Melissa Cardamone: Sing Us A Song You’re The Piano (Wo)Man

Melissa Cardamone is our superstar this week! But ask any musically inclined person at Carthage, and they will tell you that she is a superstar every day of the year. Melissa is an adjunct professor of music here at Carthage. Not only does she play piano, but she sings as well! Along with being a wonderful wife and mother of two, she also gives guidance to many students on campus on a piece of music or in life. Her bright and smiling face often calms down nervous performers and gives a sense of calm to anyone on stage.

HC: Do you remember when you first fell in love with music?

MC: I’ve loved it for as long as I can remember! From singing in church and then going home and trying to figure out on my grandpa’s old organ, to playing my first piano solo, to singing in elementary school choir or along with Raffi cassettes, to marching around the living room to John Philip Sousa … music was a bug presence for me from the beginning. My friends and I would get together and play piano and sing for fun! In high school I saw Show Boat in Chicago and I bawled through the whole thing. That’s when I knew I would likely do something in music for my career.

HC: How did you decide to pursue music as a career?

MC: When I was in high school I knew I had a gift for music, and that I loved the art form enough that I wanted to study it further. In college I discovered a love for opera and continued piano lessons. I’d played piano since I was six and accompanied since I was 10. There was never a question of music being and staying in my life. When I started getting roles consistently, and began making some money by playing for weddings and recitals, I knew I could cobble together some kind of career in music. My dad always said, “Do what you love and the money will come.” It took a little while, but I found my niche where my talents and experience can be helpful to up and coming musical artists and I still get a chance to perform myself, as well. 

HC: Where did you go to school and what was your major?

MC: Lawrence University, Appleton WI. Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and Literature. The Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY. Master of Music in Vocal Performance.

HC: What did you do once you graduated?

MC: I moved to NYC with my friend, Abby. We both wanted to pursue singing.  I found a couple part time jobs that were kind of flexible. Sang in a small vocal ensemble and was in a few operas and concerts. I didn’t love city life, however. It was pretty expensive, and I had to work so much it was challenging to find the time to work on my craft.  Plus I missed my family.  I ended up moving back to the Midwest. Upon my return I sang a couple of seasons with Opera for the Young, a touring company based in Madison, WI, which puts on shortened versions of classic operas for kids. It was a fun experience and introduced many young ones to opera for the first time. I’ve also sung in the Florentine Opera chorus, done roles and concerts with local companies around Milwaukee, and play piano and cantor for my church in Kenosha.  

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HC: How did you find your way to Carthage?

MC: After about two years in NYC, I started dating Joe, who’s now my husband. He lived in Kenosha at the time. After about six months of long-distance dating I moved to WI. We got married the following year. When I first arrived here I had a typing job where I worked from home, and I worked at a manufacturing place in Racine doing office work. Super glamorous, right?

I sang around the area a bit in the evenings. I eventually found a much better job at Care Animal Hospital, working at the front desk. One of my coworkers there was Dr. Dennee’s wife, Eliza. She knew I was a musician, so when Dr. Dennee needed to fill the position of accompanist for the Women’s Ensemble, she thought I could recommend someone. I misunderstood the phone message and thought she was wondering if I could do it. I called Peter back and set up an interview and audition. The rest is history. I accidentally recommended myself for the job and it was the best accident ever! 

HC: What is your official job title at Carthage?

MC: I call myself Staff Accompanist and Coach. I think my title is officially termed Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music. Crazy fun piano singing lady works, too.

HC: What ensembles do you accompany?

MC: I accompany the Carthage Women’s Ensemble and the Carthage Chorale. 

HC: Do you play any other instruments besides piano and other course singing?

MC: I played flute from 5th to 9th grade. I can play a little recorder. I know a couple of chords on the guitar. So… not really. 

HC: Do you think your children will also have an interest in music? (If they don’t already?)

MC: They do already! Lilia was just showing me how they learned about rests, tee tees and ta-tas in music class. (Quarter and eighth notes.) Joey sings songs he learns from daycare, too. Let it Go is a big hit with Joey and Lilia. They are both pretty content to just listen to something in the car rather than needing to have toys or books all the time. Each kid was in the womb with me playing the piano for choirs and musicals, so they’ve been around it quite a bit. 

HC: Is your husband musically inclined?

MC: Yes. He’s a tenor and a pianist. He is also involved with the local community theater, and has been both a stage director and musical director there along with acting.

The next time you can see Melissa perform is in Carthage’s workshop production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” February 23-25 in the Visual Performing Arts Lab where she is the music director.