Article from Catholic Star Herald, Camden Diocese, New Jersey
Published on December 14, 2007
CUBAN IMMIGRANT'S THIRD ACT, MAKING MUSIC.
By Peter Sánchez
MARLTON, NJ - He sits at his Yamaha grand piano, in the living room of this tan rancher here, playing "Jerusalem Rejoice." a seventh century Gregorian chant which he has modified for classical piano. For the better part of four minutes, Tony Sala is locked in, fully focused on the life-long passion that, only a few years ago, the Cuban refugee and organist at St. Mary of the Lakes Church in Medford started making public.
"Jerusalem Rejoice" is one of 30 classical piano pieces on Sala's third CD in three years. "Best-Loved Christmas Carols." which compiles holiday music from 16 countries around the globe. The Polish carol "Lullaby Dear Jesus" is also included, along with Italy's "Gesu Bambino" (The Infant Jesus), and France's "Cantique de Noel" (O Holy Night).
The past three years have been a career shift for Sala. After leaving Cuba and the oppresive Fidel Castro government in 1961,he spent 40 years in accounting and finance in the United States.
Since his retirement in 2003, he has focused on a passion that had previously remained private, one that started when he was 6 years old, a young boy in Havana, Cuba.
"My music-loving family inspired a passion within me from the earliest years to today," Sala said. He took lessons from his mother's teacher. His older sister, Merceditas, also played the piano. He studied piano at the Peyrellade Conservatory, constantly besting his peers in formal competitions until completing piano studies at 17.
In 1958, at the age of 23, he graduated from Villanova's University branch in Havana, with a bachelor of science in accounting.
When Fidel Castro and his revolutionary movement overthrew Fulgencio Batista's government in 1959, policies were enacted in Cuba that limited freedom of religion, education and congregation. All private schools were taken over by the revolutionary government, including Sala's high school, "La Salle", run by the Christian Brothers and Villanova University's branch in Havana.
Food was rationed. There was a government-sponsored block-by-block neighborhood watch, CDR (Committee in Defense
of the Revolution}, which had neighbors report anyone who disagreed with Castro's regime.
Furthermore, the government considered Sala's accounting degree null and void; he'd have to take classes at a government-controlled institution to get a new one.
Desiring a life which would allow him to live with freedom of speech, freedom of workship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear, Sala left Cuba alone in 1961, ultimately settling in Philadelphia where his older brother Narciso and his family were already residing. In 1963, he married Mercedes Alvarez-Pi, a childhood friend in Cuba.
"Leaving Cuba was like the end of the first act (of my life)." Sala said. "The curtain is closing and you don't know what you are going to see in the second act. You're completely in the hands of God (going forward) something you don't know."
One of the few things he brought with him from Cuba to the United States was his musical ability.
In 1982, Sala moved to Marlton with his family, wife Mercedes and children Antonio Luis and Lourdes Maria. In 1986 Sala volunteered his talents to the members of the St. Mary of the Lakes Church Community in Medford, serving as organist to this day. He recalls at the time he was also looking for a full time job and praying to God, promising "If you find me a job, I will play at church for you until the end of my life."
Just before playing his first Sunday Mass at St. Mary of the Lakes, Sala got a job as controller in a local manufacturing company. "When I sat down at the organ for Mass the first time, I knew that the next day, I had a job," he recalled.
Retiring in 2003 as vice president of finance of a local manufacturing company, Sala realized he had amassed enough original compositions to produce an album. Playing for family and friends over the years at get-togethers, he was encouraged by their calls for him to record his work.
"My (initial) idea was to make a CD for my family, to leave it as a gift to my children and grand children, so they'd have a CD to treasure. That's why I did it. I didn't know at the time that it would be something more."
Biography - Tony Sala, Pianist and Composer:
Born in Havana, Cuba in 1935, Tony started piano lessons at age 6. "My music loving family inspired a passion within me from the earliest years to today." he says.
Consistently placing first among his peers during formal competitions, Tony ultimately completed piano studies at age 17 at the Carlos Alfredo Peyrellade Conservatory in Havana. In 1958, he graduated from Villanova University's branch in Havana with a B.S. in Accounting.
In 1961, Tony left Cuba and settled in Philadelphia, USA, where he embarked upon a successful career in accounting and finance spanning over 40 years. In 1986 Tony volunteered his talents to the members of the St. Mary of the Lakes Church Cummunity in Medford, New Jersey, serving as organist to this day. In 1987 Tony joyned 31 other founder members to establish the Latin American Guild for the Arts (LAGA) in Philadelphia. All throughout this period, Tony continued his love for music, maintaining a focus and diligence towards piano playing.
After retiring in 2003 from a full-time professional life in accounting and finance, Tony embraced his passion for delivering inspiring live performances on a full-time basis. The following discography highlights the accoustical journey to date:
2004: "Havana Dreams" Tony releases his first CD, a romantic and touching array of 14 original piano compositions.
2006: "Classically Cuban" A stirring chronologinal journey showcasing music from 16 Cuban composers ranging from early
19rh century to the late 1950's.
2007: "Best-Loved Christmas Carols" An ultimately inspiring collection of glorious carols from around the world adapted
for classical piano.
2008: "Tony Sala Plays Cocktail Piano" Tony's polished classical piano style is a delicious compliment to well-known
Broadway and other celebrated melodies written by the most famous of popular composers.
2011: "Timeless American Songs" Never before has such a vast collage of popular Americfan songs been presented
in one album. A timeless and fitting tribute to dozens of popular and celebrated American songs!
Tony lives with his wife Mercedes, in Marlton, New Jersey,USA, close to his two children and four grandchildren.