Maria Valentina Chirico’s Enchanting Folk Music

The enchanting musical universe of Maria Valentina Chirico is otherworldly and unique. As a trained classical vocalist, she knows how to use her voice as an endlessly expressive instrument. Her music feels alive as if miniature dramas and timespans unfold within the earthy environments she creates. Working with an incredible array of collaborators, the sonic quality of her work is richly textured yet ethereal; tiny detailed fragments floating amongst celestial bodies, weightless, but solid. On Folk Tapes, she cascades snippets of memory into a classical fairy tale. Those feelings of nostalgia and melancholy grow and expand, eventually settling into the utter magic of “Initiale” and “Quanno Nascette Ninno.” Chirico is just getting started, though, and the limitless possibilities in front of her are exciting. 

Maria Valentina Chirico answered some questions via email in July and August. Initiale / Quanno Nascette Ninno and Folk Tapes are out now invisibilia editions.

Let’s start with your early memories of music and sound. Are there particular sounds you heard as a child that have stayed with you or that you still remember noticing?

As a child before sleeping my mother always sang songs to me. I still think she has the most beautiful voice in the world. I also remember the sound of the small orchestras playing at funerals and village festivals. The sound that came from afar was magical and mysterious to me.

What about music or songs that first made a big impression on you when you were younger? What was it about this music that really affected you?

I often fell asleep listening to the cassette of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. It is still my favorite opera, and it accompanied me into the world of dreams. The first big revelation, however, was hearing Mahler’s First Symphony, especially the third movement. That feeling I was talking about before, of the orchestras in the distance, that melody I sang at school heard in a minor way… it was the greatest experience of my childhood I think.

When did you start studying classic and baroque music and doing voice studies? What inspired you to start down that path?

I have no artists at home and I did not know that you could become a musician for work. I started studying in small schools (I was born in a small town in southern Italy). Then in the conservatory in Bari, no one really believed I had talent. When I started traveling and getting to know other teachers, I found that I might have something to say too. I have always had a kind of faith in myself even after a lot of suffering in the classical world.

I have discovered over the years that my voice is the strongest and most resistant part of me.

For you, what is the most rewarding aspect of your studies, and how you have learned to use your voice?

I have discovered over the years that my voice is the strongest and most resistant part of me. In this year my body has changed a lot, anorexia has taken my whole life but the voice is there. My salvation and continuing to study are the only cure for my body and my soul.

What motivated you to start composing your own music? Was there something in particular that you wanted to create or ideas you had that you wanted to translate into sound?

There has always been a part of me that was missing something. After studying in New York, I realized that I had to start writing to save myself. For the first record, it was like a dream. I woke up at four in the morning and wrote. Now, I write a lot of poems and my songs are becoming very skeletal, just voice and harmonium. 

I am very inspired by the lullabies of Eastern Europe, the north, and also southern Italy – folklore in general. I would like to find a way to create folk music from another world.

One of your collaborators that has left such an incredible impression on your recordings is Marta Arbarello, who is amazingly only 11 years old, with such an incredible voice. How do you know Marta and how did you come to work with her on Folk Tapes and “Initiale”?

My first job in the city where I live, Turin, was teaching music in a Waldorf elementary school. I met Marta when she was in first grade. She had a special light in her eyes. She is such a special girl. She writes short stories, plays the harp and the piano, and has impressive strength. She is my muse, my strength, and without her my music could not exist.

How did you come to be involved with the invisibilia editions label?

Andrea Penso (Invisibilia) opened a world that I did not know. I understood, thanks to his music, that everything I saw and listened to could end up in a song. It is a great feeling for me. Thanks to his label I can express myself and I will be forever grateful to him.

What new projects are you working on now and what releases are coming up soon?

During this current period, I have concerts and I’m trying to prepare live performances that are always different and essential. I have magical musicians who accompany me: Vanja Contu (harp) Michele Anelli (bass and double bass) Marta Albarello (voice) Aniello (electronics) Giulia Subba (violin) Christian Roggero (guitar)

I am writing new songs and looking for many old lullabies, I am obsessed with Icelandic ones right now! I hope the new record will be ready for November

What are your hopes for the next year?

For next year I hope music and writing will accompany me and I hope to get better because life is sometimes very beautiful!

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