Irrera brothers poised to make Eastman history

By Roger Muehlig,

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 1:49 am

BATAVIA — Brothers John and Joseph Irrera are poised to make some history this week when they receive their doctorate of musical arts degrees from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester. The Batavia natives will be the first siblings in the school’s 93-year history to get their doctorate diplomas at the same time.

Siblings have graduated from the world-famous musical conservatory before, but not in the same year, Joseph advised during an interview at the Coffee Culture cafe in downtown Batavia.

John, who lives in Virginia and wasn’t on hand for the interview, said during a subsequent telephone call that he and his brother never realized they were headed for an historical first at the prestigious Eastman School.

It’s an honor,” he said. “We’ll be right next to each other.”

Graduation ceremonies are set for Saturday at the Eastman Theater. Both of the Irreras’ doctorates will be in music performance and literature, Joseph’s for the piano and John’s for the violin.

Jamal Rossi, dean of the Eastman School, called it “a significant milestone” for the brothers.

We wish them much success for the future,” he said in a news release from the school. The brothers’ parents, Dr. Joseph and Judy Irrera of Batavia, plan to be on hand for the

historic occasion.

Oh, yeah,” their mom assured during the joint interview.

Their sons started their musical education early and shared a self-motivated devotion to their art as they were growing up. “They were dedicated to it,” their father said during the interview.

That dedication surfaced in their grade-school years for the brothers who never needed a parental push to keep them interested in their music, according to their dad.

If anything, (our) two sons were pushing us along,” he said.

Years later, their dual achievement at the Eastman School doesn’t surprise their parents. “No, because I saw how serious they were since Day One,” their mother said.

Although the boys tried all the available sports when they were young, music was their love, she said during the interview. “Music was their passion.”

Joseph, 32, and John, 28, are Batavia natives and Batavia High School graduates who started on their musical paths during their years at John Kennedy Elementary School.

John actually signed himself up for violin lessons at the school when he was just 6 years old, according to his mother. A year or two later, he asked that, if he quit hockey, could he go to the Eastman School of Music, she said.

Thus began an odyssey that had her regularly driving to and from the Rochester school during her sons’ School years. Joseph was 11 and John was 8 when they started at what is now the Eastman Community Music School.

You could say they ‘grew up,’ musically, at Eastman, starting with their studies in the community school,” Rossi said in the release.

Neither of the brothers’ parents consider themselves to be very musically inclined, although Judy plays the drums and can also play guitar.

Joseph, a Batavia native, is a medical doctor and chief of anesthesiology at Sisters

Hospital in Buffalo.

Judy hails from Rochester, but the Irrera family has always lived in Batavia.

Son Joseph recalled getting his first piano, a Baldwin baby grand, when he was 11 years old. He has a Steinway concert grand piano now and has just become a Steinway Artist, he said.

That puts him in musical company with the likes of Rachmaninoff, Gershwin and


It’s basically a rite of passage, Joseph said. There is no pay involved, his dad added, “but it’s an honor to have in your resume.”

John was 10 when his parents bought him the custom-made violin that he still uses for his musical performances. Violins, his mom noted, improve with age.

She and her husband didn’t mind hearing their sons practice at home as they were growing up, she said.

She would even join in on drums, she said, for jam sessions that included songs by rock artists such as Van Halen and Ozzy Osbourne.

Kicks all around. “I had so much fun with my kids,” she said.

The boys both played in the BHS orchestra. Both were also members of the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. They have also played with the Genesee Symphony (John was the orchestra’s first violin/concertmaster

for a time), have played throughout the U.S. and Europe, and have performed three times at Carnegie Hall in New York City and presented a four-concert chamber music series in partnership with the GSO.

They have also served on the faculty of Eastman’s Community Music School. Rossi

made note of that in the news release, saying they brothers “gave back” to Eastman in the process.

The Irrera’s are married. Joseph and his wife, Gillian, live in Rochester. John and his wife, Annie, live in Blacksburg, Va., where she is a music professor of percussion at Virginia Tech.

Joseph is still on the Community School faculty in Rochester. John teaches privately in the Blacksburg area and also performs with the Roanoke Symphony.

Joseph said he and his brother have signed with a manager, Parker Artists in New York.

The talented two some perform as the Irrera Brothers Duo. They would like to continue doing that, he said, and are also looking for university professor positions to continue as music educators.

We’d like to do both,” he said.

Doctorate degrees at the Eastman School require passing both a two-day written exam and a follow-up oral exam. John finished his requirements in December. Joseph said he completed his last month.

The Eastman School expects around 25 graduates in the doctorate class. Along with their parents, the brothers’ wives will be there for the commencement ceremonies as will John’s in-laws who are flying in from Houston, Texas.

It promises to be a memorable occasion.

The family plans to go out to dinner afterward. “And have a good time,” said John.


‘This will be a first’

ROCHESTER — Joseph and John Irrera’s status as the first siblings to receive doctor of musical arts degrees in the same year at the Eastman School of Music was confirmed after a research of graduation records dating back to the school’s founding in 1921.

This will be a first,” David Peter Coppen, head of special collections at the Sibley Music

Library, said in a news release from the Eastman School.

The Eastman School is credited with being one of the nation’s first institutions to establish such a doctorate degree, the release said.

It also noted that the brothers began at the Community Education Division (now the Eastman Community Music School) back in 1993 and that the only degree after high school not completed at the Eastman School by either brother was Joseph’s master’s degree. He earned that degree, it said, from the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.