My great-grandfather, Sebastiano Lazzarotti, arrived in the United States from a small town north of Siracusa (Syracuse) in Sicilia in 1913. I had the opportunity to visit the town of Priolo; I wasn’t able to find any information about my family or distant relatives, unfortunately, but I took some great shots in the ensuing hike up the southern face of Mount Etna.
Needless to say, the weekend’s excursion was to the island of Sicily, where I traversed the land between Siracusa and Catania over the course of three days. The experience of visiting my ancestral homeland was surreal, but as per usual, I hadn’t the time to commit it to music (except perhaps for a few scribblings in my notebook). As my composition instructor back here in Rome has suggested, my time here in Italy is better served by collecting as many experiences as possible and cataloguing them to draw inspiration from at a later time. Music composition is an extremely time-intensive process, so the best utilization of my six short weeks as a composer is not to shut myself away and force myself to write like I would otherwise be able to do in Philly. Soaking in my surroundings through pictures, musical sketches, and audio recordings have been the most effective alternative.
Those who have visited Rome (or Florence, Venice, etc.) are most likely familiar with the street performers who set up portable speaker systems and perform slow covers of Beatles songs and other international hits on guitars for tourist pocket change. Syracuse and Catania both showed me a very different variety of street performing. I encountered about half a dozen local accordion players among the streets of the old city in Syracuse, for instance, playing mostly local tunes. Some were children. Some played together. But the atmospheres of le piazze were far-removed from what I had previously experienced in Rome: Catania brought me to quite a few musicians near the duomo a warm Saturday night, the best of whom was a guitarist who, several beers into his performance, demonstrated some of the most impressive techniques I’ve seen on the instrument to date while perfectly harmonizing his Italian vocals. It was pretty late at night, so my memory is a bit fuzzy, but I’m pretty sure my mouth was hanging ajar. As I would likely need express permission from these performers to share my captures here, I will have to remain limited to verbal descriptions.
All of this goes to say that my trip to Sicily contained probably the most musical experiences I’ve had in Italy thus far. It has a culture that is distinct from the mainland (fair as it may be to say that it has permeated some southern parts of the peninsula), in the food, the dialect, and the local pride. The Sicilian trinacria was perhaps more common than the Italian tricolori. All of the places which I have visited throughout the country I am certain have rich local musical traditions, to varying degrees of public visibility – however, with my limited time in each locale, I believe Sicily’s has been the most public and vibrant.