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Conservatory student leads trailblazing heavy metal music ensemble

Music composition major Peter Altamura ’21 is a fan of heavy metal music. So much so that he and a group of fellow University of the Pacific students founded a headbanging way to celebrate musical genre.

Peter Altamura ’21 and fellow students in the Pacific Heavy Ensemble played heavy metal in the DeRosa University Center.

May 6, 2020
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Music composition major Peter Altamura ’21 is a fan of heavy metal music. So much so that he and a group of fellow University of the Pacific students founded a headbanging way to celebrate the musical genre.

In summer 2018, he and a group of students founded the Pacific Heavy Ensemble, a student-run music group dedicated to performing heavy metal influenced by the world’s classical music and jazz. The 60-member group, comprised of Pacific students throughout the university, has performed material from metal artists new and old to compositions by classical maestros such as Bach.

Born and raised in Santa Rosa, Altamura had trouble finding his place in the world during high school.

“It was through music and finding how meaningful it actually was to me that I was able to overcome that complacency in high school,” he said.

Peter Altamura '21
Peter Altamura ’21 was such a heavy metal music fan that he and a group of fellow University of the Pacific students founded a headbanging way to celebrate musical genre.

While searching colleges, Altamura toured the conservatory, felt a genuine sense of community and knew that he wanted to become a part of Pacific. Now that he is here, it is his professors and the personal attention he receives from them that Altamura appreciates most.

“I’ve had teachers in the past who were just teachers and nothing more,” he said. “At Pacific, there’s this amazing connection that you have with your professors. You go into a lesson and the professor asks how you’re doing and how life’s been, instead of just asking if you’ve practiced or completed the assignment on time. It feels so wonderfully personal.”

Altamura’s inspiration for the Pacific Heavy Ensemble stretches back to high school when his Bible teacher took him to his first heavy metal concert. He recalls how much he was “blown away” by the diversity of the crowd.

“It was one of the most beautiful things to see so many different people from all backgrounds and ethnicities in one place jamming out to the same music and feeling that healing energy that music brings,” he said.

After the show, Altamura walked out knowing his purpose: “I decided that when I got to college, I wanted to do something like what I saw at the concert, while remaining connected to the conservatory, as well, since the very nature of metal at a conservatory is generally unheard of.”

One of the initial challenges was fundraising for the Pacific Heavy Ensemble, but he has managed to raise $37,000.

Andrew Conklin, professor and director of Pacific’s music theory and composition program, credits Altamura’s success to his commitment, passion and the nurturing environment at Pacific.

“I’m very impressed with Peter,” Conklin said. “As a junior, he has already laid the groundwork for a personalized career path, all while acquiring the top-notch skills in music fundamentals, technology and entrepreneurship that will be indispensable after college. Peter thrives in the open-minded and musically inclusive atmosphere here at the conservatory, which allowed him to pursue his dream and grow as a musician.”

The ensemble performed its “UnReality” show last November to an audience of 150 in the DeRosa University Center on the Pacific Campus. They played material from symphonic metal bands Epica and Dimmu Borgir, as well as a rendition of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme song.

Altamura is also involved with student clubs and organizations, including Pacific Composers Club and the Punk and Metal Club, of which he is a co-founder. He is also a member of Sigma Chi and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia.

The global COVID-19 pandemic postponed his plans for joining Italian symphonic metal band Fleshgod Apocalypse for their 2020 North American tour, but after graduating from Pacific in 2021 Altamura plans to start his own band with the goal of signing with a record label and touring the world.

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