Gozo’s first marching band celebrates 150th anniversary

This year, the Leone Band is celebrating the 150th anniversary from its foundation as the first band in Gozo.

The inauguration of the exhibition Resounding Gozo - 150 years of music from Gozo and its inhabitants (photo by Anthony Grech).
The inauguration of the exhibition Resounding Gozo - 150 years of music from Gozo and its inhabitants (photo by Anthony Grech).

It was founded simply as a marching band, but it went to evolve into a cultural hub having developed its own drama group, a theatre and an opera house, a cinema and a sports centre of its own kind.

Suffice it to say that according to an inventory dating 1900, the Leone Society had the only two billiards tables on the island.

The history of Gozitan bands in Gozo dates back to 1863 when two bands were founded in Victoria, around the historic core of Savina Square.

These were the bands of George Tabone, known as il-Binu and Adrian Lanzon, in 1863.

They merged into one band in 1872 and were to remain the only band, which later on changed its name to Leone, until 1879 when five bandsmen dissented and went on to form another band on their own. That was to be the second band in Victoria, and in Gozo.

Probably, the biggest influence on the Leone Society's identity has been and still is the feast of Santa Marija.

The Society can righteously boast that it has shaped, defended, promoted and strengthened the external festivities of Santa Marija to great heights. But looking retrospectively, one can say that it was also the feast itself that strengthened the Society.

This is because the organisation of the external festivities, which had fallen under the direct, exclusive and contractual responsibilities of the Leone Society in 1896, by means of a contract with Bishop Giovanni Maria Camilleri, brought about the need for the Society to organise itself into efficient subgroups.

Thus, the Society always had to assume charge of the street decorations, of the pyrotechnics, of the traditional street horse-races, and a great deal of other significant details which the modern festivities of Santa Marija bring about.

Although the external festivities of Santa Marija had been entrusted to the Leone Philharmonic Society since 1896, it was not before 1956 that the Leone Band itself had found its rightful place within the Gozo Cathedral Parish. This happened when on the 29 April 1956, the statue of Santa Marija, which was a property of the Leone Band Club was donated to the Cathedral Church.

That brought with it a radical change in the parish-life as well as in the organisation of the feast. For the first time, Santa Marija in Gozo could be celebrated like the other feasts, with an evening procession, and not a morning one, with a statue carried shoulder high and accompanied by none other than the Leone Band; one of its greatest honours to date.

From then on, the Society continued to progress. It created the first youth movement within a band club, on the island, as well as the first folk group ever to be founded on the Maltese Islands.

The 60s and 70s, when the Society was celebrating its first centenary were golden ages.

In fact, this was the time when within a decade, the Society demolished its club and built another one with a theatre and a cinema attached, bought a new palace, demolished it and constructed another band club, this time with a large dance hall, a disco and an opera house attached - the largest one to date on the Maltese Islands; the Aurora theatre.

It was also the decade when the band ventured abroad with the most notable foreign trip being that in 1993 when the Leone Band and committee held an audience with Pope John Paul II in Rome.

Now that the Society is turning 150 years old, a thorough programme of events is planned, spanning over 16 months.

It started last June with the production of the 6th edition of Leone Goes Pop in Victoria, and the repeat performance in July in Marsalforn.

It continued with the launching of the history publication and the inauguration of the exhibition. This month, the main events were publicly and ceremoniously announced during another open-air concert - The Leone Band in concert; the festa edition, in Savina Square as part of the Santa Marija external festivities.

Cultural events continue with the opera Turandot in October, the Annual Symphonic Concert in November and the Leone Grand Christmas Show in December, all at the Aurora Opera House.

The glorious year of 2013 shall open with a reception and a toast in January and proceed with the Good Friday and Easter events, an open-weekend to commemorate the 29th April 1956 events, another set of Leone Goes Pop in June and July and the 2013 feast of Santa Marija when the grandest and superlative of celebrations lay in store.

In addition to these cultural events, the Leone Philharmonic Society plans to include philanthropic and social deeds with several charitable collections, a blood-donating activity as well as tree planting.

It is the Society's aim not only to mark these festivities with pomp and fireworks but also with good deeds, beneficial to the Gozitan Society.

For more information log on to www.leone.org.mt.