Today’s Feature – May 9-10: Tony Bernardi

May 10, 2008 at 11:20 am (Today's Feature)

Where to start with former computer engineer Tony Bernardi, the latest PEV Renaissance man to blow us away with his capabilities and passion. Let’s start with HAP21 (Healing Arts for Peace in the 21st Century) – “a promotional organization that seeks to encourage and promote artist of note while extending peace through non-violent methods.” Bernardi’s group has been accomplishing some fantastic things, creating art for your walls and for your web viewing pleasure. One of their programs, PAM (Peace Art Medicine), “aims to lighten some of the mental burden of patients by creating a peaceful atmosphere and encouraging the healing process.” Healing music such as this takes up quite the place in Bernardi’s life, himself releasing the album, “Slightly Uncomfortable,” which contains about two hours of “electronic music created intuitively and recorded with a definite program in mind.”

So Tony runs an organization and creates music – did I mention he also writes poetry and creates some stellar painted pieces? And it’s more than just peace that influences his work, Bernardi is the son of a Greek mother, an Italian father, was born in the Muslim country of Iran, and went through 12 years of Jewish schooling. The mix has been a perfect fit here in the states, as his message has been embraced.

As Bernardi continues to work to touch audiences “beyond their intellectual awareness,” he is working on a novel based on a biblical story. And of course, he’ll be working on about 50 other projects at the same time. Get into the XXQ’s to learn more.

XXQs: Tony Bernardi (PEV): Tell us the “how and why” you first got involved with music and art. What pointed you in this career path?

Tony Bernardi (TB): My interest in the arts began very early in my life. Where I was born and spent my youth did not exposed me to many fine arts. My first exposure to music and art was in the Greek Orthodox church in Tehran, Iran. The theatrical atmosphere of the church, built in Greco-roman style with many dramatic paintings and chant like a Capella music contributed to my early artistic influences. Fascination with the spiritual as presented to me in the light of the mysterious and artistic preoccupied most of my early years. Later, acquiring my own transistor radio exposed me to classical music, and my first love became film music where I would seek and buy single vinyl records and play them on my own portable turn-table. It was after seeing the movie “Jeremy” about a young boy that played the cello, that I decided to become a musician and I tried to save up money to buy a cello. Serendipitously I ran into an early childhood friend that had been playing the violin and asked him to help me find a cello. With the help of my older sister I had enough money to go instrument shopping. Going with my friend to the music store I sadly discovered that I could only afford a beginners violin, and with the encouragement of my friend I bought and started my private lesson’s with his violin teacher.

There were other miraculous events that contributed to my musical education regardless of the lack of interest or resources in my immediate surroundings. I met one of my most dear friends in junior high school whose father was a classical music connoisseur and had a sizable classical LP collection. Out of the kindness of my friend’s heart he would record various classical pieces on empty cassette tapes I would supply him. By the time I was in my last year in high school I had acquired a serious education in classical music literature. To this day we share our passion for music literature and compare new discoveries. Also, I can remember attending my first Opera at the one and only Tehran’s Opera and Concert Hall. I can remember how amazed I was to see Verdi’s Rigoleto with our family priest, a kind Christian monk, when I was 14 years old.

It seems against all odds destiny prevails, and we become who we are supposed to be in beautiful and miraculous ways.

PEV: Born in the Middle East to European parents, what kind of artistic influences did you have growing up?

TB: My musical influences growing up were distinct Greek church music, film music, and later the standard classical music repertory. I am sure I have also been influence by beautiful melodic Persian poetry, as I have obtained a formal Farsi (Persian) education, and the dramatic Muslim chanting prominently heard all over Iran.

PEV: Being born in another country then coming to the US, do you find your heritage and knowledge of another culture to play a large part in your artistic styling and influence?

TB: I consider myself a melting pot of cultures and traditions. My maternal culture is Greek, my paternal culture Italian, I was born and grew up in the Muslim country of Iran, and was sent to twelve years of Jewish schooling. All this and also being exposed to so many other cultural resources after I immigrated to the United States, has diversified my cultural grounding sufficiently enough to make me a truly 21st century inter-cultural American artist. Being an amalgamation and integration of various traditions empowers me to seek and celebrate not only my own heritage but other traditions I love and make them part of the fabric of what I create. I think so much of our common humanity is reflected in all our artistic expression regardless of where we come from. Perhaps this is one way that 21st Century art can become a new voice that crosses all national and cultural boundaries.

