There are many gypsies (called Roma over there) in Italy, especially in Rome. They are generally not well thought-of by the Italian people and have a reputation for being untrustworthy and very proficient pickpockets so we avoided direct contact with them but there is no denying that music is a big part of their culture. On the street in Rome I heard an excellent gypsy band, composed of accordion, stand-up bass, guitar and a drummer playing a small kit. They were playing high energy gypsy folk music that I was not familiar with and sounded great. Their tip bowl was quite full so I think both the tourists and the locals enjoyed the music.
In Florence I heard two other gypsy musicians, a single accordion player who had a small battery powered amp and was playing after dark on the steps of a church. He had very few listeners but it was obvious that he was passionate about his music and he ended his night by playing the Andrea Boccelli/Sarah Brightman hit “Time to Say Goodbye,” which I am slightly embarrassed to admit always brings a tear to my eye as it is often played on Princess cruise ships when they are leaving the final port on cruises we have taken. The gypsy accordion man did a great job with it. It was sad and lonesome and passionate and fitting as he sat all by himself on those church stairs.
In basically the same area I heard a classical guitarist who was playing classical pieces very well – in the rain! I wondered out loud to my companions what kind of damage was being done to his guitar but he didn’t seem to care. I gave him a 5-Euro tip and hoped he would stop soon and not ruin his beautiful guitar. He smiled and kept on playing.
Up above Florence in an area called Piazelle Michelangelo there was a young guitarist/singer playing at the bottom of a set of stairs through a portable amp (with a car battery for power!). He had an attentive audience of a couple hundred people and was playing….. Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence”! I don’t know why this struck me as strange but it did. Were they mostly tourists or locals? I don’t know.
Even stranger was the young woman near the train station in Rome. She was playing Irish music on the fiddle. I had read in an English language newspaper about the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations at an honest-to-goodness Irish pub nearby so I guess this shouldn’t have surprised me but it did. Unfortunately no one seemed to be paying any attention to her. I put a 2-Euro coin in her basket.
Back in Florence we happened to pass the open door of a beautiful little theater where a kind of “best-of” selection of Italian opera arias are performed a few nights a week. A lady soprano was warming up for the evening performance – now THAT was Italian, at least in my view.
There is no real point to all this except that it’s obvious that in today’s world with cultures melding the arts are not immune to outside influences. I don’t have an opinion on this except to say that I hope individuality from a cultural standpoint isn’t lost. I didn’t expect to hear someone singing “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore!” (neither did I want to!) but it makes me happy that the little place offering Italian opera is there.
Peace & good music,