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To sing out of tune... like a bell?

Who could ever think that from those heavy bells, producing unpleasant messy sounds, disturbing with arrogance the quiet of the surroundings from the belfry, remembering that it is late, can get out a melody able to gladden the most sensitive ear? That's what happens in the valleys of Bergamo, where a walk can often be accompanied by the eco of the concerts from the various bell towers around the area.
 It is evening when the camper peeps out in Nembro, a village of the Bergamo province located in the middle of Val Seriana. A boy indicates me to park in the middle of the parking, then without even introducing himself he informs me he needs a shower because the bell tower, from where he arrives, was dirty and full of dead pigeons, one of which has inevitably fallen on the head of another bell player. Thus, Nicola Persico, vice President of the Bells Players Federation of Bergamo, gives me his welcome and he announces me that the day after we must wake up early to go and ring the bells in the nearby Zanica.
The journey to get to the concert is accompanied by Nicola’s estimations about the detailed heights of the various bell towers that we find along the way: "this is 23 meters high, but inside there are only 5 bells”, “ our bell tower has eight bells "Then he  introduces some future projects," within two years we will have to buy two more bells for the tower of... "I ask about the cost of a bell and I prefer not to write it!
In a village near Nembro a missionary priest back from Bolivia, perhaps influenced by Latin American vitality, has naively painted church bells with different colours: in the valley they consider it a sacrilege!
In another village, there is a person who has built in his garden the final part of the bell tower, filling it with concert bells;inside his house you can listen to more than 2500 bells from all over the world.
 In Zanica during the concert the clapper of the fourth bell suddenly broke off; the next day it will be taken by emergency to a bells specialized carpenter to be repaired immediately.
In this area there is a parochial way of thinking. Every village  has its own bell heritage and its music repertoire and the local community would prefer to renounce to eat instead of not beeing able to contribute to the maintenance and improvement of the village bells..
The bells world can be divided into three groups: "bells”, “bells of joy" and " little bells". The first are those located in the bell tower which are activated by classical strings; the ability of Bell players group is to synchronize the time of the bell clapper toll in order to have a melody with a regular rhythm.
To play of joy, means using a special keyboard located just below the bells whose large keys are connected by iron wires to the bell clappers. The bell player is soloist in this occasion, he uses his fists to make pressure on the key activating the corresponding bell. In this way the bell player shows his musical ability.
The bell player is certainly not obliged to go up to the bell tower when he needs to practice, he would risk to disturb the whole community. He uses a small keypad, called "Campanina"(small bell), a kind of xylophone whose notes are produced by arms with cork stoppers beated on pieces of glass decreasing gradually, so as to form the musical scale.

The small bells allow the bell players repertoire to move from the ecclesiastic canons to embrace the profane ones. In fact, the past practice was to bring the bells in the taverns tolling them at the sound of polkas, mazurkas and scottish, combined with other instruments like the accordion, clarinet, guitar, mandolin, bass and more.
Today in the Bergamo valleys dozens of boys attend small bells courses in order to be able to play the sound of joy and even to lift up with the rope the 25 hundred kilos of the largest bell of the bell tower. A good example is the Roncobello school, directed by Luca Fiocchi, president of the Bergamo Bell Players Federation. Watch the video to believe.

Thanks to: Luca Fiocchi and the boys of Roncobello school, Valter Biella and his family, Nicola Persico, Giorgio Persico, organ player,  who allowed me to park the camper in his laboratory, his assistant, for the beer and good advices, the mayor of Casnigo, the musicians: Giuseppe Signori (from Albino, son of Mario, bell ringer in Albino), Lucio Mariani, Teresa Villa, Giampietro Crotti, Renata Tomasella.
The song below is titled "Salzburg", and is played with small bells, bass, guitar, accordion, ocarina, baghèt. The bell tradition was about to disappear because of the inevitable social and cultural changes, the substitution of bells activated by the rope with the electrically activated ones, and the restrictions induced by SIAE to control the repertoires, but “by a hair” as he says, the great Valter Biella, almost miraculously, discovered a book in which an old bell player wrote out the music performed in the bell tower (this is rare because normally the bells players learned their repertoire by ear and even they didn’t give a title to the songs, perhaps a number). Thanks to this discovery and the recovery work of Valter, the bell player material could be popularized and even strengthened by the new generation of bell players that, with pride, has taken possession of their grandparents music, giving it new meanings, as in this piece.
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