PEV: Over time, has your taste in music and art changed or expanded? What was this a reflection of?

TB: I am also educated as an engineer (Computer Science). This has given me both the know how and the courage to explore other musical expressions, namely the electronic media. Also, studying music in the 1980s in college I was encouraged to seek newer and innovative musical means. Although, I was aware of my distinct artistic voice, which was often acknowledged and encouraged by my music professors, in time my style has become more emotionally accessible and has matured to become more performance-wise practical without loosing its strong originality. My taste in music has really not changed much. Great music in my view is what challenges our mind as well as our hearts, and that category includes music from Palestrina, Bach, Vivaldi, to Part, Glass, and other 21st Century Composers. Good music is good music, regardless of style, and that includes all serious thoughtful and heartfelt musical expressions. I must confess that I am not much of a pop or rock music connoisseur, although I thoroughly enjoy them and music from other genres.

PEV: When you sit down to write, paint or draw, what kind of atmosphere do you surround yourself in? Any certain “zone” you have to be in?

TB: I am one of these lucky people that can get in the zone anywhere. In my younger years I used to compose music in the lobby of the music building of Montgomery College when people would constantly congregate and come and go. Now, I surround myself perhaps in more peaceful and aesthetically pleasing atmospheres. In my studio in Bethesda, Maryland, I often compose music on my acoustic piano, surrounded by my colorful paintings and the view of beautiful old trees. I also paint and sculpt with usually listening to music.

I am a strong proponent of sacred spaces. I create altars all around my house. These are carefully placed sacred objects that have special meaning to me, reverently placed in various spots of my living and working space, creating a sacred atmosphere. I do not distinguish my work space from my living space, although I use different rooms for different activities. To me all of it constitutes my living space. The idea of work separate from life is dismal and burdened, one that I am not willing to tolerate. All of it is life to me. Actually my work or what I create is the highlight of my life. Although the art that we create in the kitchen might be very different than our expression on the synthesizer.

PEV: I read that your work has “atmospheric whimsical storytelling moods, which are rich in expression and effective in touching the human heart.” With that, what can fans expect from a Tony Bernardi work?

TB: The closest I can come to explaining the effects of my work on my audiences is that it touches them beyond their intellectual awareness. My works are constructed in complex structures, however their form does not mask their emotional content. Everything I create has substantial emotional content. I am not a formalist, in other words, I translate my emotions to art, and not allow the form and contents of my art to produce emotions by the nature of its structure. This is the big difference between Stravinsky and Vivaldi. Although I deeply love the works of Stravinsky, my works have a closer relationship to the Venetian Vivaldi, whom I share my fatherland with. What I admire most about Vivaldi is the spirit of joy in almost everything he has produced, that is why I try playing Vivaldi on my violin at least once a week.

Story telling has had the greatest influence on my art from early childhood. My music is reminiscent of film music because it is pregnant with emotional events, it is irrationally moody, speculatively romantic in ideas and lyrical in nature. Melodic material is very important in my written and improvisational work as my melodies are often complex and their treatment more baroque than classical. My harmonies are adventurous and carelessly atonal. I use an intuitive sense in my harmonic progression which sometimes gives my music a naïve or at times a refreshingly complex harmonic structure. My works are seldom imitative and almost always contrapuntal. Although I reference musical elements from other composers, I do not imitate them. Ravel and Debussy have impressed me as much as Mahler and Bruckner since my early years and their shadows can be traced in my early compositions.

PEV: What’s the first thing that goes through your mind when you sit down to write and see that blank piece of paper or canvas, staring back at you?

TB: That is never where I start. I always have a reason to create. I start with an emotion, a love, or a passion. It could be an idea, a picture, a story, a poem, an event, or anything that calls me to sing my song. So by the time I sit at the piano or in front of a canvas I have a sea of emotions raging in me. I can also conjure up these inspiring muses on demand. I often improvise on the piano and so I have developed the skill to quickly call the muses. It seems that the fountain that feeds my heart with ideas and forms is always actively bubbling with material. Some ideas have been with me all my life and once they appear in my awareness they do not subside until they are clearly reflected in one of my works.

