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ST JOSEPH CLUB AND DE ROHAN BAND
 

 

De Rohan Band Club

 

The historian Pietru Pawl Castagna wrote: The first National Band was founded at Zebbug by the well known Maestro Indri Borg in 1860. This was the beginning of all the bands that have been founded and that will ever be founded. Rev Salv Ciappara attests that Zebbug saw the birth of the first band in Malta in his book Storia del Zebbug e sua Parrocchia (1882).

 

At first, the band was more known by the name of its village of origin, namely Societa Filarmonica del Zebbug (1). This was no exception since the first bands were more known by the name of their town or village.

The De Rohan Band was the apple of the eye of the people of the village in ST JOSEPH CLUB AND DE ROHAN BANDits initial years. In those days, it took part in several of the feasts of the village, including that of the patron saint St Philip (2) and Good Friday. It was decided that a bandstand be constructed for the band to play on during the festivities of the patron saint. This bandstand was adorned by the coat of arms of grandmaster De Rohan and a statue of the same grand master was placed on a high pedestal on the stand. All this was done in honour of the name of the band, De Rohan.

Pope Pius IX proclaimed Saint Joseph as the Universal Patron of the Church in 1870. That same year a statue of Saint Joseph was inaugurated in the church of Zebbug. It was made by statuarian Glormu Darmanin. The De Rohan Band was invited by the confraternity of Saint Joseph to participate in the feast and has been doing so to date.

The De Rohan Band kept itself independent until the year 1910. It knew no allegiance to any other society. It had its own premises where rehearsals were held and musical instruction was given (3). This place was and is still known as l-iskola (the school) and stands in Bishop Street. This place today houses the paraphernalia of the feast of Saint Joseph.

The De Rohan band took part in the feast of the patron saint of Zebbug until the year 1904. Up until that year, the sacred music played in the church was performed by the Cappella Nani and by the Cappella Bugeja alternately. It seems that some people wanted to keep Bugeja and others Nani. There were the Nanisti and Bugejisti. Ultimately the Bugejisti prevailed.

The directorate of the De Rohan Band were not in agreement with this decision. They decided not to participate any more in the feast of the patron saint, something the band had been doing since its inception in 1860. Because of this, the band lost its right to play on the bandstand. The statue of De Rohan was replaced by that of Vilhena.

The Nani supporters didn’t let things go by. They invited the Cappella Nani to play on the feast of Saint Joseph. This feast was celebrated on the last Sunday of April (5) or on the first Sunday in May (6) until 1904. The De Rohan Band committee felt that this date was too near the feast of the patron saint (12th May). Therefore, the committee strived to have it postponed to a later date. Finally, the feast of Saint Joseph was established on the last Sunday in July (7). This was made possible by a rescription of H.H. St Pius X (8).

The Saint Joseph Club and De Rohan Band started to be known as Ta' L Ajkla due to this litigation about the sacred music. This was because Nani and Bugeja had connections with Ta' l Ajkla and Ta' I Istilla respectively (9). Nowadays the Eagle and the Star adorn the decorations of the respective feasts.

In 1910, The Noble Antonio Zammit Gauci who was simultaneously president of the Societa' Filarmonica Rohan (10) and Procurator of the Confraternity of Saint Joseph (11) founded the Circolo San Giuseppe. The Societa' Filarmonica Rohan and the Circolo San Giuseppe merged into one new society by means of a contract of 1 November 1910. This merger was made possible because the majority of the committee members in both societies were the same people. Henceforth the new society bore the name of Circolo San Giuseppe e Filarmonica Rohan ( 12).

ST JOSEPH CLUB AND DE ROHAN BANDThe decorations both for the church and for the village streets kept on increasing year by year (13) until the feast of Saint Joseph established itself as one of the greatest of the island (14). It was at its in the beginning of the thirties. Then in 1935, the feast received a great blow through the Regional Council. The party (Society) of Saint Joseph of Zebbug had grown so strong that their feast equalled that of the patron saint, and possibly even surpassed it, writes Rev Joseph Farrugia in his Thesis The contlict between the narties of secondarv feasts and the Maltese Church. All this ended with the Regional Council of 1935 that imposed heavy restrictions on secondary feasts.

