7th February 2016
The Sound of Stefano
I have always been proud of being British and my heritage that includes the Changing of the Guard, Trooping the Colour and fish and chips but the British Brass Band was never on my list, that is, until I met Stefano Bordiga. His passion for our brass bands radiates from his face like the sun rising in the mountains that surround his beloved village of Praso in the Italian Dolomites. I first met Stefano eighteen years ago while I was working as a tour leader at the fabulous fabulous Hotel Lorenzetti in Madonna di Campiglio, an attractive Italian ski resort not far from Praso. I was the tour leader accompanying a group of English skiers and when I was informed that there would be live music in the bar I was intrigued as it is a small bar with a low ceiling so I suspected the live music would be low key. I went to investigate.
The outside door to the bar was wide open and a variety of instrument cases were scattered on the floor around the grand piano. When I glanced at the barman he just shrugged his shoulders and said “Stefano” as though that explained everything. Before I could question him further Stefano himself staggered in, he was weighed down by a keyboard that he deposited gently on its stand before greeting me. That first conversation, when my Italian was non-existent, was conducted through the barman as Stefano does not speak English. I gleaned that he liked to play for English people and he was looking forward to having us as his audience. I pondered on the whereabouts of the owners of the other instruments but soon discovered that Stefano is a one-man band and during the evening would play all the brass instruments surrounding him. When we went through to the bar later Stefano was entertaining the other guests with Italian songs. Soon after we arrived the mood changed, the tempo became more upbeat and the tunes were recognisable. Chairs and tables were pushed back and we danced until midnight. Stefano constantly nodded and smiled in our direction and most of the Italian guests joined us on the floor. It was a memorable evening and followed by many more.
Over the years Stefano added to his tome of songs and his collection of backing tapes – Abba, the Beatles, Purple Harem, any song that was requested and not in the repertoire was researched, learnt and included. And, as my Italian improved our conversations became longer and peppered with names that were unfamiliar to me – Black Dyke, Brighouse and Rastrick, Fodens and Cory. I was shown catalogues of the music of these famous brass bands and requested to order various DVDs that were sent to my home in England and then brought with me on my next trip to Italy. Over the years our friendship has grown and so has my knowledge about British Brass Bands and so did the list of requests for items from the internet, not just DVDs but also sheet music – sometimes I researched and found the sheet music of the test piece for the British National Brass Band Championships so that Stefano could study it and learn to play it.
I envied the passion that Stefano has for his music and I was curious about his fascination for the British Brass Band. I wanted to find out how this had evolved and began to question him regarding his musical background. Stefano was born in the tiny village of Praso (380 inhabitants) in the valley below Madonna di Campiglio. His only claims to a musical background were parents who enjoyed singing and an uncle who played the euphonium in the local band. However, they did have an electric piano at home and by the age of eight Stefano had taught himself to play it. At the age of twelve he started lessons on the trumpet with a music teacher by which time he already had a good repertoire of traditional Italian songs. Although the trumpet has always been the instrument through which Stefano expresses himself best and with which he obtained a degree at the Conservatorio di Verona in 1987 he can also play several other brass instruments – euphonium, soprano flugelhorn, trombone, cornet, French horn and tuba as well as the keyboards and mouth organ. He is also competent on the accordion, guitar and drums. He has been teaching music at the Trentino School of Music since 1987 and he also teaches brass instruments on a one to one basis to students of the Trentino Federation of Bands. On Saturdays they all get together to play in a band – Stefano has his own brass band, La Libera Brass Brand.
When I was on holiday in Madonna di Campiglio Stefano invited me to spend the day with him in Praso, a hamlet with 380 inhabitants, is located in the Valle del Chiese that branches off the Valle Giudicare. The latter occupies a large area of the province of Trentino in Northern Italy. It occupies a secluded location in the foothills under the watchful eye of Fort Corno, an Austrian fort and a permanent reminder that the whole region was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The main road into the village is lined with wooden sculptures, the work of students at the school of wood carving. In front of the Medieval Church of San Pietro a huge circle of carved panels tells the story of the village from its origins as a farming community to its destruction during the First World War and its re-birth after the war. Carved wooden plaques on the walls of buildings relate their history and their uses. But perhaps its most famous attribute is the Pras Band and its conductor and founder Stefano. It is a real family affair as his wife Meri and daughter Laura also play the trumpet in the band, while his son Damiano plays the trumpet and the drums.
Soon after arriving in Praso I was taken on a tour of the village by Stefano and his wife Meri. I was intrigued to discover that this small village is the home of a school of wood carving and is decorated with wonderful examples of this craft.
Stefano tackled his role as local guide with the same gusto that he does hi music although it did not quite go to plan. Soon after setting off to drive through the Valle di Daone we encountered a large flock of sheep being moved from one pasture to another. As they completely blocked the whole road we had to wait until they arrived at their new pasture. On our way back we met up with the same flock heading back to their own field.
The River Churches winds its way through the thirty-kilometre long sparsely populated Valley Daone that culminates in the Val di Fumo. The peaks of the Adamello mountain range tower above it and the far end is filled by two lakes Lake Malga Bissina and Lake Malga Boazzo both created by the construction of Diga (dam) di Bissina as part of a hydro-electricity project.
A by-product of this development has been the opportunity for many sporting activities and in particular climbing that attracts both locals and tourists. We stopped by the dam, Diga di Bissina, before driving to the head of the valley to enjoy the full view of the lake behind the dam. We had a short walk by the lake before returning to Praso to get ready for my next adventure.
Pras Band were giving a performance at Levico Terme that evening and I was going along with them to watch them perform. I had seen Stefano performing many times in the bar of the Hotel Lorenzetti but never with his band. He is sombre and serious in his role as a hotel musician and a twinkle in his eye is the only clue regarding the extrovert character that performs in front of his band. His fervour and that of the band members fills the town squares in where they perform. The eighty members include adults and children and together they produce a performance that sparkles with enthusiasm. We all travelled to Levico Terme in a large bus picking up band members and supporters on the way until the seats were overflowing. On arrival at our destination everyone tumbled off the bus, instruments were collected from the boot and small groups gathered to tune and chat until Stefano called them to order and the band was soon ready to process through the main square where they would be performing.
Stone steps surrounded the bandstand that had been erected for the occasion and they were packed with an enthusiastic audience. I finally find a vantage point right at the top where I could look down on the band. It was a great performance and Stefano was in his element – conducting, playing, dancing with Meri while playing and mingling with the audience. They played until midnight and the crowds were still shouting for more but it was time to pack up and go. As I waited until they were ready to go I thought about Stefano – a man who was living his dream. He had learnt about British Brass Bands through his teacher and band music composer, Daniele Carnevali, when they went to the Royal Albert Hall http://www.royalalberthall.com to listen to the finals of the National Brass Band Championships. The flame was lit and not only does Stefano regularly goes to Merano for the annual October International Brass Festiva to hear a different British Brass Band including Black Dyke, Fodens and Cory and he has also returned to the Albert Hall on several occasions. On one such occasion Stefano was invited to attend the final rehearsal of the Brighouse and Rastrick Band on the eve ot the National Brass Band Championships . Another dream come true.