Last week I wrote of our addiction to fireworks and fireworks displays in the Maltese Islands. These go hand-in-hand with another basic addiction – band clubs, street brass bands and street band marches.
There can be no celebration without hearing the distinct oomph of a marching brass band to stimulate a sense of joy and celebration.
Is this a Mediterranean addiction? Most countries have brass bands that play strident military music emphasising the resolve to fearlessly march into battle whatever the consequences.
In the Middle Sea we aspire to a different interpretation. In Malta and Gozo our musical evolution is very much influenced by Sicilian, Italian and Spanish tradition in which celebratory brass bands are paramount.
Thus, band clubs are part and parcel of the social and cultural history of the Maltese Islands and have over the years established themselves as an institution in the core of every town and village with a basic target of the teaching of music but also entertaining the public with joy, triumph and splendour.
Needless to say, not a single town or village can consider itself to be complete without having a band club, a brass band and street band marches and many of our musicians, locally and abroad, owe their musical development to the encouragement and teaching of their local band club.
This stretched back to the second part of the 19th Century when small bands were formed by clubbing individuals who could not individually afford to buy their own instrument. The local business community helped by financially contributing and the original target was that of forming a band to celebrate the local parish festa.
The concept quickly spread. Clubs with a statute were formed, premises acquired and indoor rehearsals were held. However, perhaps the most essential development was that of staging music lessons to attract youngsters to learn music and learn to play instruments and eventually become part of the band.
Clubs quickly flourished and a Bands Club Association was formed. Each town and village just HAD to have a band and some localities sprouted two bands either because the locality was large enough to have two or more parishes but even rivalry between band enthusiasts celebrating the same festa. On the downside rivalry became fierce and localities having two bands were not short of sometimes being involved in violent physical conduct!
Differences included political leanings and hence, greater rivalry. Needless to say the country’s two main political parties have their own band!
A recent survey established we now have 84 band clubs throughout the islands and the number of band players exceeds 4,000 and most importantly 25% are women in what originally was looked upon as a strictly male preserve.
Uniforms became statutory and most importantly the band club facade had to be perfectly decorated with festoons, drapes and flags during festa time. Those large enough also performed concerts especially those that had a large yard or a garden. Club membership was opened for public followers and supporters and each thrived with its own bar and in some cases, even restaurants.
The average size is that of 70 band persons but the larger bands could well have 110 or 120 musicians and thousands of followers. Some instrumentalists may be in various bands and not necessarily in one band.
It would be unfair to mention individual bands but those certainly involved in great rivalry include the La Valette Band and the King’s Own Band in Valletta and the San Gaetano Band and St Joseph Band in Hamrun.
Naturally, each band has its own leader and these spawned an array of composers whose name has become a byword in Maltese band history and whose band march compositions are used in not only the locality but throughout the Islands.
Among the more renowned and famous are Major Anthony Aquilina (former military), Salvatore Abela Scolaro, Joseph Abela Scolaro, Hector Dalli, Nazzareno Mifsud, Andrew Coleiro and Archibald Mizzi.
Of these, composer Archibald Mizzi has risen to international fame with a particular composition “The King” – not a royal King but to signify the annual “Kingly” performance of the band and its locality. This is accompanied by Maltese lyrics that have become renowned as “Sena, wara sena …” this going on to mean that with every year “we” get better and better.
The opening notes of the march are outstanding and invariably one is drawn into a mood of celebration that lasts throughout because of its strident pace and its melodies.
It was first played by one of the Hamrun bands, the San Gaetano Band, during the Sunday morning march to celebrate the feast of Hamrun’s patron saint, St Gaetano. This is a band march occasion that attracts many thousands of followers with two bands playing, the other being the St Joseph Band.
These take different routes in the town to keep them apart and only meet in the resounding finale along Hamrun’s High Road, following each other in different order every year to ensure equality of treatment which is distinctly and jealously insisted upon. Needless to say they are kept apart but at various times in the past have erupted in physically violent clashes between supporters.
One brief anecdote in passing; some years back I attended the San Gaetano boisterous festa Sunday morning march with my group of friends. One of them had brought along a cousin who was raised in the USA.
I told the cousin to be prepared for a surprise. He scoffed. “I am born and bred in New York and believe me, I have seen everything there is to see”.
At the end of the march many hours later, exhilarated and exhausted after hours of being pushed around, jostled, singing, dancing and being carried shoulder high, he said, “Boy, I have never, ever seen anything like this. It is beyond belief”.
Archibald’s Mizzi’s composition immediately became popular and soon entered the repertoire of many bands. More emphatically it spread like wildfire throughout neighbouring Sicily and has also gained great success in Italy, Spain, England, Germany and of course among Maltese communities in Australia, Canada and the United States.
Just to mention in passing, various Maltese communities in Sydney and Melbourne over the years formed their own brass bands to maintain tradition although with the passage of time these are becoming fewer and fewer.
To really get into the swing of things, watch:
https://fb.watch/cHeMDfIiKh/ …. the band in Modica, Sicily;
“The king” del M° Archibald Mizzi – Corpo Musicale “Città di Siracusa”. – YouTube …. the Citta di Siracusa band in Sicily;
The King- Mro. Archibald Mizzi – YouTube ….. the Hamrun San Gaetano Band;
Marci Brijuzi – Banda San Gejtanu Hamrun – YouTube …. a selection of different marches If these do not get you singing and dancing in exhilaration, well ….
E/mail – email@example.com
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