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SONGS AND SERENADES
The mandolin: just the name of the instrument recalls sights and sounds of romantic serenades under moonlight. Late in the afternoon, after the men had finished their playing their matches , they had been drinking a little too much and they began to sing. The songs were made up on the spot by the singer. They were sung beautifully and had a rhythmic rhyme to them; sometimes they were even a little risque. Then if some singer, driven by the euphoria of the wine and the joy of the moment, sang something that went beyond what was acceptable, instead of singing the word, sang a “uummmm uummmm uuummmm,” nodding his head for emphasis. to give emphasis to that part. We young girls laughed, but we didn’t understand anything about that “uuummmm.” Some of the singers were particularly notable and once they started having more “uummmm uuummmm” than the words; their wife would come and drag him staggering home. And who can forget the songs of the Festival of Naples? Songs that only the people of Naples could create, play and sing. They are classic melodies that are still sung the world over. I remember when I was a little older the serenades that the boys dedicated to the girls that they were courting. But they could not do it under the balcony of the girl, as was the custom, because the parents of the girl would not allow it. At night, the boys would go and get together on a hill that overlooked the village and they would play and sing songs for fun. But before they did that, they would tell their girlfriends that that particular song was for her from a particular boy who dedicated that song to her. It was the tool through which the boys could talk to us and let us know about the feelings they had. The girl would listen hidden behind the windows of her house and hoped that her mother did not realize what was happening. Instead, the mother, who was always watching over everything, knew very well what was happening, especially if the daughter had a mysterious look in her eyes and a smile on her lips and then every once in a while she let out a long sigh. The boys knew that the girls were hiding behind the windows and, protected in the shadows, they kept their eyes firmly fixed on the small lighted window, through which they saw the profile of a woman that was very dear to them. Even in Settefrati, the boys had fun singing and playing on the hill. What the boys sang to us sounded like the most beautiful and melodious of songs, even if the boys were not always in tune. I still remember the melody “Stella d’argento che brilli lassu`…………” (Silver star that shines up there) and then it seemed like the rays of moonlight were shining just for us. But even if there were no moon, the girl to whom the mandolin song was dedicated would still see it shining. This would continue for a while and then, invariably the old maid would start complaining to the town authorities saying that those songs were disturbing her sleep. The boys were warned that they had to stop shortly and that they had to stop their serenades by a specific time. Every once in a while, however, they would get revenge and start to sing a few songs right under the window of the old maid. Those things really did not mean a lot, but in those times and in that small town, they seem like a lot. Today, the old maid would not have to listen to anyone. Also, this is because the serenades are no longer done. In those long ago times, it was only possible to serenade a girlfriend under the window after the families had agreed on it (both the families of the groom and the bride). The girl had already talked to the parents (meaning her mother) about the serious intentions that the boy had towards her. On the pre-established night, with or without the moon, the boy, already prepared and well rehearsed with his mandolin, the singer of the village and a few friends for moral support, would go under the window of the girl and they would start singing. If the parents approved, they would open up the house to the guests and welcome them in with hospitality. They would put out wines, cheeses and salami on the tables for everybody to enjoy. After that, the family of the “groom” would come over bringing delicious home-made delicacies with them. While they were celebrating, they decided the date of the marriage. The girl would shyly sit with her head down, happy but a little embarrassed.
Delia Socci Skidmore