A dark side: the little slaves of the harp

The Little Slaves of the Harp: Italian Child Street Musicians in Nineteenth-Century Paris, London, and New York — A book about how the Val d’Agri’s musical traditions intersected with the extreme poverty that drove the inhabitants to escape during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

My great-grandfather was lucky to be able to work as a musician all his life in the US with the Romagnano Orchestra, a dance band of South Philly Italians that worked in the city during that time and which was named for my great-great-grandfather (and my g-grandfather’s father-in-law) and which contained several of my direct and indirect family members. I strongly suspect that my grandfather inherited and played his harp, as it was bought from someone who immigrated from the Val d’Agri as well, at roughly the same time as my great-grandfather.

At least he came here as an adult, and my grandfather was born here and used the harp to feed my father’s family during the Depression, so they had a happier interaction with music and the harp. My great-grandfather was listed as a musician right up to his death certificate, whereas my grandfather went from “musician” to “operator” in the decadal census after the Depression lifted. A much stabler way to make a living for five kids, I suppose.