Composer Frank Proto was born in Brooklyn, New York. He began piano studies at the age of 7 and the double bass at the age of 16 while a student at the High School of Performing Arts in New York City. After graduating he attended the Manhattan School of Music where he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees. As a student of David Walter, he performed the first solo double bass recital in the history of the school.
As a composer he was self-taught. For his graduation recital in 1963, Proto confronted the typical bass player's problem—there was very little literature for the instrument. He programmed a baroque work, a romantic piece, and an avant-garde composition using electronic tape, but he wanted a contemporary composition in a more American style. Unable to find one he liked, he decided to write his own. The resulting piece—Sonata 1963 for Double Bass and Piano—was his first composition. It has subsequently been performed hundreds of times, worldwide by scores of bassists, and has entered the standard double bass repertoire.
During the early 1960s he earned his living as a free-lance bassist in New York City, performing with such organizations as the Symphony of the Air, American Symphony, the Robert Shaw Chorale, and—as one of the original members—the Princeton Chamber Orchestra. He also played with various Broadway and Off-Broadway show bands and in many of the jazz clubs that were a mainstay of New York nightlife at the time.
In 1966 he joined the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra where, with the help and encouragement of CSO Music Directors Max Rudolf and Thomas Schippers, he began to bloom as a composer. The early opportunities given him by the CSO to compose and arrange for the orchestra resulted in a 30 year stay in which the orchestra premiered over 20 large works and countless smaller pieces and arrangements composed for Young People's concerts, Pops concerts, tours and special occasions.
Working in such an all-encompassing musical atmosphere, both as a player and a composer, has resulted in Proto being able to become as comfortable with the large orchestra as he is with a jazz rhythm section. The result is as exhilarating as it is natural. He has written music for such artists as Dave Brubeck, Eddie Daniels, Duke Ellington, Cleo Laine, Benjamin Luxon, Sherill Milnes, Gerry Mulligan, Roberta Peters, Francois Rabbath, Ruggerio Ricci, Doc Severinsen, Richard Stoltzman and Lucero Tena.
In 1993 Proto began another collaboration—with poet, playwright and author John Chenault. To date they have written seven works together. Working with Chenault has brought an added dimension to Proto's music—the visual. Their pieces bring a more all-encompassing, quasi theatrical experience to audiences. Together they have explored various ways to utilize the orchestra in ways beyond the traditional.
John Chenault is an educator, writer, poet, playwright, and librettist. He is the author of two poetry collections, Blue Blackness (1969), and The Invisible Man Returns (1992), and his work has appeared in literary journals and anthologies. He also has written for magazines and newspapers, and was a columnist and section editor for Artrage Magazine in London, England.
Chenault, a Cincinnati native, began his performing arts career in 1967 with the New Theater of Cincinnati. From "techie" to actor, playwright, and producer, he has been involved in dozens of productions behind and on the stage. His playwriting credits include: Blood Ritual, Stolen Moments, The X-periment, and Young Men Grow Older, a television drama that received the National Conference of Christian and Jews Brotherhood Award and was nominated for an Emmy Award for Community Television.
During the late 1960s Chenault studied African and Afro-Cuban percussion and performed with the Black Arts Ensemble (BAS). The percussion group Sunship, which he co-founded with Fahali Igbo, Matt Gibson, and Steve Neil in 1972, grew out of the BAS. From 1974-76, he continued his music studies at Antioch College with musicologist and composer Karl Berger. In 1977 he formed the Zamani Band in Washington, D.C with Joseph Kennedy III and Phil Osborn.
Chenault also has been an avid researcher and lecturer in the field of Africana Studies. He has taught African American Studies at the University of Cincinnati, Beacon College, and Washington International College, where he was executive dean (1978-1982). He currently is an assistant professor at the Kornhauser Health Sciences Library at the University of Louisville, and a lecturer in the Pan African Studies Department in the UofL College of Arts & Sciences.
Chenault met bassist/composer Frank Proto in 1993 and began a successful partnership that has produced a series of compositions and recordings for orchestra, jazz band and chamber ensemble. They have received commissions from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, American Composers Forum, University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music (CCM), International Society of Bassists, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Their work has been performed throughout the U.S., and in Canada, England, Germany and France. With the commission of their first opera by the Opera Studio of the University of Maryland School of Music, they continue to explore and redefine the ways in which music and words can combine in performance.
|Other Artistic Personnel:
Leon Major (director)
Timothy Long (conductor)
Erhard Rom (scenic designer)
David Roberts (costume designer)
Nancy Schertler (lighting designer)
Kirby Malone, Gail Scott White (projection designers)
Jeanne DiBattista Croke (wig & make-up designer)
Peter Park (audio designer)
Jeremy Foil (associate scenic designer)
Jonathan Dillard (assistant lighting designer)
Michael Ingram (assistant conductor)
Justina Lee (principal coach)
Gisèle Becker, Kelly Butler (chorus masters)
Sun Ha Yoon, Sooyoung Jung (rehearsal pianists)
Maggie Villegas (stage manager)
Carolyn Black-Sotir (assistant director)
Bridget Woodbury (assistant stage manager)
Jarrod Lee (Joe Louis)
Duane Moody (Young Joe)
Adrienne Webster (Marva Trotter)
Peter Burroughs (Max Schmelling)
Carmen Balthrop (Lillie Brooks)
VaShawn McIlwain (Jack Blackburn)
Robert King (Julian Black)
Benjamin Moore (John Roxborough)
David Blalock (Ring Announcer)
Madeline Miskie (BEAUTY #1)
Amelia Davis (BEAUTY #2)
Amanda Opuszynski (BEAUTY #3)
Andrew Owens (REPORTER #1)
Andrew McLaughlin (REPORTER #2)
Colin Michael Brush (REPORTER #3)