The Malta Independent 14 November 2018, Wednesday

The history of a band and the history of its town

Noel Grima Monday, 14 August 2017, 16:16 Last update: about 2 years ago

The town is Sliema, the band is the Stella Maris Band.

First of all, whence the name? Tradition has it that on what was later to be called Dragut's Point, a niche dedicated to the Blessed Virgin was set up by a sea captain who had survived a bad storm.

When the Turks invaded Malta in 1565 and the Turks set up their camp around there, the Turkish admiral Dragut ordered the niche to be pulled down. It was around that area that Dragut was killed.

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After the siege, a small chapel was erected, dedicated to the Virgin. It became customary for sailors to salute the Virgin with a Hail Mary (sliema) when they were sailing out of the harbour. That is how the area acquired its name.

Over the following centuries, as the Turk terror receded, people started to move there. The area, however, remained for a long time barren and dominated by fields. Then the rich started to move in and Sliema became full of palaces and villas - Capua Palace, Villa Bianchi, Hunters Palace and Hunters Lodge, Villa Bonnici and Villa Bonici, Villa Rathnapoora (later Fatima House), Villino Zammit, Villa Trigona, Villino Micallef, Villa Drago, Villa Portelli, Villa Schinas, Villa Torreggiani, Villa Cassar Torreggiani ...

Sliema was favoured by the British armed forces personnel and as more people moved in the town became a collection of streets and buildings with a preference for places of entertainment.

It was around this time that the Church started creating parishes with the first one being the Stella Maris parish set up on Christmas Day 1878.

Along with the parish there came the festa - in 1891 the titular statue was brought over from Paris.

And with the parish and the festa came the band club.

The bulk of this book had already been written and published to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the band, written by the same author. Then, the author was asked to update the book for the 100th anniversary of the band and the result is this book.

The band culture in Malta had begun around that time but it needed no less than three attempts, and three bands to finally lead to the Stella Maris Band. First came I Cavallieri di Malta set up in 1885 with a band club that later became the Alhambra Cinema and now is the Zara outlet. This band thus predated the arrival of the statue and had a significant part in its welcome. But by 1901 it had died.

Next came the Banda Mannarino set up in 1887 and died the next year.

Then came the Banda Melita set up by that musical genius Ferdinando Camilleri in 1899 but it too died in 1903.

Then former bandsmen from I Cavallieri di Malta and the Banda Melita came together to form a new band, Queen Victoria, set up in 1904 but again it died by 1908 and it sold its uniforms (and the name) to the Queen Victoria Band in Zurrieq.

One had to wait until 1914 to see a new attempt to set up a band, and that is where the Stella Maris Band was born. Once again, it was Maestro Ferdinando Camilleri who was behind this  attempt but he was given a helping hand by the parish priest Dun Vincenzo Manche.

The rest of the book consists of an outline of the history of the band - the first band march (1914), the first band march outside Sliema (Gzira 1915 when the Gzira parish had not yet been set up), band marches by gas light (as electricity reached Sliema only in 1922), and so on.

While World War I hardly affected the band, World War II on the other hand brought about the partial destruction of the band club. Then followed a period of reconstruction and consolidation while presidents and band masters succeeded each other.

The book shows how the band moved with the times - it took part in Carnival, went abroad to carry out musical programmes in Sicily, changed from Italian to Maltese, played at the inauguration of the Chalet and took part generally speaking in the parish celebrations.

In the late 1970s, a youth branch was set up and the club soon developed its own football team. With the arrival of the new Millennium (and probably with the encouragement of the new president, Dr Michael Falzon), the youth section soon began to set up the feast decorations around the streets. Here it had unique help from Salvu Bugeja who, we may say, almost single-handedly inspired feast decorations around Malta to return to a baroque design as we can see around us in the festa season.

Reading the book and looking at the many photos, one wonders how the band and the club will survive in future years now that Sliema has been changed beyond recognition by high rise buildings and a very different set of residents. Maybe the band, perhaps more than the church, will provide some sort of continuity throughout future years.

 

Herbert Naudi

Banda Stella Maris - Mitt sena ta' storja

2014

297pp


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