstown, W.Va.
Cost: Advance tickets $20 adults, $18 seniors, $15 members and $10 students/children. At the door - $25 adults, $22 seniors, $20 members and $10 students/children.
Contact: Go to Italian Holiday Concert with Rosa Tatuata or to Rosa Tatuata on Facebook, or visit michelamusolino.com online.