Maestro Nicola Cavaliers Sorgini – Third Music Director/ Conductor of the Verdi Band. By Donato De Simone
On February 21, 2007Maestro Nicola Cavaliere Sorgini, Director Emeritus of the Giuseppe Verdi Band, passed away in Norristown, Pa. Maestro Sorgini was born in Fossacesia, the province of Chieti, on February 22, 1919. For the registrar, he died on February 21, 2007, at 19:45 hours EDT. At the time of his death, however, it was already February 22 in Italy, so actually, the Maestro died on the very day he turned 88. My uncle was my mother’s only sibling. His name is not written under the title of a great symphony or symphonic march, nor does a university degree hang on the walls of his living room (there is, however, a certificate of his appointment as Knight of the Republic of Italy). He was born in more modest times, and in a country, Italy, which had just emerged from the First World War. His father, my grandfather Filippo Sorgini, had fought that war as a artilleryman on the Carsus. The conflict did not allow many young people to get the education that was considered necessary for the population of a modern nation. My own mother, who was thirteen years older and was very intelligent, was not allowed to go beyond fourth grade in Fossacesia because there was nothing else for girls at that time. Uncle Nick was lucky enough to get to the fifth.
His childhood was quite tumultuous because Grandfather Philip, after being discharged from the army, got involved in politics by joining the Italian Socialist Party, founded by Filippo Turati. But, in 1919 the party split into three opposing currents. The left became the Italian Communist Party, the right, led by Benito Mussolini became the National Fascist Party, and the core remained the PSI. My grandfather remained in that core because having been in America and Canada twice already, he did not want to risk the losing his green card in the United States. The local fascists did not like that, so on the evening of December 26, 1923, in Fossacesia, a mob of drunken fascists in black shirts, gathered in front of the Sorgini’s home preparing to break into the house, probably to give Philip a dose of castor oil. It was common practice among the fascists to give a super dose of this laxative to their enemies. My uncle Nick was not yet 4 years old, while his sister was sixteen. She grabbed Nicolino and took refuge under the bed. Of course, the bed could not give more than the illusion of security.
At one point Nicolino heard a trumpet. The trumpeter of the group, Zi ‘Cola, Grandfather Philip’s brother, who had joined the fascists, called the team that was gathering, saying: “This is my brother’s house. Do not touch. ” And they didn’t touch them, thank God! Because what the thugs did not know was that Grandfather Philip was behind the door with a Colt 45 with “six rounds in the drum and one in the barrel.” Behind him was my grandmother Concetta armed with an ax. The Fascists only had a simple club. If they had ventured into that home that night in Fossacesia, there would have been a massacre that could have changed the course of history. But, the fascists went away, and it all ended peacefully. The episode, however, was deeply engraved on young Nicola’s psyche and he often told the story to anyone who was interested.
During the next few years, Nicolino Sorgini attended the five years of elementary school available at that time, however, he also learned music because the town was in the process of founding the City of Fossacesia Band. He chose the clarinet as his primary instrument and made his debut with the band on March 19, 1927, the feast of St. Joseph’s. Two of the band members were just eight years old, my Uncle Nick and Nicola Rupa.
The Fascists no longer bothered Grandfather Philip in the twenties, but at the beginning of the thirties, they resumed the abuses and threats. It was then that Grandfather Philip decided to go back to America and bring the seventeen-year Nicolino with him.
They sailed from Naples on the transatlantic Rex on July 7, 1936, arriving in Norristown, Pa. on the 16th, the day when the Italian community of that city celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. There was a concert of the Verdi band that night under the direction of Maestro Loreto Marsella, founder of the band. My father, who was already living in America, introduced the young musician to the Maestro, who urged him to go right home, get his instrument and play in the band that very night. So Nicola Sorgini became a member of the Verdi Band from the first day he set foot in America.
In 1964 Maestro Marsella died and his son Ettore took the reins of the band, but the band members elected Nicola Sorgini as the Assistant Director. Maestro Ettore Marsella died in 1976, and Nicola Sorgini was named Director, a position he held until 1997. In 2000 he became director emeritus, after which participated only marginally when the band gave concerts during the summer. He himself had chosen his successor in the person of Maestro Kenneth Laskey of Norristown
Maestro Sorgini was seventeen years old when he came to America, but was quite aware of the patriotic meaning of certain Italian hymns or songs that had been composed on the occasion of national historical events, from the Risorgimento to the Republic. This also served very effectively in America on occasions such as, for example, the Columbus Parade in Philadelphia. Marching down Chestnut Street, the band filed in front of the American and Italian civic authorities sitting on a special grandstand erected in front of Independence Hall. The band started with O ‘Surdato’ Nnammurato. Once in front of the official grandstand they stopped, did a “right face” turning to the Representatives of the United States and Italy, and played the Italian national anthem and the Star Spangled Banner, and then marched away to the sound of the Legend of the Piave. At that point, the tears of the onlookers flowed abundant! Under the guidance of Maestro Sorgini, the Verdi Band broadened its musical horizons with a tour in Canada. The Italian community in Toronto remembers him for bringing the band to the Canadian city in 1982, on the occasion of an anniversary that the Province of Ontario was celebrating. The band was hired by CIN-TV and performed the “Island.” For the occasion, attended a high official of the province and when he arrived by ferry, the Gang Green sang the national anthem, O Canada. The television station CIN filmed the scene and for several years showed the Verdi Band’s rendition of O Canada, every night at the close of their daily programs. Maestro Nicola Sorgini wrote an important page, albeit with modesty, in the Italian-American music scene in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and Ontario. The Italian-American community is ever grateful for his contribution to the promotion of Italian culture and music.