Music and roots

Antonio Corsi, a band leader and mayor, has spent his life serving the citizens of his tiny hometown and investing in its musical traditions. Segmento interviewed this folk music hero.

Perched on a hill in the Apennines, some 60 kilometers south of Rome, is the charming village of Sgurgola in the province of Frosinone. With only around 2,300 inhabitants, as with thousands of other hamlets scattered throughout Italy, Sgurgola is tranquil and picturesque, but with not much going on, and threatened by a declining population.

Sgurgola, however, has been fortunate. For the past 25 years, the town has been led by Antonio Corsi, a committed and farsighted mayor who has poured his heart into improving the well-being of his fellow citizens by leveraging the value of local traditions. First, as a musician and second, as a politician, he has passionately devoted himself to the musical traditions of his town and built on its well-established heritage–Sgurgola can boast of having a traditional town band since the end of the 19th century.

A young Corsi took up the baton of the town’s band leader, a role he could never have imagined for himself but which fate had in store for him. He excelled in keeping the proud local traditions of Sgurgola alive and became a tireless advocate for Italian folk music throughout Italy and beyond. In recognition of his dedication to Italian folk music, Corsi has received support from the highest state institutions–most recently, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Antonio Tajani, appointed Corsi to the role of Aide to the Minister for the Promotion of Cultural and Musical Traditions among the Italian Community Abroad.

Mayor Antonio Corsi

The story of Antonio Corsi’s life and political career is not typical. It is not one of ambition or steadily rising through the ranks of party politics. It is rather the story of a lifelong dedication to his community and the local band that animates the events of his hometown. His musical endeavors began while growing up in Sgurgola: he wanted to become a doctor, but in a rare reversal of the usual narrative, his father, who had been in the local town brass band since it was re-formed in 1971, discouraged him from pursuing medicine and urged him to take up music. He joined his father’s band and learned to play the trumpet. His music teacher recognized his aptitude for music and encouraged him to apply for a bursary to attend the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia in Rome, where he achieved his diploma in trumpet before moving on to a degree in music. His academic achievements in music immediately distinguished him from his bandmates in the Sgurgola brass band. As Corsi explains, “This moment was the starting point that defined my future because when the Maestro retired, I was the only one with a music qualification, so they entrusted me with the band.” He was put in charge of the band at only 19, a massive responsibility for such a young man.

In addition to managing the band and organizing practice sessions, he was responsible for recruitment and training new band members because, as Corsi underlines, “if there are no students, the band dies.” Corsi excelled in his leadership of the town band and started his trajectory toward becoming a pillar of the Sgurgola community, which, as he quickly pointed out, was “thanks also to family, friends, and neighbors.”

Corsi’s visibility as a capable manager of the town band and a trusted community member prompted his entry into politics. A lawyer from one of Sgurgola’s oldest law firms recognized Corsi’s potential to shake up the local political landscape and approached him to run for mayor under the “Together for Sgurgola” banner. While initially reluctant to take on other commitments, Corsi was eventually convinced to participate in the 1994 election, which he narrowly lost, placing him on the opposition in the town council. Three years later, in 1997, when the town council collapsed, Corsi found himself in the majority and became Mayor of Sgurgola, a position he has held since.

Antonio Corsi in his hometown of Sgurgola

Corsi adeptly entangled music and active citizenship, and in 1997, at a music conference in the Municipality of Grotte di Castro, Province of Viterbo, he was approached by Antonio Tajani, who told him that Silvio Berlusconi wanted to meet him. After a series of phone calls and personal meetings with the Prime Minister, Corsi was invited to form a musical movement for Forza Italia called Musica Azzurra, for which he put together a brass band to perform at campaign events and rallies—aboard the campaign’s yacht, Nave Azzurra.

During this time, Corsi also worked at an institutional level to promote folk music nationally.

He was instrumental in establishing the National Folk and Amateur Music Day in 2004, and every year since then, on the third Sunday of May, traditional folk music groups are given a public platform and state support to showcase their talents and musical heritage. These are held in piazzas of every town in Italy, bringing communities together and creating a sense of pride in local traditions. By 2011, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, Corsi was entrusted with the role of Counsellor to the Minister of Culture, Sandro Bondi, and, with the President of the Board of Trustees, Giuliano Amato, worked to give folk bands and amateur music groups official recognition. Around 5,000 bands, 5,500 choirs, and 800 folk groups are now supported.

Antonio Tajani, who was made Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation following last year’s elections, called on his old friend to help establish stronger links with the Italian diaspora. The Minister recognized Corsi’s long government service and stalwart dedication to safeguarding folk music traditions by inviting him to take up a new role to promote the musical and cultural heritage of Italians living abroad.

With Antonio Tajani, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs

On behalf of the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Corsi is currently overhauling and extending an ongoing 20 million euro joint project, Turismo delle radici, (Roots’ Tourism) which is to be completed in 2024, involving comuni with small populations in enterprises that leverage local folk music and cultural traditions as an asset of national importance. Corsi wants to do for thousands of struggling towns and villages of under 6,000 inhabitants what he did for Sgurgola. Turismo delle radici is a tourism initiative based on family history and cultural roots to attract the descendants of Italians living abroad to visit their place of origin. It currently involves around 800 comuni, from Val d’Aosta to the islands and everywhere in between.

Music provides small communities a focal point for events and activities promoting social cohesion. In June 2023, to celebrate the Festa Europea della Musica, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation held a Turismo delle radici event attended by representatives of 20 comuni, one per Italian region, along with an accompanying folk group or choir. Corsi instituted an innovation when he took over the project to establish a dynamic link between the musical and cultural initiatives to help create revenue streams for these small towns and to strengthen links between them and the descendants of Italian emigrants worldwide. Each participating town has been required to set up a standing committee to manage funds earmarked for Bentornati a casa, (Welcome Home) a project under the Turismo delle radici strategy.

Bentornati a casa is designed to provide infrastructure for welcoming and hosting visitors of Italian origin–whether second, third, or even fourth-generation–in the towns and villages of their ancestors. Funds are being used to digitize archives in local record offices, set up and maintain museums of immigration, establish itineraries, and promote cultural, musical, and culinary activities aimed at visitors from the diaspora. Corsi hopes to encourage investment by establishing concrete links between Italians abroad, their descendants, and the towns and villages of origin.

Antonio Corsi is certainly the man for the job with his extensive experience, dogged commitment, inexhaustible enthusiasm, and achievements. Having already successfully included towns of over 6,000 inhabitants in the project, the next step will be to raise the awareness of Italians abroad and publicize these initiatives in the form of events that involve them at both the practical and emotional levels as protagonists in their return to Italy.

Prof. Antonio Corsi and the Sgurgola town band

Images provided by Antonio Corsi