An Interview with Joseph Curiale

“Just do what you love to do with all the love you have to give from wherever you are.”

– Composer and author Joseph Curiale

Many people define success in terms of recognition and income — fame and fortune.  To gain these one must be focused and dedicated, willing to make whatever sacrifices are necessary.  One must also live in an appropriate location, and many people raised in rural areas leave in search of a lifestyle they see glamorized over and over on TV and in the movies.

People remaining in rural areas battle the prevailing notions of success on a daily basis.  They struggle to survive in areas many outsiders have written off as the refuge of those incapable of “making it” in bigger places, incapable of attaining success in notable ways.  People in rural areas are bombarded by images and messages telling them they are failures for not living someplace else, for not driving a vehicle worth more than their neighbor’s house, for not dedicating themselves to careers that would set them apart as recognizable members of the hip intelligentsia.

Yet people living in rural areas are not failures; they live where they wish, they do what they want with honesty and integrity despite the constant pressure to throw in the towel, abandon their homes and friends in order to live a “successful” life.  They have chosen for a myriad of reasons to make rural America their home, and work with at least as much tenacity to meet their personal definitions of success as people in urban areas do to meet society’s definition of success.

So it is refreshing to encounter a person like author, humanitarian and Hollywood composer Joseph Curiale.  Mr. Curiale understands that the roots of creativity lie in love and thus the importance of doing what one loves.  He believes “location is no match for talent” and recognizes the importance of living a balanced life.  He encourages people to do what they love no matter where they happen to live.  Here are some of his thoughts and reflections on the importance of love, creativity, balance and the value of rural areas in sustaining the “spirit of creativity.”

Paul Hosford: Mr. Curiale, could you please tell something about your musical career and accomplishments?

Joseph Curiale: The more I experience in life and the more I accumulate the “accomplishments” that the world seems to value and hold in highest esteem, the more I wonder about it all and have serious doubts about their true value. No doubt they are accomplishments because they often require great talent, courage, endurance, patience, and a lot of sacrifice. But one must calculate the cost. The more I search for the answer to the question, “What is really of greatest value in life?” and what real accomplishments are, the answer that keeps coming up is not what most might imagine, unless one has garnered what I believe to be great wisdom. I have received an Emmy nomination for Musical Direction for a TV Special honoring Sammy Davis, Jr. just months before his death, I have written music for motion pictures, television, and recordings, have worked with so many of the icons of Hollywood, Broadway, and the classical and pop music world, have been to many of their homes, and have helped them to see some of their creative visions through. I have stood on the podium in front of three of the most famous orchestras in the world: The London Symphony, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields, and the music has been heard by millions and millions of people. I have sat in little cafes tucked in the corner of far away countries and have heard my music playing. I have lain in beautiful hotel beds in countries 10,000 miles away hearing my music on TV not just once, but several times in the same day. I have sat in commercial airliners flying somewhere and have heard my music both in the featured movie on the flight, plus on the in-flight programming. The list of such things I have had the good fortune of experiencing seems to be endless, but all of those “accomplishments” combined cannot match the beauty and power of holding the hand of someone I love. It has taken me a lifetime to learn that nothing I have done is as meaningful to me and as important as something as seemingly simple as that, no matter how great a value society puts on those “accomplishments.” But despite all my so-called accomplishments the very thing that I would love to accomplish in this way still has eluded me because society has not put much value on it anymore. It’s considered old-fashioned and unimportant. Worldly accomplishments can bring a very temporary high but never fail to dissipate rather quickly, leaving one feeling rather empty. The potential excitement and joy one can derive from worldly accomplishments falls very short without having real love in one’s life. And very often we forfeit what is most important to achieve the things that are ultimately of questionable importance. I guess my point is, love is everything and all the rest are just details.

PH: Love is a force which connects people to one another, to the world around them.  It’s sad that in our society people believe they must devalue love, disconnect from others to succeed.  But I suppose that’s a side-effect of people believing that one must focus single-mindedly on a goal or a dream in order to achieve it — some might even say that’s the formula for success this country has been built upon.  America is said to be the land of opportunity, the land where one has the freedom to create the life he or she desires through hard work and perseverance.  Is creativity inimical to love?  Can one only create successfully by turning ones back on love?

JC: The notion that one has to avoid love and be totally focused on their work to succeed is a terrible distortion with no basis in truth. I have lived that lie so I know well from experience that it doesn’t work. It may help bring about some professional success, but at the expense of becoming physically, emotionally, and mentally impoverished, which ultimately depletes the creative well and cuts one off from the source of true creativity. In other words, you burn out quickly.  The fabric of the universe is love and the universe continually seeks balance. To eliminate love from the equation is to immediately create imbalance. In our personal universe, true love in our lives creates the balance that brings good health, physically, emotionally, and mentally, which gives one energy, a clear mind, and a peaceful heart, which keeps the channel open for creative energy, and we need energy to create. Love is inspiring and gives one great strength.

