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Christopher R. Volpe’s Music Lab Parma Ohio

Updated: Nov. 03, 2021, 8:01 a.m. | Published: Nov. 03, 2021, 8:01 a.m.

Nationally renowned singer-songwriter Christopher R. Volpe, who died suddenly at the age of 40, graduated from Incarnate Word Academy in 1995. (Courtesy of Rose Volpe)

By John Benson, special to cleveland.com


PARMA HEIGHTS, Ohio -- It’s been an exceedingly difficult year for the Volpe family, who not only lost husband/father Robert in early 2021 to COVID but also this past summer son/brother Christopher R. Volpe, a nationally renowned and celebrated singer-songwriter, suddenly died at the age of 40.


“It’s really tough,” said daughter/sister Michelle Volpe-Kohler, who lives in Rocky River. “My dad and brother were really close so it was hard on him.


“Then we were totally blindsided when my brother passed away, so it’s been an extraordinarily hard year. It’s just unbelievable. I don’t know why this stuff happens.”


Through the shared grief and tears from Michelle and her mother, Rose, is a strong desire to keep Christopher’s music and legacy alive in people’s minds and hearts. Out of that thought came the decision to inspire tomorrow’s musicians.


Currently the family is raising money via a GoFundMe effort to help create the Christopher R. Volpe Music Lab at the sibling’s alma mater, Incarnate Word Academy (IWA).


Both Chris and Michelle attended kindergarten through eighth grade at the Parma Heights school.


“The school meant a lot to us growing up,” Michelle said. “It was while Chris was there the teachers alerted my parents to his unusually high aptitude for math and music. So we just feel like this even makes it more fitting.”


“He was self-taught in all of the instruments he played,” said Rose, a Middleburg Heights resident. “He first discovered the guitar right after he left IWA. He actually took lessons but they were short-lived because my son wanted to learn ‘Stairway to Heaven’ as his first song.


“The teacher said, ‘No, you’re just a beginning student.’ That night he taught himself how to play ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ He went to the next class and played it. The teacher was blown away.”


During his brief career, Chris -- who taught himself how to play guitar, bass, piano, banjo, pedal steel and sitar -- won more than 20 awards for his music, including a 2006 Independent Music Award for “Album of the Year.”


In addition to being featured on NPR’s New Music series and PBS’s “Roadtrip Nation,” Chris played at many festivals, including SXSW.



Inspired by a family friend to perhaps maintain Chris’ memory with a scholarship, Rose contacted IWA.


The timing of the grieving mother’s inquiry couldn’t have been any better. As part of its current capital campaign, IWA was planning for the renovation of the Pearl Road school’s band room.


“Academic excellence at IWA includes an extensive arts program and extracurricular activities that allow our students to experience offerings beyond the traditional curriculum,” IWA President Mike Wisnor said.


“In fact, we’re in the process of becoming a STEAM-certified school through the Ohio Department of Education. As we look to increase our offerings in the fine and performing arts, we believe the new music lab will be a great addition for our students.”


Having partnered with Padua Franciscan High School for years regarding band and orchestra instruction, IWA turned to the Parma school’s music department for assistance and guidance related to converting an outdated band room into a state-of-the-art music lab.


The renovations and additions include acoustic flooring, Wenger chairs, instrument storage cabinets, a cello rack, Clevertouch interactive board, new sound system, Yamaha AvantGrand hybrid piano/keyboard, audio/video recording equipment and acoustic paneling in the separate private instruction room.


In addition to adorning pictures of IWA students performing on the walls, one of Christopher’s instruments will also be displayed.


Wisnor said the hope is for the Christopher R. Volpe Music Lab to be completed during the summer in time for the 2022-23 school year.


When asked what her son would have to say about having a music lab named in his honor, Rose said, “He would be so happy. I’m sure he’s beaming right now. This is such an honor, and he just would be so grateful.”



Michelle added, “We think both my dad and brother are in heaven being super proud of this.”