Music has been a driving force in Cathy Gianfala Carriere’s life since birth. Coming from a musical family, she remembers her first performance on stage at age 5 with her father’s band, then progressing to Catholic church choirs and studying voice at Loyola University and classical guitar.
But Gianfala Carriere never really aspired to become a chart-topping singer. She was content singing for God.
“Since high school I’ve been doing this,” she said about her 41 years as a liturgical musician for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. “It’s a service to others. It’s a ministry. I am not about seeking awards or fame but using the gifts that God gave me for others.”
Her musical talents and songs from the recently released CD “A Matter of Faith” will be showcased in a free concert July 13 at 5 p.m. at Parkway Presbyterian Church, 6200 Camphor St., Metairie. That CD, along with her 2012 “Love Song: A Tribute to John Denver,” and her debut album, “Medjugorje: A Call to Peace,” will be available. A portion of the proceeds from “A Matter of Faith” benefits pro-life causes through a cloistered order in New York.
For the past 17 years, she’s cantored at St. Benilde Church in Metairie. Prior to that, she had led music at St. Louis King of France – where she began as a teen choir member directed by then-Father Gary Ault of the prolific Dameans musical group fame – and at St. Clement of Rome and Holy Name of Jesus.
“That’s where it really began in church ministry,” she said. “As a cantor, I found it a good way to use my classical training.”
John Denver’s inspiration
A dream in 2000 about singing with deceased singer John Denver planted a new musical seed in Gianfala Carriere. She awoke, penning words to a John Denver tribute song, not knowing why, other than fortifying her admiration for the singer who had died in a 1997 plane crash.
“I think he was one of the greatest singer songwriters of our time,” she said, adding how “Take Me Home Country Roads” hooked her. “I fell in love with his unique voice and his style. I was drawn to his music because a lot of his music is very spiritual.”
Nine years after writing the Denver tribute, the lyrics resurfaced as she was energized – after a retreat – to write new Christian music. She grabbed her guitar and within 10 minutes had music written to it.
God began sending unexpected surprises her way as her inspiration for Christian music writing was building.
While planning a vacation in 2010 to visit Catholic friends in Colorado, she came across a week-long celebration of Denver’s life. She knew she had to go.
Shortly after, she came in contact with a close friend of Denver’s – Karmen Dopslaff – a Catholic who helps maintain Denver’s charitable works and has produced the festival. Dopslaff learned of her song for Denver and invited Gianfala Carriere to sing it during the festival.
"I was just thrilled with that,” Gianfala Carriere said, “to sing his songs to share with the fans.”
Attending the festival in 2011 at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen, she met long-time musicians who had played with Denver. One was Chris Nole, a music producer and jazz and blues musician. After casually mentioning that she sang Denver’s music and wrote a tribute, Nole said to call him if she needed help with her music.
That was the impetus for recording the tribute album to Denver in 2012, and the 2013 CD of her original music on the 17-track “A Matter of Faith.”
“The next thing I know, he asks if I can come to Nashville,” she said, recording music at Parlor Studio with John Denver musicians.
She came full circle at the Denver festival in October 2012 performing familiar Catholic hymns written by the Dameans such as “Beginning Today” – that Denver also loved. She is now a Denver tribute artist who sings annually at the festival.
Music is meant to heal, she said, and she hopes her music and performances minister to others in a healing way.
“It’s just about using the gifts that God give us to share with others. You never know. You just need to step out in faith.”
Gianfala Carriere is organizing a New Orleans concert with Nole soon and was invited to sing in Marseille, France. Visit her website: www.cathy gianfalacarriere.com.