Leonardo Ciampa has long been a well-respected organist, pianist, and composer in the musical scene of Greater Boston. He is the artistic director of organ concerts at MIT and the founding director of the MetroWest Choral Artists. As a concert organist, he has performed in Italy, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, but he is particularly admired in Italy, where he has played in many festivals. Maria Ferrante, for many years one of the most well-known sopranos in the Worcester area, has collaborated frequently with Ciampa. “Leonardo is an original, and that makes him interesting. He sees. I mean, he sees the truth in things that most of us miss. And he is not afraid. It comes out in his compositions and in his humor. He is on a higher vibration than most of us, and he lights up a room. Nothing is static with him; he is always creating and learning and bringing all that to those around him.”
Ciampa was born in 1971 in East Boston. His first job as an organist was at the First Baptist Church in Revere, when he was only 15 years old. As he recalls, “From 1986 to 2012, between the ages of 15 and 41, I worked without interruption as a Music Director at various churches of all different denominations. I needed a break. It would be a mistake to think that one can avoid the politics of the world by retreating to the sanctuary of the church. At many churches, the politics are worse than the politics in Washington!” Ciampa started doing substitute work. “I enjoyed playing the field. Besides the freedom, it was very healthy to see all different churches, each with a totally different dynamic. And even if I sensed something unhealthy, I could walk out the door, go into my car, and by the time I turned on the ignition, it was all forgotten. So I was not exactly eager to find a permanent job.”
One of the churches where Ciampa substituted was Trinity Episcopal in Shrewsbury. “This was December of 2013. Trinity’s very wonderful pastor, the Rev. Dr. Erin Kirby, spoke to me. And in the gentlest, most respectful way, she invited me to spend a whole season at Trinity. Her genuineness disarmed me. I couldn’t say no. So it was she who lured me back into more serious church work. My four months with her and with that wonderful congregation was a great, great experience. Then that ended, and I was back to playing the field.”
One day, Ciampa’s wife happened to see on Craig’s List that the Unitarian Church in Westborough was looking for a Music Director. “There was nothing about it that excited me,” admits Ciampa. “But I was open to meeting with them.”
Little did Ciampa know that this was the home parish of the author and New York Times columnist Craig R. Whitney. In his book, “All the Stops,” Whitney devotes several pages to the church’s 1895 Ryder organ, which he often played in his youth. In the 1960s, the church purchased an Allen electronic organ, whose speakers were placed inside the organ. Unfortunately, much pipework had to be removed to make room for them. “I met with the committee, “says Ciampa, “and they told me about the Ryder organ. They proudly mentioned that they had decided to spend $5,000 toward getting it playing again. I nodded my head politely. But I thought to myself, ‘$5,000? What’s that going to accomplish?’ This is an organ which today would cost maybe $350,000 to build. Then I took a peek inside the organ and was horrified. So much was missing, and there was no way to know if it still existed. Suffice it to say, I had no hope of ever hearing the Ryder. I was content to play the Chickering grand piano. And I took the job expecting that that’s what I’d be playing.”
Ciampa underestimated the determination of several parishioners, and of organ technician Alex Belair. To everyone’s surprise, all of the pipes and mechanism were still extant. Each pipe had been carefully preserved in newspaper. Belair worked day and night, reinstalling the organ and tuning each pipe. He finished on August 15th at midnight. The next day, Ciampa and some members of the church went to see to organ. As Ciampa reported on Facebook, “Tonight I experienced something of an organ resurrection. … One week and $5,000 later, the organ plays! All of it! And in tune! A group of us gathered at the church this evening. Folks were emotional. Some had never heard the instrument. Others hadn’t heard it in 50 years. And I? I was, of course, happy to witness the death of an Allen but, more importantly, the rebirth of a Ryder. When you pull the Great Open Diapason and play a few notes, you immediately remember that THAT SOUND is what it’s all about. That’s why we organists persist. What a great evening, one which says much about the power that music holds over the human spirit.”
Ciampa lives in Natick with his wife Jeanette McGlamery, an attorney. He is the father of four boys, ranging in age from 10 to 2.