Teaching piano isn’t the only way Michael Caruso perpetuates love for music.
His other career, as a journalist and music critic, has him constantly thinking about music, and with knowledge of great composers and performers running through his head at all times, Caruso freely dispenses wisdom about the classical tradition.
Caruso is the music critic for the Chestnut Hill Local, and was entertainment editor for the Main Line Times during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. “All my thoughts on music can be found in my weekly column,” he says.
Looking back on just a few months of columns, it’s clear he means it; during the performing season – early fall to early summer – he attends multiple concerts each week, both in Center City and in Northwest Philadelphia where the Local is distributed, taking in and processing a staggering amount of repertoire.
He persists in teaching, he says, because of “the need for the appreciation of the arts.”
The great conservatories in the United States and around the world ensure a high level of talent in the world of classical music, Caruso says. Without places like Settlement and other community music school, though, “there wouldn’t be an audience.”
“We’re educating the people who will go to the orchestra and will understand how difficult classical music is to perform,” he adds, with a smile, “because they’ve struggled with a Clementi sonatina.”
Though his earliest musical memories are of his mother listening to Metropolitan Opera broadcasts on the radio, concert-going forged a great deal of Caruso’s connection to classical music. While studying at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University, he frequently traveled to Philadelphia from Baltimore in order to see many of the classical greats who performed here: Arthur Rubenstein, Leonard Bernstein, Rudolf Serkin, Sviatoslav Richter, and countless others.
“I can pass on to my students,” he says, “that they’re not just names in a book.”
Coming up on the 30th anniversary of writing for the Chestnut Hill Local – as well as 30 years of teaching at Settlement – Caruso has no grand plans for a milestone celebration, but he notes, “I wouldn’t mind going back and putting together a book of reminiscences” based on his reviews and other writings.
Remarkably, though, he’s taught a number of his current students for nearly his entire tenure; one current student started with him at age 8, stuck with him through college and law school, and still takes weekly lessons today at age 36. “I’m a link to a whole different generation, and now to a second generation,” Caruso says.
That new generation still has surprises for him, even if their grasp of music history is sometimes a little shaky: another younger current student recently asked him, “Mr. Michael, you play Chopin’s music so well… did you know him?”