The man behind the baton: Chiarappa conducts with care


The most overwhelmingly beautiful moments music teacher Richard Chiarappa has experienced have been standing atop the rostrum, waving his baton excitedly through the air. When asked what he envisions while conducting and playing music, he immediately begins to express the feeling of the sounds in his heartbeat, so peaceful and moving.

“When you are standing in front of the orchestra, conducting becomes business,” Mr. Chiarappa said, “because you have to be aware of what section you have to direct your attention to. I am always thinking about what is coming next. However, that focus usually gets interrupted when there is beautiful music that can bring tears to my eyes. Depending on my mood and the piece itself, special movements can be extremely sentimental.” Mr. Chiarappa is a professionally trained musician, conductor, and educator that not many Kingswood Oxford students have had the pleasure of working alongside. He teaches both the KO Middle and Upper School orchestras twice a week, as well as the West Hartford Symphony Orchestra (WHSO).

His love for music started quite young. At the age of four, a pivotal moment that sparked his love for music occurred while he was at church. “I heard a choir singing from where I was standing up in a loft and just standing there, next to my mom and dad, I had never heard a live chorus up until that point,” he said. “Just to hear that sound, it was so powerful and touching for me.”

Mr. Chiarappa enjoys writing his own music. He smiles when asked about some of his own pieces. His personal favorite is “The Lincoln and Booth” piece. He has transcribed it for a 10-piece orchestra and has performed it with the WHSO.

Mr. Chiarappa’s passion for conducting began during college as a result of a class he took at the Hartt School of Music. His beloved conducting professor played a significant role in his decision to pursue conducting as a career. Two of the conducting techniques he learned from his professor were clarity and consistency. Both have played a significant role in the success of his performances. In 1979, Mr. Chiarappa received his first part-time job at KO as the chorus teacher and director of the jazz band. After working with these groups for 20 years, he was asked to take over and conduct the KO orchestra as well. At the time, it was one orchestra comprised of 18 students – 10 from the Upper School and eight from the Middle School.

“Orchestra at that time was a struggle,” Mr. Chiarappa said. “The Middle Schoolers were at a much lower level musically than the Upper Schoolers and so the trick was to keep the Upper Schoolers from getting bored and keep the Middle Schoolers from becoming frightened.” After two years of a joint orchestra, Mr. Chiarappa went to the KO administration and requested that the orchestra be split into two separate groups- one for the Middle School and one for the Upper School.

Since this would require a much larger time commitment, he decided to give up his jazz and chorus teaching positions. In addition to conducting the Upper and Middle School orchestras at KO, Mr. Chiarappa founded the WHSO in 2002 and serves as the conductor. This orchestra practices every Wednesday night from 7:30 p.m to 9:30 p.m at Sedgwick Middle School and holds five concerts a year. Unlike the KO orchestras, WHSO is made up of a variety of individuals of all ages.

His favorite part of WHSO is watching and hearing the players pull everything together for the final concert that they have worked hard on during long practices. He also loves the band presence in WHSO, which he hopes to one day implement in KO’s orchestras.

Despite the varying abilities in each of the three orchestras Mr. Chiarappa conducts, he approaches each group in the same manner when preparing for a concert. He tries to give the Middle and Upper school orchestras his best at all times, just as he does with the WHSO. “It is important for young musicians to see expression and expressive conducting versus just standing there letting a conductor move their baton,” he said.

Freshman David Shi is a former member of the KO Middle School orchestra and is a current member of the Upper School orchestra and WHSO. Since he had previous experience playing the cello before arriving at KO, he decided to join the Middle School orchestra. He immediately fell in love with the group and was excited for each rehearsal. When David entered ninth grade, he decided to continue playing in the Upper School orchestra. Soon after, Mr. Chiarappa approached him and asked if he would like to be a part of the WHSO.  “I love practicing and performing with the WHSO because not only does it give me the opportunity to pursue music at a higher level, but it also allows me to become better connected with the local community,” David said.

David also recognizes Mr. Chiarappa’s consistency in conducting. “Mr. Chiarappa’s conducting style is the same throughout each ensemble,” David said. “In the Middle and Upper School orchestras, he requires that we to come to each rehearsal prepared, focused, and ready to play, and he has the same standards for the WHSO.” Mr. Chiarappa holds his players to a high standard and expects them to act professionally while maintaining a certain level of discipline.

Mr. Chiarappa’s love for music is almost tangible. “He is a very effective and scintillating conductor,” David said when asked to describe Mr. Chiarappa as a conductor. “His method of teaching makes orchestra much more interesting and makes difficult musical concepts easier to comprehend no matter the level of the orchestra.”

Mr. Chiarappa is certainly an accomplished musician and conductor, inspiring his players to achieve their goals and work hard. Having been immersed in music since he was a child, Mr. Chiarappa hopes that music and conducting will remain an active part of his life in the years to come.