Giustino Carrano’s days are consumed by music. He sings baritone with the highly regarded Detroit Concert Choir, plays tuba for various professional engagements, teaches music to middle schoolers in Farmington Hills, serves on the voice faculty at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in northern Michigan, and conducts the Chancel Choir at Grosse Pointe United Methodist Church.
“I love music, but I’m especially passionate about sacred choral music and love having the opportunity to praise God with the gifts He’s given me. My faith is a big part of who I am and using music to help others enter into worship, that’s a very special thing,” Carrano said.
Carrano, 36, joined GPUMC this summer following a nearly year-long search to replace Cleopatra Greenwell, who had been choir director for 37 years and died unexpectedly in 2021. On Sunday (Oct 16), the choir will present a special performance of “Finlandia” by Jean Sibelius and the church will formally welcome Carrano with a reception following the service.
Carrano followed a somewhat circuitous route to both music and Grosse Pointe. He began life on a U.S. Air Force base in Colorado where his father served as a non-commissioned career officer. Following his father’s multiple moves to Europe (Germany and Italy) and around the United States (New Hampshire, Florida, Texas, and Connecticut), Carrano eventually graduated from high school in Niceville, Fla., near Eglin Air Force base.
Carrano’s interest in music was sparked when he saw “the big, shiny silver sousaphones” in the marching band at a high school football game when he was in 5th grade. “I knew right then that I wanted to play the tuba,” he said.
By college, he was preparing to become an orchestral tubist, but expected music to just be a side gig. The professional plan was to join the U.S. Air Force after graduation and become a pilot. “From the time I could walk until I was 22 years old, I was on the path to become an Air Force aviator. That was my life’s goal. I thought I would just play with local symphonies along the way. That was my idea,” he said.
But, after taking voice lessons for the first time during college, he slowly realized that playing music was a bigger draw than flying planes. He completed a degree in music performance with a specialization in voice and tuba at the University of West Florida. From there, he moved on to Ball State University in Indiana where he earned a master’s degree in music performance with secondary studies in orchestra conducting.
His professional vita includes a long list of solo recital and vocal performances in numerous operas. As a tubist, he has primarily performed in smaller chamber appearances, as well as performing as tubist and trombonist with the East Central Indiana Chamber Orchestra.
“The instrumental work was my first love, but I’ve spent the better part of 10 years singing opera, and I love them both equally,” he said.
However, conducting ensembles offers him an even richer experience. “As a soloist, you get to do a lot of work that is pretty exciting. But, working with a group means you build on the strengths of a lot of musicians. You pull out their sound, and you get to show them how big and how rich a sound they can make together. I really love that,” he said.
Each of his musical experiences has been enriching. Working with middle schoolers in Farmington is a special joy because he’s often introducing students to ensemble performance for the first time.
Being with students at Blue Lake offers a different kind of joy because those students are so passionate about making music and learning to be better. “They are immersed in music so you get to work with them on an entirely different level,” he said.’
At GPUMC, Carrano selects music after conferring with Rev. David Eardley about the focus of his message for each week and closely reading the scripture for that service. He wants to find music that is both enriching for the choir and supportive of the message. “I spend a lot of time thinking about the message. Where are we going in our worship? Where does our heart need to be? Where is the scripture leading us?” he said.
He’s also mindful of offering a variety of music. “Sometimes, the music will be very upbeat; sometimes, it will be more reserved. Having a good variety is really important. We all have different taste in music. The choir belongs to all of us. Worship belongs to all of us. So it can’t be Giustino’s favorite juke box. I want everyone to find something they love in the music,” he said.
Limited time is also a factor in directing a church choir which rehearses only once a week plus a brief warm-up before the Sunday morning service. “We have such a short amount of time to prepare that we have to be as efficient as possible. There’s a lot to balance when you’re working with an ensemble like that. How far do you push? How do we squeeze all that we need to do into the limited time frame that we have? But I love that challenge,” he said.
“Musicians tend to be perfectionists, always pushing to get to a higher level. But, in church, we’re not putting on a performance. We’re giving an offering of music to the Lord and helping others enter into that place of worship,” he said.