POINT Chapter 15 Meeting -October 27, 2007

POINTers In Person
Lou Costello Chapter 15

Northern New Jersey

Pursuing Our Italian Names Together
October 27, 2007


The Northern New Jersey chapter of POINTers In Person met on October 27, 2007 for our special tenth anniversary celebration at the Elmwood Park Municipal Building.  Perhaps because we were greeted with heavy rain throughout the day, only  nineteen people attended.  Due to the nature of the event, the chapter dispensed with presenting the business portion of our usual meetings.  Delicious refreshments, which included coffee and homemade/member-made Italian desserts, were enjoyed by all.

Maria Carparelli (#2100) introduced Marylou “Mariuccia” Romano, the artistic director of Coro d’Italia and a very talented dancer.  Marylou gave us insights into and hands-on experience of Italian musical customs and culture.  Her five year old niece, Antonia Maria Romano, accompanied her.  She introduced herself with this opening, “Growing up in Northern New Jersey as a little red-headed Italian-American girl, there was much about my heritage I was proud of, but there was much more I wanted to know.”  A variation of this sentiment is probably why we began researching our family histories.  She often asked her maternal grandfather, who provided her with little revelation.  She discovered that he was from Aquilonia in the Province of Avellino.

An earthquake completely destroyed the original town in 1930 and killed 600 people including Marylou’s great grandparents and many relatives.  She was able to visit the new town, which was built a quarter of a mile away.  The other side of her family came from Castelgrande in the Province of Potenza.  Her grandparents originally settled in the First Ward of Newark, NJ, which was one of the city’s major “Little Italies”.  Hers was a close-knit family.  All of her extended family lived within a two-block radius of one another .

 The Coro d’Italia is America’s first and the New York tri-state area’s only group solely dedicated to traditional Italian and Italian-American music, dance and costuming.  The Coro d’Italia is a community-based chorus/dance troupe which welcomes both amateurs and professionals who have a love for Italian music.

 The Coro was founded in 1932 at Columbia University in Manhattan and was based in New York City for most of its existence.  The ensemble has been based in Essex County, New Jersey for the past five years and continues to delight its audiences with a unique blend of traditional, folk, and popular songs and dances – all in regional costumes.

Marylou and her twin sister, Joanna, stumbled upon this group when they visited New York and immediately joined.  The timing was fortunate, since many members were elderly and thought they would retire and perhaps close the group.  Instead, they were able to teach Marylou and her sister the dance techniques and songs and hand over the reins to them.  They have expanded the group’s activities to include a Scuola d’Italia program (Italian language lessons and cultural projects for children) and a Bambini group (for children to learn Italian dances and song in hopes they will perform with the Coro). It originally had a connection to the Metropolitan Opera.

In order to learn even more authentic, little known, but thoroughly researched dances and tunes, Marylou and other members of the Coro have taken Master Classes for Italian dance from Allesandra Belloni at her studio at St. John the Divine in Manhattan.  Ms. Belloni is an expert and scholar in Southern Italian folk and ritual dance and is the founder of the performance ensemble, I Giullari di Piazza.

Marylou showed the audience the various parts of the regional Italian dance costume and accessories (head kerchief, sleeves, apron, white stockings, and fabric ballet-type shoes, etc.).  A 1930’s book she brought was on display.  It featured detailed plates of costumes, reminding us that each region had its own style of dress for special occasions.  She was wearing a replica of the costume worn by Rocchina Ruglio Gonnella, when she lived in Caposele, Italy.  When Marylou admired a 1939 photo of this outfit in Rocchina Gonnella’s home, Ms. Gonnella  recreated the hand-sewn costume for the Coro d’Italia.   Also, Marylou demonstrated the technique for playing some Italian folk instruments: large tambourines, ocarinas and various rhythm instruments.  She mentioned Alan Lomax, an American folklorist and musicologist, who in 1953 and 1954 recorded Italian traditional folk music styles (especially from small towns) before they disappeared.

Marylou, vivacious and with ever-present humor, then demonstrated some dances with the help of her niece and members of the audience (Michele Marotta and Lucille Kent #3038).

After the presentation, a few members of the chapter had lunch at a local Italian restaurant.  Also, on November 4, 2007, five members attended the 75th Anniversary Coro d’Italia Concert at Bloomfield College to enjoy the musical performance of the entire troupe.

Coro d’Italia’s motto is:
 “Vivete per il presente,
   Sognate per l’avvenire,
   Imparate dal passati!”

 “Live for the present,
   Dream of tomorrow,
   Learn from the past!”

Future meetings will be held on:
     February 2, 2008
     May 3, 2008
     August 2, 2008
     November 1, 2008

For details, see our website:     https://sites.rootsweb.com/~njpoint/


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