By Antonio Spadaro S.J.

Christian Cappelluti, or Chris Cappell as he chose to be called as a stage-name, is a unique figure of a young musician. He was born in 1975, and left this world in August 1998 when he was barely 23 years old. It was a brief life, but one that was full, full to overflowing even, marked by a rooted passion for creativity and artistic expression, especially in music. Deep traces of this creative experience remain to us, made up of personal writings and studies, lyrical texts, songsand more or less systematic recordings.
Christian was a musician of great quality, and his message is emerging strongly, like a drum-beat among those who knew him personally through his songs. He wrote in English, his preferred language. The present volume is in two languages, both to provide access to the original texts and at the same time to offer the possibility of a translation which will be a guide and a help, if and when this is necessary.

Christian always recognised that he was lucky in having a childhood full of possibilities – of gifts, friends, games and fantasies. He wrote “When I was a child I had a dream: to possess a super musical ear. And in the piece “Ain’t a loser”, written in 1989 when he was 14, “now I know my way is the music. Music above everything and beyond every desire: a real passion.

Katy and The Perfect Pitch

Christian began playing the guitar when he was eight. And it happened by chance. He’d had a guitar as a present from his father and mother, Adriana and Franco, for Christmas. He remembered that he was a bit disappointed because he didn’t know what to do with it; he would rather have had a game or a bicycle. And he was too taken up with “school, swimming and catechism” to attend a music school. But his uncle Aldo started to play that guitar one day, and little by little Christian learned from him. He christened the guitar Katy. Later on, his real teacher was an eighteen-year old girl from his parish. And finally, a young guitarist gave him a hand as well.
At fourteen, he had started a band with one of his friends, Ivano Pagano (The Promise). He started to study jazz harmony and to arrange and record his own pieces with a multi-track system (so far we’ve written two songs… we’ve put heart and soul into recording them).

At sixteen he studied composition at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and he began to take an interest in musical production and sound engineering. Here he met up with the activity of David L.Burge, the man who devised courses for training the “absolute ear”, the ear which would recognise sounds instantly.

Christian had a unique experience: in the final round of a musical competition (his band took second place) he had met the guitarist of the group which came first. This young man was capable of reproducing and improvising anything emitted by the radio without even looking at the strings of the guitar, Christian wrote, astonished, describing this as an incredible experience. From that moment onward he decided that he must try to acquire this abillity, which he felt he didn’t possess naturally.

Despite the fact that he was discouraged by many people who believed that the ability was exclusively innate and that it was therefore impossible to acquire it, he experimented with Burge’s method, and practised this capacity during four semesters in the USA, under the guidance of Peter Kairoff. After high school, he had in fact enrolled in one of America’s most prestigious universitiesWake Forest University in North Carolina, where he took courses in Business Studies and Music.

His university career was brilliant: he gained various honours such as being on the Dean’s List every semester, admission to the  Golden Key National Honor Society (to which Presidents Reagan and Clinton were previously admitted), was admitted to Phi Beta Kappa and to Beta Kappa Sigma (specialising in the economic sector). He obtained the Jones Holder Business Scholarship, the Wall Street Journal Award, and the Lura Baker Paden Prize for Highest Achievement in Business.
Finally he took his degree “Summa cum laude”. His commitment to study was always combined with his passion for music. Studying to try and acquire the absolute ear led him to devise his own teaching method, with the aim of perfecting Burge’s method. He wrote:

“Just as everyone is able to recognise the various colours in a painting, the musician with the absolute ear knows what notes are being played at the precise moment in which he hears them, without looking at the instrument which is playing them”.

Like Kandinsky

Christian’s ideas here have some similarity to the theories of W.Kandinsky, and his principle of “interior necessity”. For the Russian painter, colour in general is a means of directly influencing the soul: colour is the keyboard, the eye is the hammer of the piano; the soul is a piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which, when it touches one key or another, makes the soul vibrate. The experiental attitude from which the creative journey begins, therefore, is the capacity to know that one is ready to listen the phenomenon.

