Life In My Tuscan Village – Chapter 7: The Village Band

No one would expect that in such a small village there would exist a renowned classical band.

Above the main piazza, Il Crociale, lived a man name Romolo.

Romolo was a man that had had a great misfortune as a young child. In playing around with his friends, Romolo came across some old ammunition. My father tells me that he found the ammunition in some remote cave; probably left there after War World One. As a very inquisitive boy, Romolo took the ammunitions home and started taking apart the large bullets and removing the explosive powder. During this, one of the bullets exploded. As a result, Romolo lost his right arm, his face and mouth were disfigured very badly.

Romolo grew up not been able to work the fields like the other men; he was unable to speak clearly and his words were always muffled. I always had a very hard time understanding him. I remember feeling really bad for him, looking at his face, all I could see was the deformities and one solitary tooth that seemed to always fall out of his mouth.

From these incredible hardships Romolo excelled in one thing, music. He was able to read and write music and out of this he formed the village band. Both my father, uncle Lino, and all of my cousins were involved with the band. They went regularly to Romolo for music lessons and to learn their musical instruments. My father played the French horn, my uncle the saxophone, cousin Ezio was incredible with the trumpet, and the other cousins played the clarinets.

If you were a man of the age 21 to 60, Romolo would insist on you learning a musical instrument, and becoming part for his beloved band. I was too young to participate and as a result I never learned to read music; a deficiency that still bothers me today.

The band involved practically all men of the village and they attended with great pride.

I can see it and hear it now just thinking about it; the band consisted of at least 25 to 30 players, they all had matching uniforms including a very colorful hat, and they all had a standing tri-pot used to hold the music to be played.

Il Crociale was the main piazza and the place where they would first practice, then perform. The players would form a circle with each tri-pot in front of each one of them and Romolo would be in the middle of the circle with his baton in his left hand, always with a jacket on hiding his missing right arm.

All around would be the rest of the village people, regardless if it was practice or an actual performance, the people would all come to listen.

Here I was introduced to the classical music of Verdi, Puccini and the like.

The band was absolutely incredibly talented and the music flowed with great crescendos and melody.

I was always transfixed by the sound. Here was the very first time I heard: “La Forza del Destino, Triumphal March”, by Verdi; simply magnificent. I have never forgotten that moment; that particular piece by Verdi was one of my father’s favorite also.

The village of San Romano was well known throughout the Garfagnana Valley for its talented band and other villages would constantly ask for the band during one of their main feasts. Consequently, the bank would travel to the various nearby villages to play. I was too young to go along, but would get all of the details of each performance from my father once back.

There was never money involved when the band was asked to play in another village; food, wine and desserts were always the form of payments with wine at the top of the list.

My father would bring home wine and dessert, but uncle Lino and other members of the band would come back usually inebriated and very happy.

In the late 40’s, the village was coming out from a very dreadful World War and with able men returning from the service, including uncle Lino and my father, the village was flourishing. This was the post war boom where families increased and working the fields became the way of life. With this, simple luxuries like the creation of the village band, the building of the village school and other projects became part of the social fabric of the village.

Unfortunately, this boom period ceased once the children of these families became teens and older, myself included.  A better life outside the village became the new objective.

I would say that from around 1946 to 1959 the village experienced a great re-birth and expansion. After 1959, able men and women began to seek a better life outside of San Romano and immigration to other Countries or move to nearby cities became the norm. As a result of this change, young teens and other children did not enroll in Romolo’s music school. Romolo beloved band slowly ceased to exist. I saw this happening firsthand and I remember how sad it made me feel not having the band play during the village feasts.

With the band gone, the soul of the village had been extinguished forever; changes were taking place faster and faster. The world was changing, the 1960’s were upon us, and my village had become a victim of this change.

 I will always cherish those times when the village band played at Il Crociale and I sat and watched the men and women smile and dance. The happiness created was all around us, food, cakes and wine would be passed around to each person in the piazza, and then given to the band as a thank you for their performance. Life was simple then, but the people of San Romano lived it to its fullest.

San Romano Band

Looking at this I can name a few people, From the left to right with hands on knees is Settimo,next is Ettore with the clarinet, then Enrico also with the clarinet, behind Enrico to the left is uncle Lino, next to him to his right is Bartolo. I don’t know the man with the hat, but to the right of him behind tilting his head is my father Arturo, to his left is Giuseppe and directly behind my father is Ezio…I also see Fernando and Davide.

The fellow with the coat standing to the left with a rolled paper in his left hand is Romolo. He always had a coat on to cover his missing right arm.

This picture is most likely from the late 1950’s.

 


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