Blog exchange: The leisure-time music landscape in Italy

Tommaso Napoli, President of Italy's AIMA (Associazione Italiana Musicisti Amatori), discusses how his organisation is working to overcome the challenges facing musicians who want to play for pleasure.

‘Conservatori’ – music academies –were born in Italy in the 17th century as institutes dedicated to orphans. Teaching music was seen as a way of helping the marginalised.

This model, which inspired Charles Burney, Samuel and Henrietta Barnett and the building of the first settlement house, Toynbee Hall in the East End of London, was abandoned in the early 19th century when these music schools were gradually taken over by the state.

Today all 88 Italian conservatoires are universities which do not aim to include the marginalised, only to furnish society with professional musicians. And those who don’t have enough talent, luck or resource to become professionals are effectively asked to stop playing. After centuries of this philosophy, the result is that very few Italian musicians are prepared to make music as a hobby: we are taught from an early age that ‘one never plays for free’.

... very few Italian musicians are prepared to make music as a hobby: we are taught from an early age that 'one never plays for free.'

Imagine, therefore, the difficulty when six years ago a small group of enthusiasts who only wanted to play for fun founded our association AIMA – Associazione Italiana Musicisti Amatori (www.aimamusic.it). Innocently, we contacted our former teachers in the conservatoires for advice, but the answer we received was always the same: ‘You need to pay the able musicians like professionals, the other ones are not able, therefore it is better if they don’t play.’

But of the 20,000 students currently registered to university courses at conservatoires, 85% of those who finish the course (and they are only a small percentage of the total number of those who have learnt an instrument) will become teachers, only 10% performers.

And yet nobody is demanding to play outside a professional context: everyone wants to work as a musician, and those who don’t make it pass in a short time from frustration to abandonment, rather than cultivating a healthy and beautiful passion. 

We believe it is every individual’s fundamental right to be able to express themselves in cultural and artistic ways, even if you don’t belong to the narrow elite of professionals.

AIMA was born to give those who play as a hobby new horizons. We believe it is every individual’s fundamental right to be able to express themselves in cultural and artistic ways, even if you don’t belong to the narrow elite of professionals. Even if you don’t get paid for doing it, playing is good both for the individual and for society. And the existence of a multitude of amateur groups is good for the professionals, too: just as in football, the better informed fans are and the larger their number, the higher the professional level has to be and the more the market will flourish.

To encourage people to play, AIMA organises workshops, pairings with foreign amateur musicians, chamber music meetings and creative improvisation seminars, and also gives musicians the opportunity to suggest a project (resulting recently in a choir and a Renaissance group). 

But above all we put musicians in contact with each other. AIMA is a bridge, a link between amateur musicians of any age and technical ability. Dozens of people (we have about 300 members in the whole of Italy) meet up, play and engage with each other musically through us. 

... amateur music ... is the base of the pyramid on which the whole music system is built

And we really hope that slowly in Italy, too, there will be recognition of the value of amateur music, because it is the base of the pyramid on which the whole music system is built. And because we all know that those who make their children learn to play are people who themselves love music.

Find out more about AIMA and how to link up and play with their musicians in Italy: www.aimamusic.it

Read Making Music's Chief Executive Barbara's Eifler's equivalent blog about the UK leisure-time music scene published on the AIMA website (in Italian, which can be translated using Google Translate).