The convinction of a communication of all aspects of reality at a spiritual level led Kandinsky to adopt a perceptive attitude capable of pinpointing an expressive nucleus common to all things, over and beyond the distinctions of phenomena. It is no longer the object in itself which attracts the perceptive attention of the painter, but its interior resonance, capable of entering directly into communication with the creative sensibility of the artist. Christian shows a similar sensibility, both because he uses the image of colour for the recognition of sound, and because, as we shall see, his representation of reality is always the product of an interior resonance which transfigures, offers meaning, fills what the words and the notes of his songs express with previously unknown connotations.

He was conscious very early on of this expressive talent, and at 19 years old he was able already to write with frankness and assurance:

“Music is definitely the form of art through which I can best express myself, and writing songs is the most gratifying experience I’ve ever known […] Now I consider my songs the most precious things I have […] After hearing the last notes of one of my songs, I open my eyes slowly and find I am gazing at something which rapidly fills me with a sense of hidden joy and nostalgia”.

Once again, the relationship between sound and vision seems strong, and searches in the imaginary world capable of evoking complex and subtle emotions of joy and nostalgia, which have the savour of a sensibilised interior world, capable of strong resonance.

His Collaboration with Mina

At twenty, Christian began his collaboration with Mina. In fact he collaborated with her in 1995 in her double CD, Pappa di Latte, composing the english version of When You Let Me Go (Cosa resterà degli anni ’80 di Raf) and the arrangement of Donna, Donna, Donna. Meanwhile his piece, Lemon Girl began to circulate on the american radio.

In the meantime too he had realised the scheme for a CD with the title  The Dream of Constance  which was sustained by quite specific ideas and by a strong capacity for organisation and planning. He had already made contact with Kashif, the leading musical producer in California (who produced Whitney Houston and George Benson), and had been presented by Billboard Magazine and Music Biz, two of the best-known musical magazines in the U.S.

For Christian, music was everything. If the reader has any doubt of this, he should read the reply that he gave to an obligatory question in the application for a competition to obtain a study scholarship. The question was this: “Discuss the most important results you have obtained to date (limiting yourself to three or four of these). Describe the importance of your personal commitment in each of the situations you mention”.

Music and Life

“The sole most important result achieved in my life coincides with my music […]. I consider the tapes of my songs as the material witness of the most important outcome of my life, apart from being the dearest things that belong to me. The reason why I think this is that every song gathers up my sentiments and melancholy, hopes and dreams, experiences and ideas, in particular moments of my childhood, adolescence and maturity. Every song contains a story, and every song is part of me. I am very proud to have the capacity to express my thoughts and sentiments in musical form, and to fix them in time by means of a song”.

Music is the only significant outcome to such an extent that an equivalence between music and life itself is even suggested. They form an inseparable partnershipespecially from the point of view of the emotional life. Christian’s songs are not only expressive moments, but places in the memory, and situations revealing his own individuality and his own story: places were hopes and dreams, melancholy, ideas and experience are all perceived.

Each of his songs contains a story, in fact. This is the first reason why music is the best outcome of his life, as far as Christian is concerned. But there are at least two more. The second is:

“the awareness that my capacities as a composer have changed enormously in the course of the years. In other words, the kind of melodies, harmonies, progressions that I adopt in making music is more “evolved” today than they were years ago”.

Christian notes that music is his own ground for evolution, progress, improvement, dynamism: a progression which obviously requires commitment and dedication. This is in fact the third reason for his satisfaction.

“I play virtually all the instruments of my recordings, using a technology of multi-track recording. I learned to sing and play the piano on my own, as well as the guitar, the bass, the flute, the synthesizer and other instruments, so as to be the only person who was directing all the different sonorities of my songs […] this personal commitment has had a vitally important role”.

