Stepping Out in Italy: Music to My Ears

Soprano, alto, fine, forte, piano.

You can't have music without Italy and you can't have Italy without music. It's one of the things I love most about Italy. Because in Italy, people sing! They sing together in restaurants. They sing alone while walking down the street. They sing on key, they sing off key (though usually on). They sing loudly, they sing quietly. They sometimes hum, which is just wordless singing. And when they don't sing, they talk. And Italians talking is musical as well.

 Flower petals in the shape of a musical clef in Lucca, Italy.

Flower petals in the shape of a musical clef in Lucca, Italy.


The first time I noticed this Italian penchant for singing, I thought, "If I walked down the street singing at home, people would think I was crazy." In Italy, singing in public is not only not crazy, it is part of the Italian charm, part of the Italian people's collective charisma, part of the culture. Every time I have traveled to Italy, I have experienced people singing. Once in Bellagio - it's called the Pearl of Lake Como and truly is a jewel of a town - I had to leave my hotel before 5 a.m. for the airport in Milan. The hotel staff was concerned about me missing breakfast because their morning service didn't start until 7 so they sent a tray of cereals, fruits and breads to my room the night before - carried to me by a handsome young Italian who practically skipped up the stairs singing.

 An opera poster - music is part of the culture in Italy.

An opera poster - music is part of the culture in Italy.

My first visit to Lucca in Tuscany included a tour of the city with a guide who would break into song while we walked from one stopping point to another. My second trip to Lucca included three separate encounters with people walking by themselves and singing tunes. In Agrigento in Sicily, I joined in when the table I was at requested the pianist play "Volare" and our Italian guide started belting out the lyrics. "Volare, oh, oh. Cantare, oh, oh, oh, oh ...."

Maybe I love that Italians sing in public because I have always loved to sing. "The Impossible Dream" from "Man of La Mancha" was a favorite when I was a kid.

 In my house in New Mexico, I have a map of Italy made of old sheet music. You can't have music without Italy and you can't have Italy without music.

In my house in New Mexico, I have a map of Italy made of old sheet music. You can't have music without Italy and you can't have Italy without music.

Maybe I love that Italians sing in public because I can't imagine life without music. I started taking piano lessons when I was 5. I didn't realize until more than 30 years later that's when I also started taking Italian lessons. So many musical terms are Italian words: adagio, lentamento, tempo! There are hundreds more. You'll also hear musical terms in other languages like French and German. But most are Italian. Italy was home to many early musical innovators. And music buffs tell us that at the end of the Renaissance, when the Baroque era was beginning, Italy was where the musical action was - and that's when a lot of the directional words started being used.

Maybe what I love about Italians singing in public is that no one finds it odd. Maybe what I love is that Italians seem to inherently understand what is important in life: family, food, friends, laughter, love ... music. Maybe what I love is that Italians live life out loud - whether they're singing or not. Most definitely what I love is that when I'm in Italy, I start singing too.
-post by JG