Get to Know HFC: For 30 years, Gina D’Alessio has taught music from the heart
When she was a student at Roosevelt High School in Wyandotte, HFC music instructor Gina D’Alessio missed many athletic events and student activities because she had to practice the piano.
“My peers used to tease me – ‘Your parents are forcing you to practice.’ When I told them it was my choice, they didn’t believe me,” recalled D’Alessio. “But it’s the truth: No one ever forced me to practice the piano. I wanted to practice. I loved to practice. It was this innate desire within me. Whenever I had a bad day, I could always take it out on the piano.”
Music is in her genes
Born in Brooklyn, NY, D’Alessio’s family moved to Michigan when she was 6. The eldest of two, D’Alessio lives in Wyandotte. Music is in her genes: Her late father, Gennaro, was a professional violinist; her mother, Josephine, was a classically trained opera singer, who performed with what is now the Detroit Opera; her brother, Jerry, is a realtor who plays with local bands.
“When I was a baby, my parents played (jazz legend) Louie Armstrong. I rocked back and forth in rhythm to the music in my playpen. My mom declared: ‘We’ve got another musician in the family!’ How could I miss when both my parents were musicians?” she recalled.
D'Alessio studied piano at the Detroit Community Music School under renowned music teacher Albert Fillmore (the namesake of the Fillmore Detroit) for five years. After graduating from high school, where she was active in the choir, serving as the official accompanist, D’Alessio earned both her bachelor’s degree in piano performance and her master’s degree in voice performance at Wayne State University.
She also completed graduate coursework in voice performance at Indiana University in Bloomington. D’Alessio later studied voice under maestro Enzo D’Amico and Luigi Petrozziello of the Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele, a prestigious opera house in Palermo, Italy. She speaks fluent English and Italian.
Twin passions in singing and performing
“I’ve been teaching piano since I was 17,” said D’Alessio, who offers private lessons. “It started out as a way to earn money for college, but it became one of my two passions – teaching and performing. I love to teach. I teach from the heart.”
While at IU, D’Alessio sang the role of Euridice in Luigi Rossi’s opera called Orfeo. She won first place for her performance in the Josephine Li Puma Voice Competition in Stone Park, IL.
“This opera hadn’t been performed in many, many years. I got the lead role during my first semester at IU, which was unheard of! Only a very select handful of students are chosen to perform each year,” she explained.
D’Alessio was the soprano soloist in Paul Paray’s Mass for the 500th Anniversary of the Death of Joan of Arc. She also sang in the United States premiere of Paray’s Oratorio: Jeanne d’Arc and sang on the world premiere recording. She has performed in concerts in Italy, England, Prague, Wales, Germany, and at the world-renowned Carnegie Hall in New York City.
“Those were incredible milestones in my life,” said D’Alessio. “Music is more than just playing notes and singing a few bars. You have to sing and play with your soul.”
She pointed out the classical music is the foundation for all types of music.
“If you study classical, it makes you a better jazz musician or a better rock musician. Classical strengthens your fingers and improves their dexterity, which effects the tone produced on the piano,” explained D’Alessio.
“Nobody loves their students more than Gina does”
Her association began with HFC (then Henry Ford Community College) in 1993. She had applied for an opening but hadn’t heard anything. She went to New York City but decided to return to Michigan. Within a week upon her return, the late Rick Goward called her and offered her a position at the College.
“I didn’t even have my luggage unpacked when Rick called me,” she said. “I really love the students and the faculty here at HFC. Everyone is down to earth here, which is the way it should be. Artists should be humble. I’m humble, and I feel the surroundings around here are the same.”
D’Alessio continued: “It usually takes 1-2 lessons for everything to click; when it does, it’s an accomplishment for me. When I see students improving and I’m able to pass on my musical knowledge, then I know I’ve made a difference. I enjoy sharing what I know; that’s the best part of my job. I’m always available to my students.”
Interim Director of Music Anthony Lai expressed his admiration for her.
"What has always struck me most about Gina is her love of her students and desire to see them do well,” said Lai. “Watch her play the piano as she accompanies her students, you can see the passion in her face."
Retired Director of Choral and Vocal Music G. Kevin Dewey agreed with Lai. Dewey worked alongside D’Alessio during his entire 28 years at the College.
“I’ve always appreciated how well organized Gina is,” said Dewey. “Nobody loves their students more than Gina does. She is like a mother hen who gathers each of them and works tirelessly with them on a one-on-one basis. She treats every one of her students as individuals. She is like a loving mother to all of them.”