PEV: Every artist hits the mental block sometime or another. What do you do when that happens?

TB: It is easy with me. When I do not feel like painting, I sculpt, or I write music, or play the violin, or improvise on the piano. On the rare occasion that I feel blocked, I meditate, read, spend time with people, or spend time in silence. All inspiration comes from the deep quiet in our soul. If I can not access it, it means I am treading in the shallow waters of my unconscious an all I need to do it allow myself to dare and dive deeper.

Every so often the material I am working with do not cooperate with me. They assert their will and do not bend to my command. I almost always give in, because that is often the sign that something much greater than me is in the wings waiting to be born through me. That is actually very exciting. I have learned to surrender and allow myself to become a vessel and not interfere with the sacred creative process.

PEV: What kind of music are you currently listening to?

TB: I always listen to serious (classical) music. I love to listen to my own works, it teaches me to be less judgmental and go beyond loving and hating what I do. Although I like good music of all styles, I limit listening to very busy and loud music to a minimum because it dulls my musical senses. It is like eating hot foods all the time, it can deaden the sense of taste. As a composer I need the quiet to be able to listen to my own internal tempest when it is about to rage or bring me treasures of the heart.

PEV: Tell us about your amazing work with HAP21. How can people get involved?

TB: HAP21 came about because of my desire to contribute to the world peace effort. The highest purpose of any life is a contribution to the peace of a heart, a mind, or a community. As artists we can make a difference. Not unlike, HAP21 is a promotional organization that seeks to encourage and promote artist of note, however its aim being extending peace, the artists it chooses are artists that consciously and actively want to extend nonviolent peace. Its means of promotion can include exposure via the web, but also organizes exposures through actual art projects such as publications, recordings, performances, forums, collaborations, and art exhibits that bring about peace awareness.

HAP21 is still a young organization of volunteers, has had a couple of projects in the area, and aims to expand its operation in the fall of this year. We need more people interested in the topic of extending peace through the non-violent arts. By non-violent art I mean any means of artistic expression that does not condemn others to make its point. I would love to hear from interested people who are willing to share their ideas about art and peace projects and let me know how they want to contribute. HAP21 thus can become the container for such artistic efforts. A meeting place and a work-shop to forge the roads to the Century of Peace. My goal is to grow HAP21 to a level where it can financially sustain all its operations and also provide employment opportunities to artist that want to devote their lives to “creating for peace”. That can be done of we band together and unify our hearts and minds to use our talents for the good of all mankind. The HAP21 forum is open, as it should be. No eagle can fly with tied wings, so does HAP21 remain open to creative suggestions, welcoming ideas, funds, and volunteers in promoting peace through the arts.

PEV: HAP21 supports creative and artistic collaborations to produce art, music and literature that promote peace awareness in the 21st Century. Tell us why it is so important for artists of all genres to constantly communicate with one another?

TB: Art as a means of transcendence and enlightenment is the vision of many artists today. I think by bringing more artist together and creating a dialog through collaborative works in the community we can effectively and substantially contribute to the peace of our world. It takes courage to be an artist, but it takes a bit more to move towards a higher purpose than just making a living and seeking fame and fortune. Together maybe we can transcend our financial and social limitations and bring to our audiences good works that amplify the voice for peace in our hearts, minds, and communities.

PEV: What was the last performance or gallery event you attended?

TB: I love and do often visit the local galleries in downtown Bethesda, where I live. I have enjoyed a number of dance concerts earlier this year and the last big show I saw was “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” in Melbourne Australia last October. I usually attend concerts and shows in the warmer season and spend the winter time in hibernation and creating new works.

PEV: Is there an up and coming artist right now that you think we should all be looking into?

TB: There are many new artists worth following and investing in. I love the new generation in the arts, especially the ones that have departed from the gloom and doom of the artistic scene of the 20th century. It used to be chic or intellectual being negative, judgmental, or ugly. Things have changed. The predominantly masculine, mind dominated, detached mental exercises we have labeled as fine arts does not work for me anymore. I think more and more audiences are looking for the spirit in the arts. What moves the mind does not always move the heart. The composer Eric Whitacre is such a voice in the young American music scene. He brings a beautiful and fresh new voice to the repertoire and I think he is a promising talent worth following. He has composed a number of significant choral works that are definitely worth exploring.

