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Norman Dello Joio, who was born in New York in 1913, began his professional music career as an organist at the Star of the Sea Church in New York. His father, Casimir, who had emigrated from Italy, was also an organist, and his godfather, composer and organist Pietro Yon, was his principal teacher. He attended All Hallows Institute and the College of City of New York, and then pursued full-time musical training at the Institute of Musical Art, and at the graduate school of Juilliard. He also studied with Paul Hindemith at Tanglewood and the Yale School of Music.
Dello Joio’s career was supported and encouraged from the very beginning by a number of grants and awards, as well as regular performances. He won an Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Award, a Town Hall Composition Award, Guggenheim Fellowships (1943 and 1944), a grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, two New York Music Critics’ Circle Awards, the Pulitzer Prize (1957), and the 1965 Emmy Award.
Dello Joio’s teaching career began at Sarah Lawrence College (1945-1950). He was professor of composition at Mannes College of Music (1956-1972), and in 1959 began a 14-year association with the Contemporary Music Project for Creativity in Music Education (supported by the Ford Foundation). The Project placed young composers in high schools throughout the United States, supporting them in writing new music for the schools’ ensembles. In 1972, he became professor of music at Boston University and acting dean of the University’s School of Fine and Applied Arts.
Although Dello Joio’s training with Hindemith was brief, it made an important impact on the young composer’s creative output. Hindemith urged him to compose naturally, without regard for models that had nothing to do with his experience or temperament. His other important influences were 19th century Italian opera, Catholic Church music, and popular music and jazz of New York in the 1920s and 1930s. Dello Joio fused elements from all of these to form the vocabulary for his creative body of work.