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Bocce player throwing his ball at St. Rocco's Festival, Sept. 1999
Bocce player throwing his ball, St. Rocco's Festival, Hulberton, NY, September 5, 1999. Photo: Daniel Ward

Italian-American Traditions in Western New York

This project, submitted by the Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council, offers a sampling of traditions from Italian-American communities within a four-county region of western New York State. These include a photo documentation of an Italian festival; a sound recording of instrumental music; a memoir of life in "Little Italy" in Holley, New York; and a video documentary of Italian-American traditional musicians.

In the early 1900s, Italian immigrants, some of whom were master stonecutters, built St. Rocco's Church in Hulberton, an area known for its stone quarries, out of local red sandstone. After more than a half century, the church was renovated and reopened in 1976. The first St. Rocco's festival was held that year to celebrate the reopening and the nation's bicentennial. Over the years the festival has expanded and become the major fundraiser for St. Mary's Church in Holley, New York. The festival also functions as an unofficial reunion for many persons of Italian descent who grew up in the area.

Among the festival's popular attractions are its Italian cuisine, especially the pizza fritta and the pasta fagioli, and the bocce tournament. Local Italian American musicians were recorded by McClure Productions Inc., a music performance and recording company based in Genesee, New York, with assistance from music ethnomusicologist Karen Canning. The musicians recorded from 1994 to 1995, playing music that recounted the days of Italian weddings and parties, of serenading late at night, and of informal Sunday afternoon gatherings where Italian food, music and dancing were in abundance. This music represents a unique piece of history in western New York. The selections, which span the period from the late 19th century through the mid-20th century, and include mazurkas, waltzes, polkas, square dances and tarantellas, are played on the accordion, guitar, banjo, and mandolin.

The book, Roses and Garlic: A Nostalgic and Personal Look at Life on State Street, Holley, New York from 1900-1941, by Michael A. Charles, documents the daily lives of Italian-American families in this community. A copy of the book, which is out of print, is part of the Library's collection. This legacy project includes an excerpt describing the "evil eye" ritual, in which evil spells are lifted. "Viva la Musica" is a video project by Italian-American Christine Zinni, documenting Italian folk music by the Italian-American musicians. Without the assistance or intrusion of an outside narrator, the musicians tell their tales of family gatherings, socializing at the barber shop, and serenading young lovers. They also discuss how they learned to play, and with whom they have made music.

Documentation includes a 16-page report about the local legacy project; photographs from Saint Rocco's Italian Festival, held in Hulberton on the banks of the Erie Canal; a CD recording of traditional Italian-American music; a memoir of life in "Little Italy, Holley, New York; and the documentary video "Viva la Musica," and a copy of the master thesis about the project.

Originally submitted by: Thomas M. Reynolds, Representative (27th District).



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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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