GRANVILLE, N.Y.-On Sunday, June 13, Celest DiPietropaolo and his wife Marie DiCocco present an afternoon of Italian village music and dance at the Slate Valley Museum, 1:30-4:30 p.m. Their educational performance, with an emphasis on southern Italian culture, is free and open to the public through grant funding from the New York Council on the Humanities and the Shepard Broad Foundation.
Since 1983, DiPietropaolo's research has taken him to the mountains of southern, central, and northern Italy, including Sardinia. The couple, who lived in Italy for three years, teaches dances that are still a living part of community and family festivals and rituals in the mountain villages today. To encourage descendants of Italian immigrants to rediscover their music and dance heritage, the first section of the pair's presentation includes video clips from their field studies and a short concert with Celest playing organetto and Marie playing guitar and tamburello. In the second session, they involve the audience through participation in simple dances and singing traditional songs.
"Our main reason for being in the education business, as opposed to the entertainment business, is to try to ignite a fervor in Americans, especially those of Italian ancestry, for understanding and hopefully practicing the Italian music and dance traditions that their distant cousins in Italy are still practicing today," says DiPietropaolo. He distinguishes these circle, line, and couple dances from stage entertainment typified by choreography and costumes.
DiPietropaolo has exhibited traditional music at major festivals in the Washington, D.C. area, including those sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, Folklore Society of Washington, and the Italian Embassy. He has been teaching Italian traditional dances since 1984 all over the United States, including Florida Folk Dance Camp, Friends of International Folk Dance Weekend in New Orleans, Annual Mendocino Folklore Camp, Annual Chicago Festival of Folk Dance, and Folklore Village Farm.
DiCocco spent most of her formative years traveling as part of a U.S. Air Force family. As a young child, she grew up hearing the sounds of Italian and German music in her family, along with other ethnic music, which her parents enjoyed. While attending Catholic University in Washington, D.C., she also began her study of the accordion and played for musical theatre throughout the Washington area. From 1976 to 1990 she arranged music for and played with a contemporary liturgical music group in Silver Spring, Maryland. From 1983 to 1995 she performed regularly with the Washington Schrammel Quartet. In 1983 she met Celest while playing in the orchestra for a community theatre performance, and began assisting him with his planning, research, and analysis of Italian traditional music. The couple recently moved to Vermont.
Many Italian immigrants (mainly from southern Italy) came to the Slate Valley around the turn of the 20th century. Along with them came immigrants from Poland and Slovakia, all unskilled at slate quarrying and slate roofing production, but filling the need for a huge labor force in the region's booming slate industry. Many skilled Welsh and Irish slate quarry workers had been recruited by Yankee landowners in the mid to late 1800s because they knew how to make and apply roofing slate. By the 1890s, Eastern European Jews joined the mix to provide goods and services to the small quarry towns and rural communities throughout the Slate Valley.
Each year the Slate Valley Museum produces a season of exhibits and public programs, many of which focus on immigration. With a major grant of $13,845 from the New York Council for the Humanities and a grant of $5,000 from the Shepard Broad Foundation, the museum has produced a packed schedule of scholarly public programs for its 2010 15th Anniversary Season, which runs through December. "Cultural Expressions of the Slate Valley" is the theme for lectures and performances in music, dance, storytelling, and poetry that demonstrate the traditional cultures of immigrants who came to the local slate region from Ireland, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, and Wales between the 1840s and the 1940s.
For a copy of the museum's calendar of exhibits, public programs, and events, call the museum at 518-642-1417, or visit its website at www.slatevalleymuseum.org. Regular museum hours are Tuesday through Friday, 1-5 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. The facility is fully handicapped accessible and air conditioned.