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Rich DiPalma enjoys exploring his Italian heritage with wine, song, farming, and his love of the language itself. (Photo courtesy of Rich DiPalma )
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Rich DiPalma of North Haven could sing in Italian before he could speak it.
“My favorite is ‘Vicino Mare,’ the first song I learned,” Rich says. “My grandfather taught this to me when I was six years old.”
As a kid, Rich would ask his grandfather, Pete Forte, how to say different words in Italian.
“I was always fascinated with the language,” he says.
He started learning Italian at the same school where today he’s taught it for the past 14 years: North Haven Middle School.
“It’s the most beautiful language in the world,” he says of Italian. “Everything ends in a vowel—it just sounds nice. It’s melodic.”
However, Rich didn’t pursue Italian music until relatively recently.
“I really don’t have any musical training,” he says. “I never took chorus, never took a musical instrument. And then all of a sudden after college I just sort of said, ‘I think I sound pretty decent,’ and for the past 10 years I’ve been performing almost every weekend around the Greater New Haven area.”
Now Rich performs about 50 gigs a year, including “Italian Songs from Yesteryear” earlier this month at the Music Under the Stars summer concert series on the North Haven Green. He’s headlining the St. Anthony’s Italian Festival in New Haven this coming Saturday, then performing at the St. Andrew Feast in Wooster Square later this month with his cousin, Gina Liquori.
For Rich, it’s a way to celebrate his ancestry. His great-grandparents immigrated to the United States from Italy at the turn of the 20th century.
“I’ve always been proud of my culture and heritage,” he says.
Rich also enjoys singing tunes from the late ’50s and early ’60s by Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, and others—the music his father used to play when he was growing up.
“That’s sort of all he allowed in the house,” he says. “Instead of rebelling against it, I embraced it myself. It’s good music.”
Despite his talent, “I have no interest in pursuing that to become famous,” Rich emphasizes.
Instead, his attention falls closer to home. He and his wife, Ali, have three children: a two-year-old son, Donato; a daughter, Ava; and his oldest son, Pete, named after his grandfather, who passed away last summer at age 99.
“He was my absolute best friend,” says Rich, and, “my number one fan.”
The family is soon moving to a different part of North Haven. Rich recently purchased six acres from family friends, the Adinolfis.
“We’re going to be buying some of the last bit of farmland in this town,” Rich says. “Other than a teacher, I want to be a farmer, too.”
Rich already has chickens and a large garden in his backyard. He makes wine, too—he just planted his first hundred grapevines this year: cabernet franc and Cayuga white.
“Give me about four years, then come over for a glass of wine,” he jokes.
After he moves, he’s hoping to ramp up operations with more chickens—maybe goats and sheep as well—plus more grapevines. He learned the art of winemaking from a former student’s grandfather: Lee Baldieri, president of the American Wine Society’s Fairfield chapter.
“He took us under his wing and took our winemaking to the next level,” Rich says.
Though his interests range, in general Rich describes his pastimes as a 21st century version of what his great-grandparents did.
“I’m interested in the heritage: old-school music, winemaking. I’m probably 86, trapped in a 37-year-old body,” he adds with a laugh.
It’s also his way of dealing with the digital age.
“This is my way of unplugging a bit,” he says. “I know what food I’m eating, I see these critters walking in the backyard—it brings me peace.”
Rich’s upcoming performances are Saturday, June 16 at the St. Anthony Festival at St. Anthony Church, 70 Washington Avenue, New Haven, and Friday, June 22 at the Italian Festa Celebration at the St. Andrew Club Grounds, 515 Chapel Street, New Haven. For info, visit www.stanthony-church.org/events/st-anthony-feast or www.ssaanewhaven.com/HOME.html.
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