One certainly can create without love and it’s done all the time. Ingenious weapons that can cause incalculable pain and destruction are creations made without love in mind and heart. But things created with love heal and give life. They last. Therefore love and things created with love will prevail and endure and the others will fade away.  I believe that in order to bring about lasting creations into existence whose power exceeds both the life of the creator and the creation itself, there must be love, and in order to do so our lives must be balanced because the universe is one of order.

We not only can create things with love, but we can also create a new world with love. Maybe a good start is to make that quilt with the most divine artistry, or that jar of preserves with all the love in the world, or write that beautiful song. The affects are a lot more long-lasting and more far-reaching than you might ever imagine whether you are in the marketing loop of the world or not. The universe has its own fail-safe marketing loop and by allowing love into our lives, we can bring about that “new world” through the spirit infused in our loving creations right now.

PH: It’s interesting that you mention a jar of preserves or a quilt; there are a lot of people here in Nebraska who make wonderful quilts or preserves, candles or soap, but those creations aren’t viewed in the same light as a painting or symphony. Your saying that it’s the love that goes into them that matters most is a refreshing reminder that even small creative efforts have merit. I think there are a lot of people here in Nebraska who need to be reminded of that. I think sometimes we sell ourselves short, don’t give ourselves enough credit simply because so many people in the world today are looking to places like Hollywood for examples of what has value rather than in their own back yards. .

JC: When I started traveling around the world regularly it hit me very hard how much Hollywood influences the minds, tastes, and opinions of the world, and most often not for the better. Although that kind of power can be used to bring about a lot of goodness, and there are some amazingly talented people in Hollywood with loving hearts trying to do that, my gut feeling was that this was unfortunately not generally the reality of the situation. After living among various peoples of the world and expanding my mind and heart to what “beauty” might really be, and what “the good life” might really be, I began to view Hollywood’s shoving down the world’s throat of its agenda-based portrayal what is beautiful, what is important, and what is valuable, as highly offensive, very arrogant and extremely dangerous. I personally experienced Hollywood’s tentacles reaching to even the most remote places on the earth and it really saddened and concerned me. Hollywood’s power was affecting the lives of my new found world family in very destructive ways. It’s a shame because I also know very well that Hollywood is a big dream machine. All the talent and resources that one needs to literally materialize just about any dream, is concentrated in great abundance in one place. But I believe that talent and those resources are terribly misguided and misused most of the time because of being motivated by fear and greed.

PH: That’s very interesting — a man remarked to me recently that the entertainment industry has failed people in rural areas — it portrays “the good life,” “beauty,” and “success” in such idealized and unrealistic ways that many people here living real lives reject their lives as hopelessly flawed by comparison.  Another person mentioned that “perception is reality” — I think a lot of people mistake the perception of a successful life that Hollywood promotes for the real thing.  I can’t help but wonder if there were more people in Hollywood who understood the importance of balance and love, this situation might be different.  But I suppose as long as people there buy into society’s unbalanced definition of success the media will continue to present an unbalanced view of life.  Do you feel that people living “real lives,” even in rural areas, can create a more balanced and authentic world by doing what they love, by expressing themselves creatively in whatever ways they are able?

JC: It is my understanding concerning infinity, that every point is the center of the universe, so Albion Nebraska, for example, is as much the center of the universe both in location and in potential, as Hollywood, New York, or any place for that matter. I know the “pop” side of society says, “Location, location, location” is everything. In reality the most valuable real estate is the fertile ground of one’s being: one’s heart, where love resides and from which divine beauty and powerful works can grow. We need to look less to external elements and places for the source of creativity and success and more within ourselves for the untapped well of creative riches. Fashion and trends fade and sometimes seem quite ugly and distasteful in retrospect. So, being validated by the world is not as important as being validated by time. If one believes that this very short lifetime is all that there is, I can understand how one could feel substantial pressure to accomplish something great and crave the validation of the world right now by having done something viewed as significant. We seem to be driven to immortalize ourselves because there is something that feels so unnatural about dying. It seems so final. The thought of having been here and having been forgotten can hurt. It can make one wonder what was the point of our life at all since most of life seems to be such a struggle.

We live on in spirit through our good works. Therefore, it would be helpful to not feel pressured about accomplishing everything in this short lifetime, but to at least do as much as we can with what we have, to create the works of our hearts, whose love and goodness will echo far beyond this lifetime. No matter what I have been able to accomplish in my own very short lifetime so far, I know that I will not even begin to scratch the surface of my potential, so I must let go of my attachment to all of that and just do what I love to do for that reason alone.

