Celebrating 50 Seasons of Music, Dance, Memories and More
Carmon DeLeone leads a group of musicians in Cincinnati Ballet’s Studio at the College-Conservatory of Music as an ad hoc recording studio for his adaptation of Lester Horton’s score for “Face of Violence”. Photo by Sandy Underwood, 1973
Photography provided by Cincinnati Ballet
When Carmon DeLeone observed his 25th season as Music Director for Cincinnati Ballet, much excitement ensued. Hardy congratulations and best wishes on reaching such an impressive anniversary abounded. He was presented with a beautiful set of commemorative cufflinks.
“I thought, my gosh, no time has passed whatsoever. If it turns out to be 50 seasons, we can really celebrate,” DeLeone recalls. “Each time I hear, ‘Congratulations on your 50th anniversary!’ it’s hard to believe. But here it is. I still feel like the years have breezed by.”
While he’s happy to wax nostalgic about a half century of wonderful memories, DeLeone’s sights are clearly set on the immediate future. “They’re keeping me quite busy,” he says with a chuckle.
Quite busy, indeed.
Cincinnati Ballet announced its 2018-2019 season as a celebration of the gifted and affably spirited Music Director’s iconic anniversary, offering more performances than ever before. The renowned dance company’s ambitious programming schedule includes the return of the full-length family favorite, “Peter Pan,” composed by DeLeone, in October at Music Hall. “Bold Moves,” the season’s energetic double-bill closer slated for late April at Procter & Gamble Hall, Aronoff Center, features the exciting world premiere of Cincinnati Ballet Artistic Director Victoria Morgan’s “Dancing to Oz,” with DeLeone conducting the original score he is writing this summer.
Throughout the months between “Peter Pan” and “Dancing to Oz” are Cincinnati’s Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty,” “The Nutcracker” and “Rite of Spring.” “If they wanted me to relax in my 50th year, it’s not happening,” DeLeone jokes.
“For 50 years, we have had the best maestro any ballet company could hope for,” says Morgan, who has served as the ballet’s Artistic Director for just over two decades. “I’ve been working with Carmon almost half of his time here, and it’s been so gratifying. He’s exceptional. I don’t know one person who works with him – our dancers, our staff, our crew, our musicians – who doesn’t adore Carmon. They honestly do. And for good reason.”
It’s a true pleasure to have a Music Director of DeLeone’s magnitude and talent creating the music for her world premiere, Morgan says. He shows a unique sensitivity to and appreciation for musical integrity, and he possesses an innate sense of timing and transition. He knows the dancers, how they move and how the score he composes must accommodate each accordingly.
“Some dancers move like lightening, others are more like a glass of delicious white wine, sipped slowly,” Morgan adds. “Carmon is so finely tuned in to that. He can duplicate a beat that, while the average listener might not hear the difference, it can greatly affect a dancer’s ability to execute a step. Carmon understands the subtlety; he always knows what we need and how far he can push it while preserving artistic integrity.”
It might sound complicated being the Music Director of a ballet, but it’s the kind of intricate creative challenge DeLeone embraces. His inspiration?
“It comes from the dancers and the amazing work they do each day,” he says. “Ballet is an art that requires such dedication. They give their entire souls, their entire bodies, to this discipline knowing they won’t have a 50-year career as a dancer. And that makes me feel like I am never doing enough. I am just happy to be a witness to their incredible work. I’m in the best seat for every performance. I’m very fortunate to have been placed in this situation. It’s a wonderful experience.”
Burning the Midnight Oil
DeLeone is no stranger to composing major musical scores in a matter of only a few months.
It was back in the early 90s that DeLeone created his prized “Peter Pan” score for Cincinnati Ballet, performed here for the first time 25 years ago. He thought he was going to have two summers to work on it, he recalls, planning to first compose the music and then create the orchestrations. But writing musical scores, like other things in life, doesn’t always go as planned. He ended up having to write it between Memorial Day and Labor Day 1994. He’d start working each night after David Letterman went off the air and didn’t stop till dawn. He burned a lot of midnight oil and wore down a lot of pencils.
“Ideas just come to me then,” DeLeone says, of his after-midnight writing routine. Or sometimes a melody suddenly materializes while he’s simply running errands. “There was one time when I was just driving my car – a long time before I started writing “Peter Pan” – and this melody came into my brain. I’m still not sure from where. I pulled into the parking lot of Dillard’s in Kenwood and took a sheet of regular tablet paper and scribbled a few lines. By golly, it wound up in the ballet, when Wendy is shot down out of the sky by the Lost Boys and Tinkerbell and the others bring her back to life. It is that theme that remains in the piece.
“So, it all started in Dillard‘s parking lot,” he laughs. I’m hoping lights like that will appear and Lady Muse will land on my shoulder a couple times this summer. I’ll need all the help I can get.”
Obviously, unlike Tinkerbell’s magic pixie dust, it takes more than a pinch of DeLeone’s musical moxie to conjure up the creativity required for composing a ballet score the likes of “Peter Pan.” Nevertheless, from-dark-of-night-to-light-of-day repeatedly proves to be the perfect work regimen for the multi-talented maestro. It’s what produced his fantastic music that accompanies all the challenging flying sections and Captain Hook’s dancing with crocodiles in “Peter Pan.”
“And, here we go again! I’m picking up the pencil and heading for the computer to try to create another ballet,” he observes, sounding sincerely astonished that he is once more blessed with such professional good fortune. “I’m excited and eager to get into the heart of Dancing to Oz.”
