“I try to bring the enthusiasm of a sporting event into what I do on the radio,” he says, adding that a great performance by the Symphony Orchestra or Pops is, for him, much like an exciting game at Fenway or the Garden. “People are very, very passionate about sports and they’re passionate about music too.”
Della Chiesa’s own love for music goes back much further than his prolific, 50-year career in radio, to his days as a boy in Quincy. Born in 1938, a decade before U.S. television got its start, Della Chiesa says the radio was a fixture of his childhood; much like a hearth, it was the place where he and his parents often gathered at home. Though they listened to many different programs, it was the live broadcasts from New York’s Metropolitan Opera House that captivated the young Della Chiesa. By age 8 he was completely hooked after his father, recently returned from service in World War II, took him to a live performance of “La Bohème” at the old Boston Opera House.
“Little did I know when I was growing up in Quincy going to my first opera,” he says, “that I’d end up working in radio, meeting all these great people and hosting live opera broadcasts on WGBH.” (By the way, those “great people” include some of the greatest of all time, like Plácido Domingo, Eileen Farrell and Luciano Pavarotti.)Although Della Chiesa was formally educated at Boston University, his broadcasting studies began long before he ever enrolled in classes. As a 12-year-old, after struggling to learn the trumpet, he began to channel his love of music through radio, building a little station at home and producing his own shows. He played records and even made his own commercials, though he didn’t yet have an audience for them.
Of course, these days, when Della Chiesa talks on the radio, many people listen. In fact, his relationship with the audience is one of the reasons why he still loves what he does after all these years.
“I’m talking to an audience that I can’t see and yet it’s such an intimate form of communication, because you’re everywhere,” he explains. “You’re in the car; you’re in homes; you’re in bedrooms; you’re in student dorms; now you’re on the Internet worldwide. You’re reaching a vast audience of people that you don’t see, yet you know you’re making a connection.”
Della Chiesa also shares his passion for music by occasionally hosting tours to Italy, the birthplace of both opera and his paternal grandfather. Although the two never knew each other, Della Chiesa says his love for the dramatic art form is something he inherited from this man.
This October, he will once again visit the Old Country, joining a small group on a trip to Emilia Romagna, his favorite region of Italy. The itinerary, which revolves around the life and work of Giuseppe Verdi, includes a number of opera performances as well as opportunities to indulge in the area’s culinary delights. While Della Chiesa emphasizes that knowledge of opera is not necessary for the trip, he guarantees that everyone will return home with a new appreciation for the art — including him.
He explains: “If you go to St. Peter’s Basilica and look at Michelangelo’s “Pietà,” you’re moved by it in different ways every time you come back. You can’t ever see enough of it. How many times can you hear a Mozart symphony or an opera by Puccini? You keep coming back again and again. There’s something in great art that is universal. It’s like the sunset or the sky; it’s there to be enjoyed long after we’re gone.”
You can catch Ron Della Chiesa’s Boston Symphony Orchestra broadcasts every Saturday at 8 p.m. on WCRB 99.5 FM. His “American Songbook” radio show is live at 7 p.m. on Sundays on Easy 99.1 FM. For information about this October’s Viva Verdi & Friends tour of Italy, visit www.thegrandtour.com.