St Paul’s Club – Count Roger Band
Count Roger’s Band Club was officially founded on Sunday 25th July, 1869 with the notarial acts presided by Notary Guzeppi Maria Buhagiar. The contracting parties were the Rabat Musical Director Epifanio Agius and seventeen band musicians from Rabat too. They formed part of the Archconfraternity of the Most Holy Sacrament and of the Protoparish of St. Paul. A concert was held on the same day the contract was signed. The objectives behind the band’s foundation were multiple. It was the effort to find the right location for a band club where all musical tutoring would progress, and to act as a leisure place. This band would in turn provide the musical accompaniment during the principal and titular feasts of Corpus Domini and the Martyrdom of the Apostle St. Paul held in Rabat.
The band organised its first programme on September 1869 in the Saqqajja Square where compositions of Petrella, Mercadante, Verdi and Agius were delivered. The band never looked back and it was invited to play in many feasts celebrated in the surrounding towns and villages such as Hal Lija, Naxxar, Birkirkara, Mosta, Haz-Zebbug and Siggiewi.
Seven musical directors have lead Count Roger’s Band in its glorious history. In 1878, the Rabat Musical Director Frangisku Xuereb took over from Maestro Epifanio Agius. Xuereb was a band musician and one of the founders of the band. The band increased in popularity under Maestro Xuereb and several programmes were organized under his direction. The band participated on the arrival of Cardinal Lavigerie in Mdina in 1882, when the railway service was introduced in 1883, and in 1888 when Bishop Pietru Pace made his entry in Mdina. From 1893, the Society of St. Paul and Count Roger’s Band Club began to celebrate the National Feast in honour of Count Roger.
During this period, the band was presided over by Mr. Antonio Lanfranco (1869 – 1880), Mr. Paolo Falzon (1880 – 1885), Notary Michele Luigi Casolani (1885 – 1887), Dr Agostino Naudi (1887 – 1893) and German Baron Massimiliano von Tucher (1893 – 1914).
From 1902 till 1920, Maestro Antonio E. Agius directed the band where it was invited to play in the garden parties organized by Governor General Sir Leslie Rundle at San Anton Gardens and at Palazzo Verdala in Buskett. This governor showed his appreciation when he presented an ornamental flag with his coat of arms stamped on it. In 1917, the Society Mutuo Soccorso Conte Ruggiero was established under the presidency of Count Alfredo Caruana Gatto. He presided until 1927 where he assumed the presidency of the band club too.
The Italian musical director Giuseppe Vitaliti assumed the band’s direction in 1920 until 1927 when he had to retire in his home country owing to health reasons. For a brief period of time, Maestro Francesco Bellizzi assumed the role of band director.
The well-known Maestro Vincenzo Ciappara conducted his first programme with the band at San Anton Gardens on the 3rd May, 1928. He remained with the band for fifty years when he retired in 1978. The band presented its new set of instruments on the 25th January, 1930 during a programme at Saqqajja Square. The band’s 75th anniversary was celebrated in 1944. Under Ciappara’s leadership the band participated actively in the National Feasts held to celebrate the 19th centenary of St. Paul’s Shipwreck in Malta. The band’s 100th anniversary was celebrated in 1969.
In December 1974, Maestro (now Professor) Joseph Vella was appointed Ciappara’s successor. Vella remains the band’s director. In 1990 Count Roger’s Band welcomed Pope John Paul II in the Rabat Main Square and in the square in front of the Mdina Cathedral. In 1995, the band played in Italy in the towns of Polverigi, Ancona and Fermignano. In 1996 the band welcomed the arrival of the Polverigi band. In 1999 the band played again in Taorima, Altofonte and Palazzolo Acreide in Sicily. In December of that same year the band celebrated Prof. Vella’s 25th anniversary as musical director and a programme with his own musical compositions was played.
In 2001, Count Roger’s Band visited the US and Canada where it performed for the Maltese emigrants and it was also invited to play in the Michigan State Fair. The following year the band flew again to Sicily to play at Palazzo Acireide for the feast of the Apostle St. Paul and in 2004 it was invited to perform in the German state of Bavaria.
During this period, the Society of St. Paul was presided by the following: Count Edward Sant Fournier (1927 – 1948), Mr. Lewis Ebejer (1948 – 1954), Dr. Carmelo Vassallo (1954 – 1964), Mr. Publius Farrugia (1964 – 1982), and Commendatore Henry Paul Fenech (1982 – 1999). Presently, the president of the Society is Count Paul Tonna.
Although Count Roger’s Band is 137 years old, it remains an active band and very popular throughout the Maltese Islands. The present administration holds dearly the principles of the band’s founders and works hard to achieve the set objectives. This augurates well for the future.