I was born and raised in Massa, a town in the beautiful region of Tuscany, Italy. Enclosed between the Apuan Alps Mountains (famous all over the world for their prestigious white marble) and the Mediterranean Sea, Massa is a quiet, provincial town with 60 thousand inhabitants. In spite of our small population, it’s incredible the amount of talented people who play there. There are more than ten music schools, countless bands, singers, musicians and teachers. We even have the great Massa and Carrara Orchestra, who recently played with many popular Italian acts and big international names like Sting, Kylie Minogue, Andrea Bocelli, Mario Biondi, and Giovanni Allevi. Growing up in such a stimulating musical environment and collaborating with so many young artists was absolutely crucial for my artistic growth.
My road from Massa to Boston passes through another beautiful Italian city, Perugia, where I won a scholarship for Berklee during the Umbria Jazz Festival. There, I met Joey Blake for the first time. Donna McElroy invited him to one of her lessons where he introduced us to the circle songs and after that day, my conception of singing and using the voice forever changed. I was completely amazed, I felt an overwhelming sense of emotion and joy, almost spiritual like. It was as if I was coming in touch with my soul for the very first time.
As soon as I got to Boston I knew that I wanted to repeat that experience again, so I signed up for the Circle Song Choir course that Joey teaches at Berklee. The more I attended the class, the more I knew I wanted my Italian peers, singers and musicians, to try it too. I worked in music schools for years and I always thought that one of the things that those kids need the most is to expand their musical horizons, that today seem to be limited by talent shows and TV stars. I know Joey Blake is often in Italy, performing and holding clinics, and I was about to go there in June, gigging and promoting my musical project, Perfect Mark. After conferring with him, we decided to organize a circle song lesson in the best vocal academy in Massa, called Play the Voice. This school focuses on modern singing techniques from all genres and was founded and directed by Elena Cirillo. Joey was very happy to come and he even invited me to gig with him, which flattered me a great deal and left me with a combination of excitement and nervousness.
So the last week of June I was in my hometown with my guitarist from Berklee, Vinicius Da Silva, when Joey came to stay at my place for four days. Everything that followed surpassed my expectations. Staying with Joey was a learning experience that went beyond music. He is such a wise and deep person that after listening to his stories and talking with him extensively, you can’t help but absorb important lessons about life. His sense of humor, kindness and easy-going personality made everybody fall in love with him.
The clinic took place at the Play the Voice academy on June 25 with about thirty people in attendance. Going into it, everyone was a little nervous because they had first watched Joey perform with Bobby McFerrin on YouTube and the students were worried that he could ask for things than they were not able to do. However, Joey made them feel comfortable right away and they were all ready to give their best. After one hour of the usual body exercises, he went to the circle songs and that’s when the magic happened. Everybody started dancing and singing their hearts out, looking at each other with bright eyes, the same expression I had with the other guys of Umbria Jazz the first time. That’s exactly what I wanted to bring to them; an overwhelming sensation, that unique feeling where in an instant you realize that the voice is an instrument with infinite possibilities and keeps you wanting more. In fact, minutes after the end of the four hour clinic, people were already asking me, “When are we going to do this again? Is there a chance to do another lesson before he leaves?”
The chance to enjoy Joey’s talent came the following night, when he performed with Vinicius and I at The Golden Club, one of the best music venues in my hometown. Knowing Joey, I imagined that there would have been a lot of improvisation and we were kind of nervous about it. But as soon as we rehearsed the day before the show, we realized that it would be a special night. Even during rehearsal we were in awe listening to Joey’s incredible vocal skills and taste. He’s definitely a human orchestra. I had the honor to sing on one of his composition and to have him on one of my original songs, “Light and water,” which he loved. We mixed our musical worlds for a couple of hours and it was one of the best nights of my life. He pushed me to give my best and I enjoyed every second of it. The audience stayed from the first song to the last, paying attention in a way I’ve never seen before.
He left two days later and all the people who met him came to say goodbye and were truly sad, like if an actual friend was leaving and in a certain sense, that’s what it was. We know music bonds people in a special way and Joey definitely earned a place in the hearts of Massa’s musicians. A lot of them told me that after the clinic and the show, they have not only a different conception of their voice and the ways they can use it, but also a new perception of themselves as artists and of what they want to do in life. Some of them were even persuaded to try to audition for Berklee during the Umbria Jazz festival.
I can tell that all of my missions were accomplished. I wanted to show to those kids what it is like to come in contact with a true international artist. Someone who can really open your mind about singing and make you discover new musical treasures. I also wanted to give them the confidence that they sometimes lack. As I said at the beginning, my town is incredibly full of talent, but almost nobody really believes that they can actually do something with it. But one of the things I was the most happy about is that both Joey and Vinicius became part of my world for the whole time they stayed with me. It felt as if they naturally belonged there and this is what I was really hoping for. We were traveling around, meeting my friends and family, visiting the places where I grew up, eating in the typical restaurants, laughing, talking, learning, sharing each others lives, singing, joking, jamming, having fun and most of all, making music. Isn’t that what a musician’s life supposed to be?
Written by Marco Perfetti