De Rohan challenge 50-year-old claim
by Vanessa Macdonald –
Current Affairs — 06 August 2010 — 09:10CEST

Banda de Rohan of Zebbug have commissioned a book to challenge a claim made over 50 years ago by the Banda San Filep that it was the first organised band in Malta.
Committee member Alfred Delmar (below, left) had already done around 10 years of research himself but the band club decided to commission Francis Galea – who comes from Mosta – to write a book about the history of the club, proving that it was the first on the island. The book, Belt u Banda de Rohan, was published by BestPrint just in time for the club’s recent 150th anniversary.

In 1959, the claim appeared that San Filep was set up in 1851, the first organised band on the island, shortly before de Rohan celebrated its centenary. 2 years later, San Filep organised a celebration for its 110th anniversary.

Their claim is based on a receipt from the church for services rendered to a certain Filippo Galea, who they claim is the maestro who was their founder. But Mr Galea has scrutinised the receipt and believe that the assumptions are deeply flawed. The signature on the receipt is an uneducated scrawl, a far cry from the maestro’s signature (below), which appears in a diary he kept that had been donated to the de Rohan club.
And the receipt is for a sonatoro (performer) not a maestro, he explained to

“Until de Rohan was formed in 1860 by Indri Galea, there were only informal bands, which got together for a performance. De Rohan was formed with a bandmaster, a school and a formal name and every year after that other parishes started to get their own clubs formed. But until then, there were only the bandi ballabli, who were paid for performing in churches. The receipt that San Filep refer to is for the ‘banda de San Filippo’, which I take to mean a payment for performing at the feast of St Philip,” Mr Galea (below right) said, noting that the Galea of the receipt had been paid for other performance, some even earlier than 1851.

A relentless and passionate researcher, he was intrigued by the fact that the de Rohan band was originally named Socjeta Filarmonika del Zebbug but changed its name. He is convinced that that only happened to prevent confusion when another band was formed – the San Filipp – around 1889.

There is plenty of other intriguing material in his book, gathered over 18 months from the church, the National Library and other sources. For example, Mro Galea’s diary, which started in the early 1860s, makes no reference to a Maltese band until 1873, giving instead details of his work overseas as bandmaster for military bands. He was asked by the new parish priest in 1891 to perform in the hope of easing the tension in the parish, which Mr Galea said indicates that Mro Galea must have had no ties to any club – and could therefore not have been its founder. And the de Rohan band played at his funeral in 1901 – he was the president of the de Rohan club from 1892 to 1901.

Mr Galea has also unearthed a clipping from an obscure newspaper which says that the San Filipp club played “for the first time” on April 14, 1889. He also explained that band clubs were not named for saints until 1884/1885, and that the almanacs for those days listed band clubs – but that the San Filipp only appeared in it in 1893. Various historians, including a Zebbug priest, also indicate that de Rohan was the first club.

The club has put up huge billboards, at the junction between the 2 clubs claiming proudly to be the Mother of Maltese bands. So far, the San Filep have said nothing but the publication of the book will undoubtedly set the cat among the pigeons…

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