Christian was living a sort of asceticism. He was aware that he had many gifts, but he also knew that if they were not “creatively activated” they were not much use. Thus he was able to establish objectives and priorities for himself. We know that at Wake Forest he decided to impose a pattern of tough working rhythm on himself.

He woke at 4.45 in the morning in order to dedicate at least 5 hours a day to music, often after long periods of meditation in the forest close to the university campus. Dave Isbister, his professor, wrote: “He had the gift of being both an artist and at the same time a capable businessman”. In effect he had reached an interesting balance between artistic inspiration and the capacity to give it a public and professional face.

We find perhaps the most eloquent testimony to this double ability in the report on the project“The Dream of Constance” devised within his university curriculum. In this, step by step the best path is searched out and found togive concrete existence to his desires to enter into the world of professional music.

We may note in passing the study of the attitude to be adopted in the meeting with the famous producer, Kashif. In this “study” Christian reveals his own security, prefering to keep a “substantially aggressive” (etc.) attitude towards him in their first (and decisive) encounter, in words like this: “Believe me, I’m someone who’s worth something. If you play a part in my career, you’ll certainly do well out of it too!”. Of course, in the project follow the fundamental motives and convinctions behind this statement follow after.

The Creativity, Imagination and the Capacity to feel inspiration

Christian’s principal qualities were creativity, imagination and the capacity to “feel” inspiration… With reference to his own music, he wrote:

“It’s as if I had a sort of mental tape-recorder: if there’s a song which is familiar to me I can play it in my head, and for me that’s as pleasurable as if I were listening to it on the stereo. This strange ability, if it’s “creatively activated”, is the basic mode through which my inspiration communicates with me; without any kind of forewarning, when I least expect it, the refrain of a song which I’ve never listened to before comes into my mind. The part of the song which is offered to me by inspiration is always already arranged and complete with words”.

The ability of which Christian is speaking here is not just a gift to be accepted passively, but something to be set in motion creatively; to be cultivated, sought after, and then followed up.

Christian believed strongly in inspiration, including the kind that came upon one unawares:

“If I think back about the songs I’ve written, I imagine that most times, before I ever wrote the first notes, I was probably doing or thinking about things that had little to do with music. Then all of a sudden there was music in my head, and a few moments later, I might have a new songt, virtually completed. In a certain way the music comes to me when I’m not thinking about it. I have never been the one to make the first move”.

The inspiration often only lasted a short time, and this was a time to catch on the wing. It was necessary to seize the moment with the greatest possible intensity

“The attack of inspiration” is sometimes very brief, but at times, if I’m lucky, I also succeed in hearing various parts of a song, such as the verse, the chorus, the bridge, the solo, and so on. I’ve learned a trick: I go on listening making the least possible number of efforts, and I let my inspiration do its work”.

The fact that inspiration cannot be deduced renders Christian a listener to an interior dimension which is also dreamlike; i.e. it lives in the dream, which in fact is one of the major themes of his work:

“[…] much of the music that I’ve produced over the last three years has been composed while I was asleep. I dream a lot and – believe it or not – many of my dreams have a sound-track. […] Sometimes, unfortunately, I wake after one of these dreams in the small of the night. When this happens, if I can still hear the music in my head, I’m too tired to get up and write it down. So I go back to sleep, but when I wake in the morning, I know that I’ve had a very beautiful song but that I’ve forgotten it and lost it for ever”.

Curiosity and the will to do, and to construct, gave Christian a “tenaciously curious intelligence” (Prof. Jack Wilkerson); a “strong and intense character, full of enthusiasm for life” (one of his friends, named Justin). For Prof. Douglas Beets he was a “brilliant example of the ideal student; passionate, and with a great will to achieve, always anxious to learn”. In short, as another of his professors wrote, “he was a man with great dreams and strong ambitions”. The oneiric dimension and the constant desire to do and to create worked in harmony with each other, giving rise to profoundly “human” and intense lyrics.