The committees had to accept these new regulations not because they agreed with them but because the church was strong, influential and held absolute power over all feasts and so could impose. These measures suppressed the feast of Saint Joseph to a great extent. In fact, by time, most of the street decorations had fallen into disrepair while others were sold. The restrictions which controlled celebrations and decorations outside the church saw their end in May of 1975. At that time Civil Authority, the government, kept for itself the prerogative of regulating all that which took place outside the church and removed the restrictions which regulated outside celebrations. It started issuing permits for street decorations, band marches, and fireworks and all that concerned outdoor activities during feasts.

The same could not be said for the celebrations that take place within the church. The restrictions regarding church decorations and religious functions still hold sway. The Society is eternally grateful to Rev Joseph Bonanno who was the procurator of the feast of Saint Joseph between 1916 and 1943. He worked and strived so that the Zebbug parish church lacked nothing for the feast of Saint Joseph.

The De Rohan Band has had nineteen Band Masters in all. Three of them were Italians, namely Ferdinando Molinari, Gaetano Emmanuele Cali' and Antonio Ruto. The first of these took over from Indri Borg in 1872 (15). The third Band Master hailed from Zebbug and was one of the musicians (first clarinet) of the band. He was Michelangelo Galea who remained at the helm until 1881 when Michelangelo Debono took over. Mro Debono was bandmaster until 1892 (16). The fifth bandmaster was another Zebbugi, Mro Lorenzo Gatt who retained the post until 1900 (17). According to a contemporary newspaper, The De Rohan Band was one of the bands which had held the most public performances at this time ( 18).

Mro Vincenzo Carabott enjoyed great fame in the musical field. He took over from Mro Gatt in 1900. In his time as bandmaster, in 1901, the De Rohan band took part by playing funeral marches in the great funeral with military honours of its Honorary president, Mro Filippo Galea (19). Mro Carabott stayed on only until 1903. Mro Orlando Crescimanno was the next bandmaster until 1906. Mro Crescimanno was one of the best in his day. He is known to have kept the band rehearsing continuously because of the numerous concerts it gave. He also composed the Cantata Inno a San Giuseppe for soloists, choir and band. This beautiful work is still performed as the last item in the concert by the De Rohan Band on the eve of the feast of Saint Joseph. It was also at this time that the committee, lead by its President The architect Paul Cassar Torreggiani, issued a uniform for the musicians. There was a white one for summer and a blue one for the cooler months.

ST JOSEPH CLUB AND DE ROHAN BANDIn 1906 the De Rohan Band had an Italian bandmaster of the name Gaetano Emmanuele Cali' who remained until 1914. He was followed by another Italian, Mro Antonio Ruto who relinquished the post soon after because of the First World War. He had only held some rehearsals and a couple of concerts. The tenth bandmaster was Mro Pacifico Scicluna. He could not give full service to the band both because he conducted other bands and because of indisposition. The committee therefore appointed one of its young musicians as his assistant. He was Giuseppe Busuttil who deputised for Mro Scicluna on many occasions (20).

Then, in 1920, the Committee of the Saint Joseph Club and De Rohan Band, considering the experience he had acquired as assistant bandmaster, decided to appoint Mro Giuseppe Busuttil as bandmaster. The admirers of the band held great confidence in him and saw in him the person who would strive to enhance the reputation enjoyed by the band. In fact, there are two important milestones during his bandmastership. The first was a great concert held in Zebbug by the De Rohan Band to commemorate its 61st anniversary. The second was when, as the first Band of the Island, The De Rohan Band was invited to play with the La Vallette Band on its 50's anniversary in 1924 (21). It was also during Mro Busuttil' bandmastership, in 1923, that its admirers donated a set of Tubular Bells to the band.

The 1920’s were golden years for the De Rohan Band and in those days, the admirers accompanied the band wherever it went to play. They used to spend hours listening attentively while the band performed. In those days too, a Societa' Mutuo Soccorso was established within the society to offer help to its members and musicians (23A). Then, in June 1926, Mro Vincenzo Ciappara took over. Mro Ciappara was reknowned for his band conducting, arranging for band and composition of band marches. In respect of the latter, he is still known as the 'King of the Maltese March'.

