By Dave Dentel
With a focus on all things classical—from chamber compositions to period gowns, and concert venues ranging from an old-world café to a yacht—it would be easy to assume that the Cacciacarro sisters’ up-and-coming string trio is the product of a longstanding family musical tradition.
In truth, the sisters’ journey took a completely different turn than what some expected—and it all started with their parents’ decision to homeschool.
“I never played an instrument in my life,” says Carmine Cacciacarro. He and his wife Carolyn have homeschooled all six of their children in the Canadian province of Ontario.
Carolyn explained that the path to having each of the young Cacciacarros study music performance began as a first step in the family’s grand educational experiment. And the choice to homeschool came as part of an even bigger life change, when after several years of marriage she and her husband became Christians.
Up to that point, having children was not necessarily a priority. Instead, Carolyn says she was focused on her career working at a large bank.
“I felt like I was building an empire for myself,” she says.
That changed when their oldest, Miriam, became school-age. Carolyn said she realized her daughter was essentially being raised by her mother-in-law, who cared for Miriam while Carolyn worked.
The epiphany made Carolyn reconsider both her career and her education options. Thinking about how little time she’d actually spent with her daughter, Carolyn told herself, “’I’m not sending her to school.’ I just finally got her home.”
Along with plunging into homeschooling came another decision with a far-reaching impact. When Miriam was about 5, Carolyn recalls, “I said, ‘You should probably study an instrument.’”
But when Miriam announced her preference for the violin, Carolyn faced a dilemma.
“Normal people play the piano,” she says. “I had no idea what to do. I had to go to the Royal Conservatory to find a teacher.”
Miriam, now 21, said her choice of instrument seemed natural considering the kind of music she heard around the home and at concerts in the Toronto area.
“From a young age,” she says, “I fell in love with the sound of the violin.”
Her younger sister, Hannah, 18, followed suit—with a slight twist. She began learning the violin, but says that “after three years, I didn’t have that passion for practicing.”
After talking her parents into renting a cello for three months, Hannah adds, “I totally fell in love with it. I would wake up in the middle of the night wanting to practice.”
Seventeen-year-old Abigail, the third member of the trio, was also anxious to adhere to the family’s musical regimen. She started on the violin at age 4, said Carolyn, because “she was clamoring to get to where the older girls were.”
But the three eldest Cacciacarro siblings didn’t seriously consider marketing themselves as a professional ensemble until, about six years ago, they were invited to play at a wedding. The experience made them realize what they had to offer as artists.
“We felt we had such good chemistry as sisters,” Miriam recalls.
Plus, Hannah says, the fact they live together means “we don’t have to schedule special rehearsals.”
For several years now, the sisters have performed under the group name Quintessence, chosen for its reference to pursuing excellence for the glory of God. Miriam does much of the arranging, transcribing for two violins and a cello from piano compositions or chamber pieces.
Her skills as a seamstress have also helped the group fashion a fitting look for their music. Miriam sewed several hoop-skirted gowns in keeping with Reformation-era hymns they are currently recording, and the trio donned Austrian folk dresses for photos illustrating their CD of songs from The Sound of Music.
In fact, Austria has figured prominently in the sisters’ musical adventures. They performed regularly at a café opened by an Austrian, and then at a Christmas party for the Austrian Society of Toronto. That, in turn, led to an invitation for the whole family to cruise Lake Ontario on a private yacht while the trio played for a reception hosted by an Austrian Trade and Tourism Board.
Other highlights for the trio include performing at the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto, playing at a church conference in North Carolina, and doing a selection of Christmas music for the TV show 100 Huntley Street. They also recently worked with award-winning contemporary Christian artist Fernando Ortega.
Though the older two are out of school, the three sisters remain committed to developing musically and in any other direction their interests take them. They added that this attitude is simply an extension the ethos they learned as homeschoolers.
“We had a lot of time to pursue hobbies and develop skills that we like, rather than sitting in a classroom all day,” Abigail says, explaining that most afternoons she and her sisters were free to sew or practice their instruments.
Miriam has earned a bachelor’s degree from Thomas Edison State University in New Jersey. She started at age 16 and completed the program in about two-and-a-half years thanks to course credit she earned through CollegePlus and CLEP exams.
Hannah is taking a break from academia to prepare for her Grade 8 exam at the Royal Conservatory of Music. Miriam and Abigail have already passed exams at the Canadian institution, which “provides a recognized standard and sequenced program for people studying music privately.”
In the meantime, Hannah is exploring other creative outlets, such as Italian cuisine. “I’ve always loved cooking,” she says. “Being Italian, food is part of us.”
But music remains at the forefront. They offer lessons in their own “Studio Forte” located at 56 Casablanca Blvd. in Grimsby, Ontario.
In addition to teaching violin, cello, and piano, the three sisters remain determined to play together as long as possible. They would like to perform with vocal soloists and ensembles, and get in on the growing trend of staging concerts in intimate settings such as private homes.
“We want to be a part of it,” Carolyn says, “because we’re all about home.”
Ultimately, Miriam adds, their goal is to use the family’s newfound musical tradition to inspire a love for a deeper, more established legacy.
“Our mission is to encourage others to proceed with excellence,” she says, for them “to never feel that there is a climax. Classical music is so rich, and we don’t want young people to miss that.”