Nina Oatley and others in the Italian Heritage Center Band believe music has the power to transcend distance, language barriers and cultural differences.

That makes their motto for their exchange program so appropriate: “Bands Across the Sea.”

“Music is a great way to bridge the gap,” said Oatley, music and artistic director of the band, and one of the coordinators of next week’s visit by La Banda Musicale Enrico Gai, from Nepi, Italy, about 25 miles north of Rome.

Last summer, about 30 members of the Portland band were in Italy, and played with the Italian group during an annual festival in Nepi. This summer, La Banda Musicale will visit Portland from Aug. 16-21. The Italian band will give a free concert at Fort Allen Park on Aug. 18, and play with the Portland band at the Biddeford Pool Community Center on Aug. 20 to benefit a scholarship fund.

The Portland band was founded 23 years ago by members of the Italian Heritage Center. It has since become an independent entity financially, although the band continues to practice at the center, said Bob Swerdlow, a clarinet player and vice president of the band.

He said the band plays about 12 concerts a year at festivals, nursing homes and other venues.

Many of the members are like Swerdlow, who was in his high school and college band and then “put the clarinet down for 27 years.” Then he decided to start playing again, heard about the Italian Heritage Center Band and joined up.

“I just decided it would be a fun thing to do with a real community band” made up of other amateur musicians, he said.

The Italian exchange was pursued by Oatley, who read about a similar program involving a band from North Carolina and bands in Iceland and England.

She thought Italy made more sense for a band with its roots in an Italian heritage center, so she posted a note online at a site for Italian community bands saying the Portland band was interested in an exchange program.

Two community bands responded, but the Nepi band seemed most committed to exploring the idea, so Oatley visited in 2009 during a previously scheduled trip to Europe.

Most of the band followed the next year, playing concerts and staying in a former convent in Nepi.

Oatley said town bands are fairly common in Italy because communities hang onto their own cultural identities more strongly than American towns and cities do.

She said the music is similar, although American bands tend to have a few more marches and pop adaptations in their music selections, while the Italian bands include some folk music and classical and operatic adaptations.

Swerdlow said the Nepi band members are being hosted by the families of the Portland band members and they’ll do some sightseeing – a trip to Freeport is in the works – while here.

The Italian Heritage Center also plans a dinner for the group while they’re in Maine.

Oatley said the two bands find common ground and manage to play together despite language differences.

“Many of them do not speak English and most of us don’t speak Italian and it doesn’t matter,” she said.

 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]