Mro Michele Gatt came from a musical family, which brought honour to Zebbug. He was also nephew of Mro Lorenzo Gatt. Mro Gatt took over from Mro Ciappara in January 1930 and remained at the helm for two years. Between January 1932 and August of the same year, Mro Willie Attard was the bandmaster. In the same year, the young man Geraldu Farmgia was chosen as bandmaster. Mro Farrugia, who was a product of the society was only 23 years (24) when he conducted the first concert. It was held at Rabat. He conducted the De Rohan band for a whole 39 years. During this time, the band, among them held several commemorations the 78th anniversary of its foundation (1938). On that occasion Governor Hunter presented the band with a beautiful banner which had the coat-of-arms of grandmaster De Rohan embroidered in its centre (25). The Band also took part in the celebrations which took place on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II's visit to the island as it had also done previously on the occasion in the festivities held to mark Queen Victoria's 60th year of reign. On 20th September 1964 the De Rohan Band performed a band march in Kingsway in the occasion of Malta independence.

ST JOSEPH CLUB AND DE ROHAN BANDMro Farrugia also conducted the band during the celebrations held by the committee of the Saint Joseph Club and De Rohan Band to mark the first centenary of the band in 1960. This was the first centenary ever celebrated by any band in Malta and Gozo. Mro Farrugia composed several band marches for the band among them To Indri Borg - father of the De Rohan Band. He relinquished his post in 1970 and was followed by Mro Henry Camilleri, another musician from the band. Mro Camilleri retained his post until 1976 and was followed by Mro Frank Galea who was also one of the sons of the society. These two bandmasters carried on the work started by their predecessors in the field of music.

The band came under the baton of Mro Lawrence Borg in 1978. In 1981 the band performed a concert at the Catholic Institute in the name of the Malta Band Clubs Association under the patronage of the Minister of Education and Culture Then, in 1985, the band celebrated its 125th anniversary. Mro Borg remained at the helm until 1990, and left the band a prestigious musical record during these years.

Mro Ronnie Debattist the present bandmaster, followed Mro Borg. The De Rohan Band won the first prize at the Melita Cable TV Band Contest held in 1993 at the Manoel Theatre and was consequently invited to participate in the ‘Malta International Brass and Woodwind festival’ held at the Manoel Theatre in November 1994.

In 1995 the De Rohan Band, led by Mro Ronnie Debattista, performed a memorable programme at Zebbug Parish Church for the occasion of the 125th anniversary of St Joseph as the Universal Patron of the Church and the Inauguration of the Statue of Saint Joseph.

The musical archives of the band are full of works by the different conductors, including marches both brilliant and funerary. The Saint Joseph Club and De Rohan Band still thrives well after so many years and stands proud of the good and fruitful work done by its members because they ever followed its motto of AVANTI SEMPRE. (26)

 

References

Storja ta' Malta - P.P. Castagna

Storia del Zebbug e sua Parrocchia - Dun Salv Ciappara

Kontlitt tal-Partiti tal-festi sekondarji u 1-Knisja Maltija (Thesis by Rev Joseph Farrugia)

1. Guida generale di Malta e Gozo - 1881 to 1893
2. Il-Verita - May 1894
3. Guida Generale di Malta e Gozo - 1910
4. Corriere Mercantile Maltese - 1875
5. Malta Taghna – 23rd April 1904; La Croce di Malta – 2nd May 1874
6. Il- Poplu Malti – 28th April 1906
7. Malta Taghna – 5th May 1906
8. Il-Poplu Malti – 28th July 1906; Malta Taghna 28th July 1906
9. Il-Berqa 1958
10. Poplu Malti 1st April 1911
11. Poplu Malti 1st April 1911
12. Guida Generale di Malta e Gozo - 1920
13. Poplu Malti – 12th August 1911
14. Malta Taghna – 28th July 1917 and 18th May 1872
15. Corriere Mercantile Maltese
16. Guida Generale di Malta a Gozo - 1881, 1892
17. Guida Generale di Gozo - 1892
18. Verita – 28th April 1894
19. Patria – 11th June 1925
20. Malta Taghna – 28th July 1917, 22nd February 1919
21. Commemorative Booklet by Henry Camilleri - 1960
22. Malta Taghna – 14th April 1923
23. L-Orizzont – 16th August 1979
24. Il-Poplu 19th April 1933
25. Il-Berqa 17th October 1938
26. Berqa 1932

 
 
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