You have a perfect living example right now in Nebraska: poet Ted Kooser. To me he has long been a national treasure. I have known him for 10 years and he always impressed me as a very unpretentious man, just doing what he loves to do, writing poetry in the early hours of the morning from a small Nebraska town, despite his other worldly responsibilities. And without buying into the system he has risen to the top of it! Kind of like the Nebraskan David conquering Goliath with quiet dignity, without leaving his farm. In my estimation, what perhaps helped Ted to succeed in this way was that he did what he loved to do, with the right motives first, and the universe took care of the details. This may not happen in the same way or take the same form for other deserving artists who also create with quiet dignity, but that does not diminish the power and value of their work and does not make Ted better than them because he has finally gained huge “pop” recognition. We must be detached from all of that ego-based thinking which is very destructive to ourselves and others. Maybe people like Ted are divinely chosen to become the voice of the collective good of an area like Nebraska, because for reasons that we may not be able to fully cognize at the moment, he is the perfect conduit for such a calling at this time in history. Maybe he is a channel for all the mom-and-pop storeowners, the barbershops, the feed stores, the farmers, the quilt makers, and the housewives who did their loving share for the collective good, of which Ted was a great beneficiary. They are not forgotten at all! They live on in his poetry and in his paintings. This is a collaboration. Perhaps there would be no poet Ted Kooser without his mother’s jar of buttons, or his father’s cap, or the local preserves someone made with love that gave him joy; without the tractor salesman, and all the others that played an important role helping in the creation of poet Ted Kooser. We must be detached from our egos as to how our good works live on and just know that they do. Just do what you love to do with all the love you have to give from wherever you are, and leave the rest to the grand orchestration of the universe.

PH: Your evocative and compelling symphonic work, Prairie Hymn, was inspired by Ted Kooser’s equally evocative poem, “So This Is Nebraska”; you obviously feel a strong link to this area — what is Nebraska to you, in your eyes and to your heart?

JC: My first recollection of having a very deep feeling for Nebraska was when I was flying across the country in the early 80s and the plane was cruising over the farms. I would look down at their beautiful geometrical shapes and would start wondering about the people; who lived there and what were they like? How do they feel? What are their dreams? As time went on I started to wonder, “Do they feel forgotten?” I had a feeling that they did and it made me feel sad. I remember flying to Lincoln in 1997 to do my first radio interview for NPR after the release of the “Awakening” CD, and standing by the curbside at the airport just looking at the local people, looking at their hands and their eyes, studying the lines on their faces, trying to read the stories they told. Many times after this experience my eyes would fill with tears as I flew over Nebraska. It’s hard to say why, but it was like I could feel the people’s pain and sorrow; the betrayal of real American heroes. I thought of how they wake up before the sun and faithfully go out in all kinds of weather to feed the world without any thanks, without any glory. I thought of all the boxes of corn flakes and other cereals I had eaten as a child that probably came from farms just like the ones I was looking at from 37,000 feet. Those people down there fed me so I could live and have a life that would allow me to realize so many of my dreams. I was the beneficiary of their backbreaking work, of all the loans they had to take out, of all the payments they had to make. They were my family.

After spending so much time in the 80s and 90s overseas, my deep feeling for, and connection to America and the Heartland somehow grew deeper and stronger. So early one Sunday Morning in April of 1994 while I was lying lifelessly in bed, recovering from a near-death experience in Singapore a few months prior, a segment of CBS Sunday Morning called “Postcard from Nebraska” featured a Nebraskan poet I had never heard of. His name was Ted Kooser. The tranquil sounds of birds and insects filled the air as Ted sat in a chair in his yard, completely unpretentiously reading his poem, “So This Is Nebraska,” and I almost levitated out of bed. Considering how weak I was at the time, that was an amazing accomplishment. What he read went right to my heart, right to my soul. It transported me to Garland.  It seemed like everything I had felt before about Nebraska, but couldn’t quite understand, suddenly made sense. After the segment, I went to the piano and wrote a composition that I would dedicate to Ted called “Prairie Hymn” which also was the catalyst for the multi-movement work, “Awakening.”  It captured in sound what Nebraska meant to me: purity, tranquility, beauty, generosity, and thankfulness to the land and to a Higher Power. I feel that beauty now living inside of me.

PH: Nebraska is called “fly-over country” because most people only seem to see it from 37,000 feet in the sky.  I’ve lived in Nebraska all my life, and I look up at the vapor trails from these planes and wonder about the lives of the people on board; I imagine quite a few of us have done that from time to time.  It’s nice to know that someone up there has looked down and thought about us.  Many of our children follow those vapor trails to places far away, seeking what our society defines as success.  It’s important to hear someone who understands success remind us it can really only be found through expressing what’s best within ourselves, through expressions of our love in whatever forms they might take, and that living in a rural area isn’t necessarily a disadvantage to doing this.  And thank you for reminding us that though we may take it for granted, Nebraska is a place of “purity, beauty, generosity and thankfulness.”