PEV: Tell us about your CD “Slightly Uncomfortable”. Describe your creative process for this.

TB: The Slightly Uncomfortable suite of 19 pieces (120 minute) of through-composed electronic music created intuitively and recorded with a definite program in mind. This improvisatory work was conceived and recorded in a period of two weeks with absolutely no editing. This music was inspired by the poetic works of Marshall Stewart Ball, an amazing spiritual 22 year old poet that published his first book of poetry, Kiss of God, when he was only 13.

The music in this work as well a selection of Marshall Balls poetry are the basis of a multimedia (film, dance, poetry, and music) stage work under the same name which premiered in the Capitol Fringe Festival, July of 2006 in Washington DC with much success. The choreography of this stage work is by the founder of Washington’s Joy of Motion dance center, Ms. Michelle Ava.

PEV: How has your family reacted to your artistic career?

TB: My family considers me an eccentric. My immediate family is supportive of all my creative endeavors, however my larger circle of friends and extended family contain an equal share of fans and critics. I am largely not effected by neither fans or foes of my work, but I have to admit that I take pleasure in meeting people who appreciate my music and art. This appreciation is not the focus of what I do. I believe fans and critics can be equally dangerous to a free and creative mind.

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about Tony Bernardi?

TB: I am a student of A Course in Miracles and have extensively studied all the works of Eckhart Tolle. My primary preoccupation is spirituality and metaphysics, even more important than all my expressive, artistic, and Peace promotion work. I consider all my works devotional and a form of prayer.

PEV: When you are not working, what can we find you doing in your spare time?

TB: Play the piano, the violin, reading, cooking, gardening, roaming bookstores looking for books, or spending quality time with intimate friends.

PEV: Currently you are working on a Novel based on a biblical story which will be the basis of a musical stage/film multimedia work. How has the work of writing a novel that will be later put into another format, compare to that of composing, drawing, painting and sculpture? Do you find the vast amount of mediums you work with, hard to balance?

TB: Stories are often the basis of my musical work. In this case the story required much research and elaboration. I plan to collaborate with other artists to bring this work to the stage or screen, therefore I decided to create a novel in order to best communicate my intentions and thoroughly layout the story. Interestingly enough undertaking this project has resulted in much research and exploration which I believe will give much depth to all aspects of this work. I have painted a psychological scene from the story, have composed music, and worked with musicians that will provide a musical voice to some of the characters of the story. The novel is based on a wonderful Old Testament story with an angel and a demon and all kinds of drama. In the musical stage work the voice of the main angel will be represented by a Euphonium. I have the great privilege of working with a tremendously talented Euphonium player from the United States Marine Band who has helped me understand and further explore writing music for this interesting instrument.

Your question about balance is very interesting. I hardly need to balance the different artistic media I engage in. Actually, it is more like using a variety of artistic media helps balance me. Painting, sculpting, poetry, composing music, creative writing, improvising on the piano, etc. allow me to enjoy what I love to do without burning out on any one of them. I find all of these to be related, each one giving depth and informing the others while creating new perspectives for me. The only challenge is keeping up with the standard of excellence in each media and that requires dedication, time and discipline. The way I treat my various creative disciplines is like spending time with friends. I diligently care not to neglect any one of them because I genuinely miss them when I stay away for too long.

PEV: Where do you see your work ten years from now?

TB: I have very little say in the destiny of my works. My job is to create them, or better said, to facilitate their creation. What happens to what I do is totally out of my hands. One thing I know is that I will be taken care of as long as I sincerely work on what I love and do it every day. I have given up becoming famous a long time ago. Our circle of influence is seldom determined by our egoistic hunger for fame. No good work of art can be kept a secret for too long. I prescribe to the motto ” Build it and they will come!”

In ten years from now, perhaps more people would have experienced my work. Perhaps I would have been able to further the cause of peace with my work. Perhaps I would be more appreciated and my work would become more easily available to larger audiences. And if not, I would still be quite content and satisfied because the real reason for all that comes from my life’s works is the love that inspires them all.

PEV: So, what’s next for Tony Bernardi?

TB: Finishing my novel. Working on new music. Making new recordings. Expanding HAP21 and engage other artists in more collaborative works. Living life day to day and enjoying every moment of it. And expecting more surprises, new inspirations, and more miracles in the world and in my life.

For more information on Tony, check out


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