Società Filarmonica Maria Mater Gratiæ
Founded in 1883 by Francesco Saverio Briffa, the organization was initially known as "Societa del Żabbar" or "the village band". The club's main aim of cultivating love towards music. Throughout the years, the club has organized numerous music concerts held by the band itself. One of the club's main activities is the participation in its patron's feast, that of Our Lady Of Graces. The club's premises has always been in Sanctuary street, a stone's throw away from the parish church dedicated to the same patron. The club also has certain nicknames which identify it across the Maltese Islands, "Tal-Baqra" and "Tal-Grazzja". The nickname "Tal-Baqra" was originally formed after the first bandmaster of the club, who was known as "Il-Baqrambur". The nickname was formed to identify the club from the two local clubs that honor Żabbar. The other nickname, "Tal-Grazzja" was formed for their loved patron, Our Lady of Graces. Bandclubs in Malta usually compare themselves to a certain animal as their mascot. In this case, this society compares itself to the lion, as a king, showing strength and pride. The club's colour is blue, usually blended with white or yellow.
How It Started
The first band in Żabbar was formed by Francesco Saverio Briffa, initially known as "Societa del Żabbar". The club's first bandmaster was Maestro Giuseppe Micallef, also known as "Il-Baqrambur". Maestro Giuseppe Micallef had huge talent in this category, boasting his experience with the Royal Malta Fencible Artillery. One of his most known works was the hymn for Our Lady of Graces, finished in 1879. Also, Maestro Giuseppe Micallef was the first to teach music in the club.
In 1887, a disagreement between the members resulted in another new band club which was then located in the "Misrah". The reason of this disagreement was that some members wanted Carmelo Abela Scolaro as their bandmaster, while others still wanted Maestro Giuseppe Micallef. The founder, Francesco Saverio Briffa, still kept the band club alive. The only change that happened in the club was that immediately after the clash, the club's name was changed to "Società Filarmonica Maria Mater Gratiæ". From then on, the nickname "Tal-Baqra" derived from the club's bandmaster, was formed.
In 1898, the club's president was changed to Mr. Guzeppi Pace Spadaro, whilst in 1903, Maestro Pacifico Scicluna was the new bandmaster. The new bandmaster earned a huge reputation with the club's members, and his name was well kept and adored, as he managed to work with the club for twenty nine years, yet not consecutive.
In 1908, Maestro Lorenzo Gonzi had the honor to be the club's band master. In that same year, he released a hymn for Our Lady of Graces, which was accompanied by a choir of children.
In 1916, Mr. Guzeppi Calleja was elected as president of the club, where he kept the same role even in the 1920s. It was in that period of time, where the band was given an official uniform. In that year's feast, the club was given a huge role in it, as it was expected. With this step, the band was given a better, more elegant look.
In 1924, a statue dedicated to Glorious Malta, was sculpted by Guzeppi Caruana. In the annual feast of 1927, the statue was lifted after the Friday March, and then put up on a column which was erected in the square of Sanctuary Street. In that same year, Maestro Lorenzo Gonzi released another hymn, this time dedicated to the new statue. The hymn was named "Malta u Wliedha" (Malta and its sons). This tradition is still celebrated today.
In 1927, the club was under the rule of Dr. Guzeppi Aguis Muscat. His name became pretty popular with the locals as he was a man which guided the club through the World War, and also helped to reduce disagreements between the two clubs due to rivalry.
The 1930s served as a very important decade to the society's history. On 4 February 1934, the Archbishop Dom Mauro Caruana, consecrated the Holy Heart of Jesus to the Society. For this occasion, a memorable feast took place.
In 1935, the society invested in a new instrument set from Boosey and Hawkes. This was blessed by Cardinal Enrico Lepicier in the feast of Our Lady of Doctrine, a secondary feast organised by the club and parish.
In this period of time, the club became popular for its theatrical activities, held at the club's premises itself. The club even had its own theatrical company. The dedication for theater work was so passionate that at a stage in the late 1930s, the club considered investing in a new theater inside the club. Yet, this idea was put off as a war was nearby. In fact, when the Second World War took place, all activities in the club froze.
The club's premises was converted to a center for the A.R.P. and it greeted British regiments. The members of the club still met at the house 85 in Sanctuary Street.
