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Taking band music to a higher level

University of Malta offering new diploma in wind band studies

From filling streets decorated with rope lights and garlands to churches gleaming in ancestral gold, the music of your village banda now also has its own place among the most hallowed halls of our educational institutions.

A collaboration between the University of Malta and the Malta Band Clubs Association has enabled the creation of a new course of study, the Diploma in Wind Band Studies, which will be offered at the School of Performing Arts. The diploma is specifically designed for those actively involved in wind bands, particularly in musical roles, however, bandisti who occupy teaching and conducting roles will also stand to benefit from the learning objectives of the diploma.

Speaking at the agreement signing,  University Rector Alfred Vella said that it was a historic moment for both the  University of Malta as well as the Malta Band Clubs Association, as while both institutions enjoy a culturally rich history, the commencement of this diploma marks the first time the two entities have collaborated in an official capacity.

“We’re signing this binding agreement because we, the University as well as the association, felt that we needed to make a significant commitment to the talented people in wind bands by strengthening their education,” Prof. Vella said.

“We are investing in the teachers and wind band musicians of tomorrow,” he continued. “By supporting an academic aspect which does not typically figure in the training and formation of Maltese band members, we do just that.”

Prof. Vella went on to say that the overall aim of the course is to raise the profile of the local band club members by giving them the reigns to reach new heights. The diploma is only a first step in deepening the academic component of music studies and there are plans to expand this foray into wind band studies by offering courses at degree level in the future.

The president of the Malta Band Clubs Association, Noel Camilleri, who along with secretary Joseph C. Azzopardi, signed the agreement on behalf of the association, echoed the rector’s assertions in this historic collaboration. 

The musicians, teachers and array of volunteers... are the unsung heroes of keeping this intangible cultural mainstay alive and relevant

“There were moments where it wasn’t easy to reach an agreement but with good will on both sides, we have made it happen,” Dr Camilleri said.

“The band society is honoured that the University is recognising it at the highest level of academic achievement and opening its doors for young musicians to achieve their full potential.”

Dr Camilleri also noted that the programme sought to draw in young people who would not have otherwise considered the University as an option on their career path. He also hoped that the launch of such programmes would begin to dispel notions that students must travel to universities abroad in order to get a complete education in the arts.

From left: Philip Ciantar, Noel Camilleri, Rector Alfred Vella, Joseph Azzopardi Pro-Rector and Joseph Cacciottolo at the signing of the agreement.From left: Philip Ciantar, Noel Camilleri, Rector Alfred Vella, Joseph Azzopardi Pro-Rector and Joseph Cacciottolo at the signing of the agreement.

Band clubs have a long history in Malta that spans back at least 150 years and are often vibrant social hubs that have bred fierce thinkers and activists in social and political movements. While these political facets to band clubs have more or less fallen to the way side, they still enjoy a comfortable popularity and remain key cultural and creative places for people to volunteer as well as socialise. They have been key in the formation of many young musicians, serving as de facto music schools, providing tuition as well as instruments for free, through which the tradition of the banda is passed on from one generation to the next. The musicians, teachers and array of volunteers that give their time and work freely are the unsung heroes of keeping this intangible cultural mainstay alive and relevant.

“With the participation of band  clubs that provide this kind of  education expanding further into the halls of the University, it’s something truly beneficial for the generations to come,” said Dr Camilleri.

The diploma course, which will run in the evening on a part-time basis over two years, is aimed primarily at those  currently actively involved in wind band music, although the programme has space to accommodate those who would like to expand their musical studies further. The programme will only be accepting 20 applicants and will commence at the start of the academic term next October. Taught and practical components will be given equal weight, and the course  will also incorporate an added element  of research.

“We would like to give greater emphasis to research in this course,” said Philip Ciantar, a senior lecturer at the School of Performing Arts and course coordinator of the Diploma in Wind Band Studies.

“We think it’s important because the band club is a cultural entity that hasn’t really been researched in depth and it should have this opportunity to have  academics approach it as a serious field of research.”

Dr Ciantar continued: “The research element also gives more sense to theory and practice. When you study theory and practice in a vacuum they don’t make much sense, but research ought to give that context for people to better understand the material.”

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