Arts Lifestyle

West Hartford Maestro Composing His Next Act

Now retired from teaching, Richard Chiarappa is focusing on marketing this own original work. Courtesy photo

Retirement for Richard Chiarappa means tuning into his own music.

By Tracey Weiss

After 44 years of teaching music at Kingswood Oxford School, Richard Chiarappa has retired from the position, and is now looking forward to focusing on new projects.

Still, it’s bittersweet for the town resident, who is also known to many as the co-founder and conductor of the West Hartford Symphony Orchestra (WHSO).

Richard Chiarappa, co-founder and conductor of the West Hartford Symphony Orchestra. Courtesy photo

“I’ve been a friend of the young and old,” Chiarappa said. “I became a tree on campus.”

Following what he called a “first class retirement” sendoff, he then “celebrated with successful hernia surgery” and is now back on his feet just in time to stand and conduct for the WHSO this fall. He has no intention of retiring from that role.

In addition to the symphony, he will focus on his own work – and marketing his original music. “I’ve written so much music in my life,” he said. “Now I’m going to sit back and promote it as much as I can.”

That includes letting the world know about the more than 30 compositions he has written that are for sale on JWPepper.com. J.W. Pepper is a 147-year-old seller of sheet music.

Chiarappa is also busy with the one-act “operical” (musical meets opera) that he wrote called “The Red Disk,” which made its live premiere at the Mark Twain House on Aug. 20. Based on one of Mark Twain’s little known short stories called Death Disk, it is also a dark story that plays off an historic event.

Richard Chiarappa composed and conducted “The Red Disco” which made its live premiere at the Mark Twain House on Aug. 20. Courtesy image

The short story was published in 1902 in Harper’s Bazaar. According to an introduction to the story by Barbara Schmidt on twainquotes.com, “Mark Twain’s Death Disk was inspired by the historical account of the execution of Colonel John Poyer of Pembroke, Wales on April 21, 1649. A small child was given the responsibility of selecting which of three rebel leaders of a civil uprising would receive a death penalty. The unfortunate fate was given to Poyer who was shot in front of a large crowd at Covent Garden. In 1883 Twain read about the child’s role in the execution … In his personal notebook, Twain’s imagination led him to remark, “By dramatic accident it could have been his own child.”

“What makes it interesting that the innocent child they pick is the daughter of the one of the three soldiers,” Chiarappa said. “She happens to be the first child they find in the streets. She doesn’t know her father is one of the men she has to pick, and she also doesn’t know why she is picking one man. She thinks it’s for good reasons.”

Chiarappa employed an eighth-grader to sing the part of the child, as well as three performers – including media personality Ray Hardman as the doomed soldier and Kate Callahan-Hardman, his wife, as the mother/wife. He also had a five-string quartet, percussionist, and pianist perform.

Chiarappa said he loves conducting as much as he loves composing.

“Rich is always super excited and super engaged in music,” said Todd Millen. He is Kingswood Oxford’s Band Director and the former director of the school’s Creative Arts Department, and has known and worked with Chiarappa, who he also calls a friend, for years. “His absolute love of music comes out of every pore.”

To this day, Chiarappa said, “the sounds of music just bring me to another plain. I thought, what would it be like to stand in front of all of those sounds.”

He went on to study orchestral conducting, choral conducting, and composition at The Hartt School. He did advanced study in conducting workshops under the guidance of renowned instructors Maestros Gustav Meier and Raymond Harvey.

Being a conductor, he said, means “exuding how we fell about a piece. You exude with gestures. The right hand is the beat-keeper and the left hand is for sound: strong, gentle, romantic. That speaks to the orchestra, and they reflect that in their playing.

Those gestures are governed by what the music is saying. We recreate the music and stay true to the composer. We’ve got a job to do. We are the timekeepers. We make a strong musical point, an exciting moment.”

Which is why, he said, “I always tell kids, go out and find what you love to do. Give it your heart.”

Which is why he is happy that his music is available to perform. “Once I’m gone, I’m happy knowing my music will live on after me,” he said.

And all of that, concluded Chiarappa, “should keep me busy.”

His wife, Martha Chiarappa, isn’t so sure. “He will always come up with something new,” she said.

West Hartford Symphony Orchestra carries on

Chiarappa and Jim Killian, a town resident and businessman, founded the West Hartford Symphony Orchestra in 2001. Now, in its 21st season, the WHSO performs classical and POPS concerts. Some of the special annual shows include a POPS concert on Armed Forces Day, a seasonal holiday show, an annual concert for third grade students, a Palm Sunday concert in April, and for the first time this year, a Halloween show.

“The orchestra is doing the first ever Halloween concert on Oct. 29 at 3 p.m. at Roberts Theater at Kingswood Oxford,” he said. “We want everyone to come in costume. We’re calling it ‘Spooky Halloween Costume Concert.’ We’ll do legitimate classical music and scary stuff too.”

A version of this story was previously published in the September 2023 issue of West Hartford LIFE.

Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford! Click the blue button below to become a supporter of We-Ha.com and our efforts to continue producing quality journalism.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the author


We-Ha.com is the place to go for the latest information about West Hartford – a town that "has it all"! We-Ha.com is part of and proud of our community, and we bring a hyperlocal focus to news and features about the people, schools, businesses, real estate, sports, restaurants, charitable events, arts, and more. Contact us at: [email protected] or [email protected].

Leave a Comment

Translate »