After World War II, the pharmacist Sir Arturo Felice was elected as the club's president, whilst the committee was planning on how to regain the life the club once had before war. The first project it came upon was the building of an outdoor theater in the club's garden. It was a pretty ambitious project by the club's members, yet they rolled up their sleeves with the greatest of enthusiasm. The project lasted three years and was given the name of "Blue Arena". The theater's capacity was of 650 seated spectators, and its name became pretty known around the islands for its number of theatrical works done.
In March 1943, Priest Guzepp Zarb was given the role of Parish Priest, and immediately, he rolled up his sleeves and worked hard to crown the blessed painting of Our Lady of Graces, a true work of art by Alessio Erardi, finished in 1715. The dream of every single person from Zabbar became reality when, Archbishop Gonzi crowned and blessed the painting on the church's parvis, in front of an extremely large crowd. In this year, big feasts were celebrated, where both band clubs took part of. The club also released a hymn for the occasion. Maestro Joseph Abela Scolaro was in charge of the music, whilst the monk Mattew Sultana, wrote the lyrics. Monk Mattew Sultana was also the spiritual director of the club. The hymn was first played publicly on 26 August 1951, in Sanctuary Street's square.
In 1983 the club celebrated its 100th year. A program of activities was planned. It was in this period of time, where youth participation increased. The youth inclusion resulted in a boost in decorations for the feast, and other occasions, like Christmas. In fact, for three consecutive years, the club won the national competition for the best decorated street for Christmas, and also the national competition for best decorated facade for Christmas.
The club's society continued to strengthen as Mr Vincent Magri was elected president in 1988. Three subcommittees were formed, the "Fergħa Nisa", the "Kummissjoni Żgħażagħ" and the "Kummissoni Nar u Armar".
In 1992, the two band clubs signed an agreement where they undertook a set of regulations so that the feast could be celebrated with the consequence of less incidents between the supporters. The club also bought a new hall, known as "Maria Mater Gratiae Hall", decorated in a way to be used for parties and receptions. In addition, a store was also bought so that youths can work on any projects there, whilst also serving as a store for any decorations used.
On 8 August 2003, the band club undertook a promise to buy the building numbered 56 and 58 in Sanctuary street. The building is also known as "l-Għassa l-Antika". The club successfully purchased the building on 9 January 2004. Meanwhile, the club is under negotiations to convert the building into commercial use.
In the musical area, the club made important reforms for music learning. These reforms were introduced by the current bandmaster, Maestro Ray Sciberras FLCM. The capabilities of the bandmaster and his musicians, however, reached their peak in 2001, when the society held a special and memorable feast on the occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the crowning of Our Lady of Graces' painting.
For this occasion, Maestro Sciberras wrote a new hymn named "Cantata Maria Mater Gratiæ" on verses of George Peresso and was played for the first time by the band on Sunday 19 August 2001 in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Graces, accompanied by the choir, two sopranos, an "għannej", a narrator and a tenor. The great applause and the spontaneous standing ovation the band earned when finishing the hymn, are still pictured clearly in every person's mind that was present that day.
For this feast, the Kummissjoni Żgħażagħ also worked to make new decorations. One of the main attraction for 2001's feast was the opening of the big umbrella, which probably is the biggest umbrella in the world. The umbrella has, painted on its exterior side, paintings which have to do with the society. The umbrella is a symbol of Zabbar's feast, where both clubs boast of the biggest two umbrellas in the islands.
All of the Presidents of Società Filarmonica Maria Mater Gratiæ throughout the years.
|Francesco S. Briffa||1900–1916|
|Gius. Agius Muscat||1927–1943|
|Gius. Agius Muscat||1943–1946|
|Arturo R. Felice||1946–1953|
|Salv. F. Sciberras||1959–1960|
|Francis J. Scicluna||1962–1974|
|Alfred R. Scicluna||1976–1979|
|Salv. F. Sciberras||1979–1982|
|Joseph C. Attard||1982–1988|
|Joseph Saliba||2011 -|
All of the bandmasters of Società Filarmonica Maria Mater Gratiæ throughout the years.
|Salv. Galea Abela||1906–1908|
|Jos. Abela Scolaro||1951–1961|
|William J. Worley||1961–1963|