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Corfu blows its own trumpet

Marching Bands

Photo: The Old Brit

Think 'marching bands' and what comes to mind? Hordes of impeccably smart guys with unusual hats marching around an American Football field? Yeah me too, but on the Greek island of Corfu the marching band tradition is becoming increasingly popular.

Despite having fewer than 40 villages dotted across the beautiful island, there are now 18 philharmonic bands. This is coupled with well over 100 separate music associations and clubs. These have quickly become prestigious organisations with some of Greek's most talented musicians being schooled in the marching band tradition.

Corfu is visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists each year, but there is another, more artistic, side to this beautiful Greek island. Dotted across 36 idyllic villages, are 18 philharmonic bands that fuel the islands musical tradition. There are also hundreds of private music associations and clubs scattered across the island. Some of Greece's most talented musicians originated from Corfu and went on to become famous across the world. Many started honing their skills at these private associations.

Banging the drum for Corfu

Technically, a marching band is a group of instrumentalists (must be more than 3) who perform outdoors for the purposes of entertainment and exercise, often with an element of competition. Numerous instruments are used, but they tend to be restricted to brass, woodwind or percussion. Members will often be dressed in a specific military uniform including helmets, feather plumes and white gloves. A smart appearance can form part of the judging criteria for competitive events.

Most marching bands form part of a league or category which is organised by size, age or gender. Within these broad categories, instrumental sub-groups are often defined. These distinctions form part of the formation used during the march.

Increasingly marching bands are being used across Greece at competitions and public events. However, more bands are now hosting separate concerts to perform traditional works and to showcase soloists or new groups.

The history of music on Corfu is as long as it is fascinating. Back when the Seven Islands were under Venetian rule, the ever creative Venetians introduced opera and converted the local "Loggia" into a theatre. Operatic performances started in 1733 and continued for many years well into the union with the Greek mainland.

The island's philharmonic bands become particularly famous due to their regular involvement in Easter celebrations. Their foundation was part of a trend which had been flourishing across Europe since the beginning of the 19th century when thousands of music associations were founded. Corfiots often studied at prestigious European universities and therefore become part of this trend.

As well as the professionals, many locals get involved with the island music and although not professionally trained, do tend to have music in their blood. Music commentators often compare Corfu to the American city of New Orleans such is the raw talent especially amongst the island's young men. Street performances are often of an incredibly high calibre.

The number of local people becoming music teachers is also growing, helping to nurture children in the bands helping them to excel as soloists. Such is the growth in music teaching, that an island of little more than 100,000 inhabitants includes over 20 major music education centres.

It might at first look slightly strange watching the massed rows of performers marching up a tiny Greek street in full military regalia. But this is not a fad, it's quickly becoming part of the Island's charm and will soon be as quintessentially Corfiot as beaches and tavernas.

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