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Six Centuries of Italian Music Performed by Leonardo Ciampa on New St. Leonard’s Pipe Organ

Internationally renowned organist Leonardo Ciampa performed a concert of Italian organ music at St. Leonard Church on January 26th showcasing the church’s new pipe organ. Installed last spring by the Peragallo Pipe Organ Company of New Jersey, the organ contains over 1,000 pipes.

Ciampa has played organ recitals in important cathedrals and basilicas in Italy, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. Last October, he performed a concert of his own compositions at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, the largest church in the Western Hemisphere.

Of all these concerts, Ciampa’s performance at St. Leonard’s had deep meaning for him. He is dedicating the concert in loving memory of his grandparents, Carmine Ciampa (1890-1956) and Maria Ciampa (1893-1981), who joined St. Leonard’s Parish exactly 100 years ago.

“My grandparents arrived in Ellis Island in 1920,” Mr. Ciampa explains. “They came directly to Boston and lived on Snow Hill Street. However, my grandfather’s older brother Giuseppe had already been living in that house for 15 years. Giuseppe had arrived in the North End back in 1902. He met Maria De Pasquale in Boston and married her in 1905 at St. Leonard Church. The celebrant was Fr. Alphonsus Parziale. They got married and lived on Snow Hill St. My grandparents moved into that same house on Snow Hill St. in 1920. In 1921 they had a set of twins, one of whom was Fred Ciampa, who became a famous sportswriter in Boston. Uncle Fred was baptized at St. Leonard’s. After that, my grandparents moved to East Boston, where I was eventually born. However, Giuseppe and Maria remained in the North End and had nine children in that same house. The three youngest ones were Lina, Evelyn, and Josie Ciampa. They were quite a trio! They were well-known throughout the North End. Their entire lives they lived on Snow Hill St. and attended St. Leonard’s. They were huge fans of mine, attending most of my concerts. I regret only that they did not live to see the stunning restoration of St. Leonard’s and hear the new organ.”

The meticulous restoration of St. Leonard’s was spearheaded by Fr. Antonio Nardoianni. He arrived at St. Leonard’s in 2004, a challenging time in the parish’s history. The North End parishes had recently been reconfigured, causing much tension. The buildings and grounds were in deplorable condition, with little money in the bank to fix them. Over the course of 15 years, Fr. Antonio raised more than $6 million, insisting that $3.5 million of it be used to restore the church interior. The new pipe organ was made possible by the generosity of Carol and Nick Ferreri and family. St. Leonard’s Church is located on 320 Hanover St. in Boston’s North End neighborhood, on the corner of Hanover and Prince Streets.

“I was stunned,” Ciampa recalls. “All too often when a church wants to do a quote-unquote ‘restoration,’ they get someone’s cousin to throw some paint around. When I walked into that restored church, I just couldn’t believe it. It was as beautiful as any church that I have ever seen in Italy. What an astonishing restoration they carried out, and much of the credit really goes to Fr. Antonio. He really did not want to cut corners on the church interior. We now have a beautiful building that tourists and parishioners alike can walk into and have their jaws drop.”

Fr. Nardoianni left St. Leonard’s at the end of 2019. The new pastor is Fr. Michael Della Penna, who was born and raised in the North End.

Ciampa’s concert will feature six centuries of music by Italian composers – everything from a piece by Andrea Gabrieli written in the 1500s, to a piece by Fabio Pietro Di Tullio composed last August. Ciampa will feature compositions that would have been heard in an Italian church in 1920. Ciampa will also perform a couple of his own compositions, including a fantasy on “Quel mazzolin de’ fiori.” “My cousin Lina told me it was my grandmother’s favorite song, so I wrote it in honor of my grandparents. I played it as an encore at a concert at the Basilica of Santa Prassede in Rome. But this will be the first time I perform it in the United States.”

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