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Note on concert

December 13, 2017 the Circolo Berkeley’s Christmas songfest took place as usual. Its origins stretch back into immemorial pre-Internet time. Most surviving authorities, stirring their grey matter, think it’s more than two decades old. A conflict has smoldered over the years as to whether to call it a ‘concert’ at all. Most say yes, agreeing with Wikipedia that it’s “a live music performance in front of an audience”. But dissident opinion insists we look beyond our screens. We ought not merely to go back to the 16th Century French ‘concerter’--“to bring into agreement”--and the Italian ‘concertare’--from the Late Latin, “to work together”. Before these latecomers stands the Latin ‘certare’--”to contend, to dispute, debate”. And, though harmony and good fellowship shone in this year’s get together, what distinguished it from a million other concerts the world over was its contending elements, its diversity.

Let’s begin with the locale. The Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas of Myra shelters in the heart of Lecce. In a city overpowered by Counter-Reformation religion and Baroque refulgence, it has for centuries murmured its Byzantine-Greek music from a temple on the same spot. A small Greco-Albanian community has always resided in Lecce. When Assan, a soft-voiced Senegalese drummer, began this year’s festivities he was only continuing the mingling of differences that have been continuous in Lecce. The city’s children and spirited mothers followed in song. As with the improvised group of German carollers and the public’s collaboration on the Anglo-Saxon Christmas favorites, the specifics of the evening became clear. It wasn’t an attempt at homogenized professional quality. It was a community affair, talents as various as their origins offering what little or much they possessed.

Not that excellence was absent. Marcello, whose outdoor piano is the joy of Lecce flâneurs, took a turn at the keyboard. Tyna Maria Casalini’s choir demonstrated spirited precision. Her own gospel-tinted performance, like Assan’s at the outset, spoke of the evening’s uniqueness. Both were glorious anomalies in a Greek Church in Roman-rite Italy where multiculturalism though operating in practice for centuries was still being chewed over in theory. The Byzantine church interior offered a stunning dramatic backdrop. It hinted at mystery. Like a theatre it has an up-stage and a down-stage; it even has two curtained wings. When our gracious host at St. Nicholas’, Father Nik Pace, Protopapas, gave us his ritual blessing, he could have been taken for Prospero in the great Elizabethan multiculturalist's ‘The Tempest’.

Peter Byrne

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