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PLAY, REGGIO, PLAY!

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Marching in the name of music,
with KAREN HAID

 

Children with tiny guitars and little plastic trumpets, babies with rattles, and mothers with pans and wooden spoons. On Saturday evening, 16 November 2013, a community damaged by a seemingly interminable maleficence gathered in their central piazza to march down the main street in the name of culture. Final destination: Museo dello Strumento Musicale.

In Italy's deep south where the very toe of the boot meets the Strait of Messina, the city of Reggio Calabria awoke on 4 November, a national day of celebration recognizing the end of the First World War, to the news that their Musical Instrument Museum had been torched in the night. Who could have done such a thing? The only certainty thus far is that the fire was set by an arsonist. The direction of the modest museum, housed in the city's old 'Lido' train station, immediately responded to the act of vandalism with an appeal, not only to the good citizens of Reggio, but to the culprit(s) as well, inviting one and all to join in the initial cleanup while partaking in refreshments and the culture that the museum represented. The institution declared, 'Fire doesn't burn ... it stimulates our passion'.

Reggio is all too familiar with violence. Calabria's mafia organization, the 'Ndrangheta, perhaps not as well known as the Camorra of Naples or Cosa Nostra of Sicily, is one of the most dangerous criminal operations in the world. Whether the recent burning of the instrument museum was of their hand or a random act of violence may never be determined. However, the mafia's presence is a persistent drain on society, greatly impacting the quality of life for the local population, who to their dismay, are frequently assigned a general culpability by those looking in from the outside.

The museum countered the recent destruction and the mentality that fosters such a social climate with 'Suona Reggio, Suona', inviting young and old to bring their instruments to the center of town and make their voices heard, not only for the museum but for music, culture and the society as a whole. The organizers proclaimed:

The burning of the Musical Instrument Museum is the umpteenth attack on Reggio's culture. This cannot leave us indifferent. This vile behavior brings about discouragement and rage. We all instinctively believe that this attack on our civilized society has provided the city with a new form of resistance: Music!

Thus, four thousand citizens, many with some form of instrument in hand, several in cases slung over shoulders, marched in the name of music.

Gong and Conches at the head of the procession for 'Suona Reggio, Suona' in Reggio Calabria. Photo © 2013 Karen Haid
Gong and Conches at the head of the procession for 'Suona Reggio, Suona' in Reggio Calabria. Photo © 2013 Karen Haid. Click on the image for higher resolution

Heading off the cortege was a large gong, swinging on a wooden beam and balanced on the shoulders of two men who simultaneously set the rhythmic pace as they beat the percussion instrument with mallets in one hand while they set the emotional tone with their primitive cries on the conch shells they held in their other hand. A Christ-like figure followed, a friendly-looking sort with a crown of thorns, bearing the weight of a substantial cross to which was strapped a pair of trumpets on the horizontal and on the main axis, a saxophone, clarinet and what appeared to be the bell of a herald trumpet. The throng came behind. Several individuals and small groups produced what could be called music and others generated what could only be described as a cacophony, although Charles Ives would certainly have at the very least enjoyed the effort, if not its overall effect.

A scene from 'Suona Reggio, Suona' in Reggio Calabria. Photo © 2013 Karen Haid
A scene from 'Suona Reggio, Suona' in Reggio Calabria. Photo © 2013 Karen Haid. Click on the image for higher resolution

As someone who normally has little patience for rackets and hubbub of any kind, I found myself oddly moved by the procession that was led by the conch's ancient bellows and driven by the pulsations of the gong and the assorted percussion instruments of the crowd. I had visited the museum a few years earlier and spent a very pleasant hour and a half with a young guide who enthusiastically presented the collection, classified by the system of Hornbostel-Sachs and thus divided by idiophones, membranophones, chordophones, aerophones and electrophones. I don't know if anyone visited the museum before or after me that day, but we were alone with the several hundred instruments in the 200 square meter space along the beachfront. For me, the local folk instruments were of particular interest. For the many schoolchildren who visited the museum, the collection served as an important learning tool. The instrument museum also hosted concerts and cultural events. Unfortunately, many instruments as well as the library were destroyed in the fire.

Rackets and hubbub at 'Suona Reggio, Suona' in Reggio Calabria. Photo © 2013 Karen Haid
Rackets and hubbub at 'Suona Reggio, Suona' in Reggio Calabria. Photo © 2013 Karen Haid. Click on the image for higher resolution

The procession ended at the museum, where the Orchestra Giovanile dello Stretto, a young people's band of roughly forty, ebulliently performed an outdoor concert of such standards as 'Stars and Stripes' and 'When the Saints Go Marching In' that featured a strong saxophone section and spotlighted an adult ringer on trumpet. The crowd surged in and out of the building, with a few charred instruments remaining in the corners of the exhibit hall and a section in blackened rubble.

A guitar accepting donations, with the rubble of the Museo dello Strumento Musicale in the background. Photo © 2013 Karen Haid
A guitar accepting donations, with the rubble of the Museo dello Strumento Musicale in the background. Photo © 2013 Karen Haid. Click on the image for higher resolution

'Il museo risuona. Risuona il museo.' The slogan for the campaign promises that the museum will rebuild. The museum will resound anew.

More information can be found on the museum's website: www.mustrumu.it

Copyright © 20 November 2013 Karen Haid,
Calabria, Italy

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ITALY

FIRE

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