DeLeone is honored and flattered when people ask him to write music for a ballet because he was never officially trained as a composer. “I’ve just done a lot of work in that area,” he says. “I’m happy for the success. I realize how fortunate I have been, and I am so very appreciative of those folks who appreciate my work. Cincinnati has been a blessing for my career.”
Once Upon a Time
DeLeone, who grew up in Ravenna, Ohio, arrived in Cincinnati fresh out of high school via a French horn scholarship to the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). He credits the late Eleanor Allen, then Director of CCM’s Preparatory and Continuing Education division, for pointing him on the path that led him to where he is today.
“She could charm the skin off a banana,” says the warm and witty maestro. “She is the reason this all started for me. She was wonderful, talked me into coming to Cincinnati. Without Eleanor, I would not be in Cincinnati or had all the wonderful opportunities I’ve had.”
One of DeLeone’s first conducting jobs was for the Broadway musical, “Bye Bye Birdie,” performed at the University of Cincinnati. It was directed by the star of the show, Lee Roy Reams, a musical theatre actor from Covington, Kentucky.
“He turned out to be a sublime dancer,” DeLeone recalls. “So right away I had that experience with a pro, and I think he felt I was a pretty good conductor, not just for a Broadway musical, but for dance itself, because there is quite a bit of dancing in that particular piece. That carried on for a bit, and after Lee Roy left the University of Cincinnati, he went to the West Coast where he was a dancer working with many great stars like Mitzi Gaynor and others, but primarily Juliet Prowse, an excellent dancer.”
Evidently, Prowse was not happy with the person conducting her show, so Reams told her about DeLeone – “this kid back in Cincinnati” – that he thought would be terrific instead.
“My first professional job, then, was conducting for Juliet Prowse,” DeLeone continues. “Unbeknownst to me, she apparently thought I had a talent for memory as far as tempos are concerned. She was very happy with my work and we had a great time working together. It was a terrific experience.”
And DeLeone’s career continued to grow from there.
“After that, I got the job as Assistant Conductor with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra,” he says. “During one of my first assignments, in 1968 or ’69, the Cincinnati Ballet was a guest of the symphony orchestra for one of its programs, so that’s how the association began. David McLain, the Ballet’s Artistic Director at that time, said after a performance that he enjoyed my work with the dancers, and my ability to remember tempos and nuances. I didn’t study that at all. Maybe it was born into me a little bit. Anyway, he asked me to be his Music Director. And that was 50 years ago.”
To Oz? To Oz!
DeLeone says if he can get a minute or a minute and a half of music composed in five to seven hours, he’s very happy. At the time of this interview, he had started on a portion of the 45 minutes of music required for “Dancing to Oz.” He worked five hours to pencil out 29 seconds of music. Less than half a minute.
“It’s going to be a summer of hard labor,” he adds, chuckling. The score must be ready to go when the dancers return in early August as they get ready for the season. Hence, the rest of the summer will find the loveable maestro composing to that familiar all-night beat – a bit of a variation on one’s normal circadian rhythm. “But I don’t want to paint too dismal a picture because it’s so exciting at the same time. It’ll happen.”
DeLeone and Morgan are collaborating all summer long, in person, by Skype, through email and with the assistance of computerized musical notation technology.
“I’m just a night owl when I’m working on a project like this,” DeLeone adds. “I’ve been one all my life. It just seems that’s the best time to begin working, when the helter-skelter busyness of the day dissipates at midnight or 1 a.m. From the recent medical articles I’ve read, it’s not the best lifestyle. But all my life, it’s all my body knows.”
And, after 50 successful years as Music Director for Cincinnati Ballet, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love the ballet company. It means so much to me,” DeLeone says. “This tenure is a testament to our mutual admiration.”
Accolades & Accomplishments
As Carmon DeLeone celebrates his 50th season as Cincinnati Ballet’s Music Director, it is only fitting to take a glimpse at some of his other many professional accomplishments since he first raised his conductor’s baton a half century ago.
DeLeone serves as Conductor Laureate of both The Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra and The Middletown Symphony. He is experienced in both the classics and jazz, leading and playing drums and the French horn with his own Studio Big Band. He made his New York conducting debut with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for their season opening gala performance of “Carmina Burana” and “Revelations” at New York’s City Center, made his Carnegie Hall debut with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and a year later hosted and conducted its Family Concert Series. He has also conducted regular performances with the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra in Europe. It was under DeLeone’s leadership that the Illinois Philharmonic was named the 1992 “Illinois Orchestra of the Year.” He also hosts an extremely popular weekly radio program, Sunday Morning Music Hall.
He received his bachelor’s in music, bachelor’s in science, and master’s in music degrees from Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), later serving there as adjunct assistant professor of opera and musical theatre. It was during that tenure that he conducted productions of “Prince Igor,” “La Cenerentola,” “Gianni Schicchi,” “The Crucible,” “La Calisto” (American premiere) and “The Secret Marriage.” He was later presented with CCM’s “Distinguished Alumni Award.” DeLeone also conducted the world premiere and nationally televised production of Jon Eaton’s children’s opera, “The Lion and Androcles.” He is also a proud past recipient of Cincinnati’s prestigious Post-Corbett Award for excellence in the arts.
During his 12-year tenure as Assistant and later, Resident Conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, DeLeone served on its staff with beloved music directors Max Rudolph, Thomas Schippers, Walter Susskind and Erich Kunzel. As a composer, he premiered his “Fanfare, Funk and Fandago (An American Dance Set),” and is well known for his original scores for the Cincinnati Ballet’s production of “The Princess and the Pea” and “Peter Pan.”
Cincinnati Ballet is located at 1555 Central Parkway, Cincinnati, OH 45214. For more information, visit www.cballet.com.