By PHYL NEWBECK
Damon Ferrante describes his musical background as Jekyll and Hyde.
At the age of 6, he began studying classical piano.
Years later, an uncle who was a mechanic brought over an amplifier and a guitar that was in two pieces.
“I took screws and duct tape, strung it up, tried to get it in tune and started playing Jimi Hendrix with friends,” Ferrante said. “I got into electric guitar and rock and some jazz. I followed both those paths for a while.”
Now 47, Ferrante runs Steeplechase Arts from the Charlotte home where he and his wife Barbara have lived since 2014. He describes Steeplechase as a collaborative music production company which works with dancers, filmmakers, poets and visual artists.
Ferrante believes rock and roll has influenced his classic music composition while composers such as Beethoven, Liszt and Chopin helped inspire his work on the electric guitar.
Ferrante was a music major at Columbia University and went to graduate school at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.
“While I’m grateful for the formal training,” he said, “I probably learned the most through performance and collaboration and being out in the world and making music.”
Ferrante has performed across the globe at venues as far away as Greece, Italy, Spain and China.
His repertoire has expanded from playing music to composing, teaching and publishing. He has written two operas. One, a lyric opera called “Jefferson and Poe,” portrays two sets of relationships. The other is a comic opera about human cloning called “Super Double Lite.”
Ferrante is working on a third opera which he hopes to finish in 2020. He gets his musical inspiration from a variety of sources and has credited a Calder sculpture and a Miro painting for providing motivation for compositions.
Ferrante founded Steeplechase Arts in 2003 while he was in graduate school. He had written a scene for his first opera, “Super Double Lite,” and a theater director came to the performance and asked him to present it the following season. Ferrante had not yet completed the piece, but the theater company said they would provide funding if he would audition the singers and handle the logistics.
A bit of research and a lot of advice led Ferrante to establish an LLC to undertake the work.
The opera debuted at Symphony Space in Manhattan and was well-received.
“I thought it would be a once in a lifetime experience but people started asking me what the next project was,” he said.
From 2008 to 2012, Ferrante taught music at Seton Hall and Montclair State Universities in New Jersey.
“I probably learned more from my students than they learned from me,” he said.
During his teaching years, he said he decided to add publishing to the Steeplechase repertoire and created how-to books for playing both piano and guitar. He is currently working on volumes about the history of music and instruments.
A current collaboration involves Jody Gladding of Calais who does visual poetry. Although Steeplechase works with traditional musicians in the form of piano recitals, trios or quartets, the majority of the company’s work is with artists from other fields.
“This kind of collaboration, which runs back and forth from the performers to the audience members and to the composer, creates a unique type of excitement and connectedness,” Ferrante said. “When it’s working, it’s an electric feeling and it’s a moment we’re all in together.”