An incredibly fun conversation with Dr. Dominick DiOrio of Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. We get off on some fun tangents including video games, cooking, and insecurities. He’s certainly a rising star in the choral world, so take some advice from a young successful conductor.
Conductor and composer Dominick DiOrio was recently named the 2014 winner of The American Prize in Composition (professional choral division) with the judges saying “his depth of vision, mastery of compositional technique, and unique style set him in a category by himself.”
DiOrio is assistant professor of choral conducting at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where he directs NOTUS: IU Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, an auditioned chorus specializing in music of the last fifty years. Under his leadership, NOTUS has performed at both regional and national conferences of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) and as an invited ensemble on the Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) Artist Series at Carnegie Hall. He mentors graduate choral conducting majors and also teaches courses in score reading, choral literature, and undergraduate and graduate conducting. He was named a recipient of the 2014-2015 Outstanding Junior Faculty Award–IU Bloomington’s highest honor for tenure-track faculty.
Called “a forward-thinking young composer filled with new ideas, ready to tackle anything,” DiOrio was named Best Composer 2011 by HoustonPress for Klytemnestra, his chamber opera with Divergence Vocal Theater and librettist Misha Penton. His second opera, The Little Blue One with librettist Meghan Guidry, had its premiere in April 2014 in Boston with Juventas New Music Ensemble and musical director Lidiya Yankovskaya. Of the opera, the Boston Examiner wrote, “The Little Blue One defies the widespread notion that contemporary classical music is inaccessible; DiOrio’s score abounds with gorgeous lyricism, supported by compelling harmony.” He has been awarded prizes in composition from ASCAP and ACDA, among many others. His work is published with Alliance, Boosey & Hawkes, Carl Fischer, Éditions à Couer-Joie, Edition Peters, G. Schirmer, Lorenz, Mark Foster, Oxford and Santa Barbara.
DiOrio earned the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in conducting from the Yale School of Music, studying with Marguerite Brooks, Simon Carrington and Jeffrey Douma. His DMA research on Krzysztof Penderecki’s St. Luke Passion is published in The Choral Scholar. He also earned the MMA and MM in conducting from Yale and the BM in composition summa cum laude from Ithaca College, where he studied with Gregory Woodward, Dana Wilson and Janet Galván. He currently serves as Treasurer on the Executive Board for the National Collegiate Choral Organization (NCCO), as a member of the Board of Directors for Chorus America, and on advisory boards for the Choral Arts Initiative, the Princeton Pro Musica, and the Young New Yorker’s Chorus (YNYC).
The moment you knew you’d dedicate your life to music
Dominick grew up studying piano but eventually discovered that he enjoyed writing music as much as he enjoyed performing it. He decided to take his life in that direction and began to apply to schools for that purpose. A decade or so later, he finds that life as a composer AND conductor feeds both sides of his personality.
Worst musical moment
Dominick was embarrassed that – throughout his first six years of music education at Ithaca and then Yale – he wasn’t accepted to the top choir at either university. Determined to succeed during year 7, he poured everything he had into this goal, working at improving his vocal musicianship and becoming a better sight-reader. His hard work paid off and he was accepted to the highest-ranking choir at Yale during his last year of study there.
The proudest musical moment
The proudest musical moment in Dominick’s life happened last year at the Texas ACDA conference. The middle school honors chorus, under the direction of Andrea Ramsey, was singing a newly-commissioned piece by Dominick, entitled An Irish Blessing. (Published by Carl Fischer, Inc.) Ramsey turned the podium over to the composer for the performance and it was one of the high points of Dominick’s career. He wept through the performance, touched by the lovely young voices singing his composition
Dominick believes his forte is his combined work as a composer-conductor, which gives him a different kind of insight into the works he performs with his choir. He looks at the music he chooses as a composer would like at each piece, which impacts how he rehearses with his choirs.
This composer outlook Dominick possesses also helps determine which pieces he chooses to perform. He considers the following questions: Is the composer giving something exciting to the performer? Does the piece have something to say? Is the text interesting or visceral? Is the composition captivating and well-crafted for all voice parts? Is it “cool”??
Dominick believes that the “maestro mentality” is not necessary to be a good conductor. It’s okay not to be perfect but, instead, it’s best to just be a human being making music. He attributes success to three things: 1. Being really good at what you do; 2. Knowing lots of people – networking, attending conferences, introducing yourself to people in your field you don’t know; and 3. Being self-aware, which involves knowing your own body and its rhythms, how and when you work best, and when it’s time to take a break. Dominick notes that he is sure to take time every week to do something for himself outside of the world of music, including walking, binge TV watching, playing video games, and cooking for and entertaining friends and family.
Most excited about right now
Dominick is excited about an upcoming work he’s doing with his IU choir, NOTUS. It’s a piece called In Flight by John Gibson. During this very contemporary work, the choir will use hand-held devices to manipulate their voices.
Favorite Concert Attended
Dominick enjoys any concert that is well-performed by people who care about what they’re performing.