Processions move around the buildings of worship, with circular and repetitive movements at the rhythmic sound of the tamurrës, on the small rocky highlands that overlook the woods and downstream dwellings. The celebrations are accompanied by the sound of the pifferos, the bass drum and the drum, marking the paces for ritual actions. The strokes over the membranes rebound in the landscape like a sound wave, they reverberate on the walls of the churches and in the rocky cavities, and they creep between the stone spurs stuck to the altars and the walls, where the faithful people pass around. The saints of the mountain proceed with a secure pace, guided by the steps and the melodies of the ancient processional drum sound.
In the Valle Siciliana and the Valle del Fino, situated in the central-southern part of the province of Teramo, the so-called tamurrë is a characteristic music ensemble consisting of a bass drum and a drum which are hand-crafted with goatskins and tuning bolts, and a transverse flute with six holes called a piffero, sometimes replaced or accompanied in the last few decades by the two-bass accordion. Some groups also include the cymbals and the snare drum, brought in from marching bands.
Teams of tamurrë are reported to have existed in Pretara, in Fano a Corno, in Forca di Valle, in Casale San Nicola, in Cerchiara and also in San Massimo, in the municipality of Isola del Gran Sasso, and in Befaro, in the municipality of Castelli, where until recent times the tamurrë players were also active builders of bass drums and drums. Moreover, groups of tamurrë were also found further around the Middle Vomano area, in a ritual or wassailing form on the occasion of the feast of Saint Anthony the Abbot. The ethnomusicological research conducted since the 1980s suggests the derivation of this kind of group from military troups of probable Spanish origin; their use in processions is still found in some religious festivals in mountainous areas.
Over the centuries the tamurrës have elaborated specific pieces for ceremonial contexts, such as La Diana, performed on Sunday mornings to mark the holy day: along with Le processioni (The processions), I vespri (Vespers), La casa patrona (The patron house) and I fuochi (The fires) it forms the corpus of the most archaic repertoire that every group of tamurrë offers during the performances that accompany the religious processions in the mountain area. In Casale San Nicola an ancient processional is documented, performed with a lilting ternary rhythm during the processions of Santa Maria di Pagliara and Santa Colomba, around the small churches built into the rocky spurs of the territory of Isola del Gran Sasso.
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Pretara (TE), 1 September 2013.
Video footage by Stefano Saverioni,
Don Nicola Jobbi Study Center Archive/Bambun.
Cultural transmission and preservation
The repertoire and ritual action of the tamurrës are still in use in some parts of the mountain area, particularly in the hamlet of Pretara di Isola del Gran Sasso, where the construction techniques of pifferos, bass drums and drums are kept alive by Gino Tomolati and in San Massimo di Isola where traditional instruments are still made by Roberto Vantini. On the contrary, the musical instrument workshop in Befaro di Castelli owned by the Francia family has closed down
In the last few decades the instrument makers who are also musicians have been at the heart of an intense activity of music-making and instrument manufacturing, which has led to a significant diffusion, in particular of bass drums and drums, even in groups normally engaged in musical performance activities which are not necessarily oriented to ritual settings, according to the traditional prerogative of the tamurrë teams. Over the years the same groups of drums and piffero players have adapted the use of their repertoire by participating in a wide range of secular festivals, and by adding the two bass diatonic button organetto.
If, on the one hand, this phenomenon has led to a stable and extended practice, on the other hand it has produced a standardization of the repertoires and the progressive impoverishment of the techniques and the executive knowledge related to the oldest pieces of music. It is also worth noting the disappearance of numerous instrumental groups, once common and widespread, and the definitive extinction of centuries-old “dynasties” of manufacturer-players without a real safeguarding process being put in place.