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Growing Up In An Italian Household

Growing up in an Italian household meant that music was always being played loud throughout the house, blasted in the car, and played live at the festivals that we attended. The mixture between Italian music and Italian American musicians were always fresh in my mind. Due to the fact that my parents and grandparents lived by the rule, “the driver controls the radio”, there was never a time when I would listen to pop music like my peers. At the time, I was taking this music for granted, but as I grew older I started to really enjoy it. Singers such as Frank Sinatra, Andrea Bocelli, and Dean Martin are legendary names in the Zecchino household. Prior to taking this course, I just felt that these musicians were amazing and innovative people. Now I have decided to go back into history to find out what influences may have affected the creations of this music that my family adores. Italian folk music is a genre that is very complex and interesting due to the many different genres it pulls from. In this paper, I will explain the Italian folk music culture,the instruments that are used in this genre, and how it is seen in the music world of today.

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary folk music is,”the traditional music of the people in a country or region”. This seemed to be very vague and I knew there had to be more to explain what this idea of folk music was really all about. Through more research, I became aware of a man by the name of Marco Pontuali. He is a man who was born in Rome, Italy and is an expert in the tourism, arts, and language of Italy. He know serves as a tour guide to share it

wealth of knowledge with the rest of the world. Pontuali explained the genre of Italian folk music by using the geography of the country. Pontuali said, “These traditions reflect Italy’s geographic position in southern Europe and in the center of the Mediterranean Sea; Arabic, African, Celtic, Persian, Roma, and Slavic influences” (Pontuali). This was extremely important to my understanding to the foundation of what Italian folk music is. It is the music that the country produced with the little influences from all of the surrounding countries and their cultures as well. For the Italian folk music in particular, there are three regions that are usually made when looking into the folk music. A man who goes by the name of Alan Lomax created a system for the Italian folk music that broke up the genre into three parts by region in 1956.

In northern Italian folk music, there are many attributes that separates itself from the folk music of the central and southern Italian folk music. Northern Italian folk music is often done with, “ choral singing and polyphonic” singing (Pontuali). Pontuali discusses how there is a great influence in the from ancient Occitania music in Northern Italian folk music. The reason that the music is usually compared with that of Occitania, is due to the usage of similar instruments. In both Northern Italian folk music and Occitania, there are uses of bagpipes along with flutes. Another influence of Northern Italian folk music is from Austria and Slovenia because there are pieces that use characteristics of the waltz. Northern Italy is much more connected to the rest of Europe as far as music goes. For example, the choral and ballad signing is very prominent in other countries music as well, therefore Italian folk music seems to draw much of its influences from the countries that are surround it from the North up. The Southern Italian folk music draws

influence and instruments from the surround countries that are southern of Italy. With the culmination of great music, Central Italian folk music uses part from both the north and the south in order to have their own identity as well.

In the Southern Italian Music genre, the instruments are extremely important when it comes to identifying the genre. Pontuali explains the Southern Italian Folk Music by stressing the “use of interval part singing and a greater variety of folk instruments” (Pontuali). In addition, he points out the Celtic and Slavic impacts on the genre. Also, Southern Italian Folk music is the reason that a very famous Southern Italian dance known as the tarantella was created. This is a “rhythmic dance” that is a native to the Southern region of Italy. “The Apulian city of Taranto is a home of the tarantella, a rhythmic dance widely performed in southern Italy” (Pontuali). Lastly, there is a small island right off the the coast of Southern Italy that seemed to have been it’s own hub for Italian Folk music. The island of Sardinia is home to a rendition of Italian Folk music that stands out above the rest. Pontuali points out that Sardinian folk music is the “polyphonic chanting of the tenores” (Pontuali). Also, he goes on to mention that it has many comparisons to Gregorian chant. Gregorian chant is something that we discussed in detail throughout the course. Gregorian chant was most notable used in the Roman Catholic church. It consisted of a monophonic tone and became one of the most used genres in the church. Italy was a country that was very involved in the Roman Catholic church along with the reformation as well. It makes a lot of sense for Italian folk music to have some traces of Gregorian Chant in it due to great Italian involvement in the progression of the church and music in the church. In addition to

traces of Gregorian Chant, the Sardinian folk music uses an instrument known as a launeddas, also known as a Sardinian triple pipe. Launeddas were most famously Efisio Melis who was known as the best Launeddas players during the early 19th century.

There are also a few instruments that are necessary to truly emulating the Italian folk music. The one that is used the most is the flute. There is a great variety of flutes and there are different depending on the area in Italy. In Sicily, Calabria, and Campania the double flute is used in most of their folk music. In contrast, other places use flutes such as, “duct, globular and transverse flutes, as well as various variations of the pan flute” (Pontuali). In addition to flutes, percussion instruments are also essential, yet unconventional. When percussion instruments are mentioned many think of drums, xylophone, and a gong. When it comes to Italian folk music, they really utilized their surrounding resources and tried many unusual things in order to find that sound that was just right. Some of these Italian percussion instruments consisted of “wood blocks, bells, and castanets” (Pontuali). As they progressed both industrially and economically, they adapted more modern percussion instruments such as drums and their music continued to enhance.

In addition to the differences in regions of Italian folk music, dance was provoked from these new emergences of music. The many traditions in Italy used both the folk music and the folk dance in unison for their cultural practices. The dances were used during the start of Italian folk music, and still are used during the same folk music in modern day. There are many ritual dances that are well-known today, but the one that Pontuali focused on were ones from Tuscany. Tuscany is located in the middle of the country and is most known for its capital of Florence.

Pontuali discusses the dances in Tuscany that are used for the harvesting rituals of wine. “Popular Tuscan dances ritually act out the hunting of the hare, or display blades in weapon dances that simulate or recall the moves of combat, or use the weapons as stylized instruments of the dance itself” (Pontuali).This may seem like something that would be used in cultures such as the Aztecs or the Incas, but this is still used in Tuscany today.

Italian folk music is still prevalent in the world today. In 2013, an Italian band known as Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino put on a folk revival concert in Italy, but this ended up sparking many other folk revival concerts and festivals including some in the United States. The band was founded in 1975. One of their members, Mauro Durante, said their mission was to “research and represent traditional music in opposition to the commercial mainstream productions that were growing bigger and bigger, in order to create a unique, renewed identity.” People like this are responsible for the fact that Italian folk music is still around today. The band is very aware with the fact that modern technology and progression of society are constant, yet they feel that there is still a place in this world for the traditional Italian music. Although groups such as Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino may be small in numbers, their passion and love for Italian folk music will forever outweigh those who do not know about it. This preservation of the genre is very inspiring and I truly applaud their hard work and dedication.

Italian folk music is something that I truly could not even define prior to starting this paper. I felt that I always knew more about Italian music than the average person. By researching and looking into this new side of Italian music makes me even more appreciative of the great singers and songs that my family constantly play on a daily basis. As we gather for the upcoming holidays, I look forward to extending my new knowledge and history with my family in order to allow them to have the new found gratitude that I have myself.

Freelance Writer

I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.