Mano Divina Giannone, concert thereminist – Angelic music of the theremin

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Mano Divina – photographed on his birthay by Dan Webb

He is delicately moving his right and left hands in the air above the strange, unusual instrument that is called theremin. Without touching anything Mano Divina Giannone produces beautiful, divine music that moved people to tears. He is composer and musician from Philadelphia, and thereminist who plays theremin, a little known instrument which produces angelic music, similar to the sound of a violin.

The theremin was named after Russian inventor Leon Theremin, who patented the device in 1928. The control part of the instrument usually consists of two metal antennas that detect the relative position of the thereminist’s hands and control oscillators for frequency with one hand, and amplitude with the other. The electrical signals of the theremin are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker. There aren’t many people who play this rare instrument and Mano Divina Giannone is one of the most famous performers and promoters of it.

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Mano is playing theremin in the church

But how he discovered this instrument? Mano developed love for music in his early childhood. Born in Pennsylvania from Italian parents, he’s been surrounded by the music his whole life. He played several instruments and in his teenage years he started playing in various musical groups and performing around the world. That’s how he heard for the first time the sound of theremin played by French electronic composer Jarre. That performance impressed him. ‘Nothing was real. I thought that was a magic trick. And by the end of that song I realized not only it was real, but he was making music by his hand in the air. My impression was the same as the impression of people who come to see me at the concerts: first they don’t think it’s real, second they watch closely and then they realize I am really doing it with my hand!’

At that moment Mano used to play nine instruments! That was in early 90s and Mano was so impressed what he heard in France that he wanted to learn more. He asked everyone what was that instrument, but nobody knew, except one of them who told him the name of the instrument. Mano immediately contactedRobert Moog, American inventor of synthesizer, and buy theremin from him. That was in 1995/1996.’

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 Concert Atop The Crypts ~ Mano Divina 

In that time just few people knew about theremin. The instrument is a little bit more popular today, so people can get lessons, but in the past, when Mano started playing nobody knew the name of it, not to mentioned how to play on it. ‘So I had to figure out how to play. I didn’t learn from any teacher!’  Luckily for him he was schooled in music and had a lot of training in other instruments.

He started performing in European churches. He was in France and Italy playing beautiful songs like ‘Ave Maria’ and audience loved it. After a while he decided to come back to his hometown Philadelphia and form his musical group. ‘Philly has the best, unused classical musicians out there’, he said. So, he formed ‘The Divine Hand Ensemble’ and they performed first time for Halloween. That was their anniversary.

‘The band and I are like a family who has the same job to perform beautiful music which brings our audience to the tears. We are united in our goal to touch people with our hypnotizing performances and I hope I will continue illuminate and entertain the audience for the rest of my life’.

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Mano Divina and The Divine Hand Ensemble at the concert

Talking about people’s reactions on theremin, Mano said that people at first can’t understand theremin because most them have never seen an instrument played without a touch. ‘It takes a moment to understand what is happening, what I am doing and does that what they see matches with the sound of what they hear – something between opera singing and young boys singing.  After a while they become fascinated. They say they are mesmerized watching me play and they say they are moved to tears by the music they hear. Theremin is the instrument unlike any other. When you play piano you can see the keys and you can look at your hands, but with theremin you play in air so there is nothing to see. You need to use muscle memory and lose visual one. You only can rely on your ears and that’s why this is very difficult instrument to play and master. That’s why there are just few people who play it. I even had to stop playing all other instrument in order to focus on theremin,’ Mano said.

Mano Divina Giannone and his The Divine Hand Ensemble perform classical compositions, chamber music, opera arias, sacred choral music opera arias and even some spooky themes (because theremin was used in some science-fiction movies) and some rock interpretation. They practice and rehearse a lot. They performed for Pope Francis last year while he was visiting Philadelphia and he was delighted. They always have important concerts for their Halloween anniversary and they will have hundredth performance together for Winter solstice (December 21st) on the stage where they started – on Sellersville Theater in Pennsylvania.

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Mary Bryson is playing harp

Mano said their concerts are different than other classical concerts. ‘We talk to our audience, we encourage people to get involved, ask questions, we don’t just play and disappear. We don’t like stuffy glass wall between audience and ourselves.’ Still they have once a year a performance at cemetry. ‘When I started playing sacred music in Italy I stumbled across funerary music. That is the music written for the dead to help them to cross into the afterlife and that’s why that is very beautiful and at the same time weird music. I never heard anything like it’, he explained and said the proof that people in America love that music is the fact that the video with them playing funerary music on Youtube saw more 700.000 people. ‘Audience love that music and some of them ask us to perform it on our concerts. However, that music is a little heavy, depressed music so we decide to perform funerary music once a year at Laurel Hill Cemetery cemetary for people who love that type of music. That was such a success and we do that seven years in a row. But, this is not normally what we do. We normally perform happy music, we make jokes, we have a lot of fun. We want people to be entertained!’

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Once a year ‘The Divine Hand Ensemble’ has a concert at Laurel Hill Cemetery where they perform funerary music

Beside Mano Divina, the members of The Divine Hand Ensemble are Gloria Galante – harp, Mary Bryson – harp, Jon Salmon – cello, Hannah Richards – viola, Monique Canniere – violin, Julie Myers – violin, Brit Walmsley – violin and Randall Rudolph – percussion.

You can find more about Mano Divina Giannone and his ‘The Divine Hand Ensemble’ on their website http://divinehand.net/index.php and their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/divinehandensemble/?pnref=lhc

Milica Puric

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