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My Music Journey
   Written by Antonio Riganti, PIME
(Transcript of documents from Hong Kong Catholic Diocesan Archives)

  It seems to me that since the first days of my existence I loved music. I don’t remember, of course, if when crying, as a little baby, I was crying in tune or out of tune…

  The toys I preferred as a little boy were musical toys. With my brothers I must have made a real din, because I remember that an old lady, living near us, used to complain because she could have no peace, and even complained with my mother because she used to buy for us noisy and musical toys.

  I remember very well (since the age of 6) how delighted I was when the choir sang high mass in music. The organist was a school teacher and did not play too well; anyway I was extremely fond of listening to him.

  One of my brothers, Marino, bought a mandoline and was taking lessons and playing in a little orchestra that practised in a barber shop; the son of the owner of the shop was the teacher and knew music very well. At once, when my brother Marino was not practising, I started handling the instrument, so that, in a very short time I became very efficient. But I was playing only by heart. I asked my brother to teach me music, but he always refused. And when I went to the barber shop to have my hair cut and the music teacher asked me why I did not learn music, I used to say: “nobody wants to teach me, not even Marino.” And I used to cry. I was then only 9 years of age.

  The time came when I felt the vocation for priesthood. Of course God called me, but one of the attractions for me towards entering the seminary was also the thought that when I became a student in the seminary, I would have the opportunity of being taught music, of singing in the choir and also to be allowed to enter the parish priest’s house where there was an American organ that could be played, by the students.

  As a boy I had a beautiful treble voice, so that I was chosen to sing solos in the seminary chapel. I also studied music very hard, also by myself. The first gift I asked my daddy for a reward for having obtained one of the first places at the examinations was some music. The first opera I bought when I had a little money was Verdi's Traviata.

  Some of my schoolmates took piano lessons; I did not dare ask my daddy, as I was very shy and did not like to make my parents spend too much for me. But, when I had the chance I used to enter, during recreation, some classes and if nobody was playing I enjoyed myself playing the piano; of course with a lot of wrong fingering, but in tune and good harmony.

  During the first vacations, at home, I could enter the parish priest’s house and play the harmonium, for hours and hours. I am sure that the priest’s relatives were a bit annoyed for being disturbed by me every day and for such long time. Of course they never showed to me their annoyance; but, one day I did not find the harmonium in the same place in the waiting room, because it had been put in a small little house, in the garden… Now I understand how I really was to everybody a perfect nuisance. There was also another student who was very fond of music and the music we wished to play was not easy and well above our possibilities, we used to divide the work like that: I played the part of the right hand and he took charge of the notes for the left hand… We were happy because it sounded so nice…

  In the seminary, when I was about 13 years of age I started studying harmony and counterpoint. My mind was always full of music and I used to give to music, most probably too much of my time, neglecting a bit my other subjects. Yet, I used to come out always second or third of the class.

  One Sunday morning I got a terrible fright. In the seminary, on Sundays, the meditation was not preached by the spiritual director and we did not go to the chapel for it. We remained in study room. The prefect read a passage and we were supposed to meditate about it. On that Sunday, after the prefect read a passage, a musical idea came to my mind. I opened my drawer and on some music sheet I started writing some notes… But the vice-rector had just entered the room unseen and noiselessly; he approached me and suddenly took away from me the music sheet and said: “you will have to pay for this…”

  After that I passed hours of great fear. I expected to be called by the rector and be scolded most severely or even to be expelled. But the vice-rector had a lot of common sense. He realized that my fault was not so serious and the matter was completely dropped. He never mentioned it to me again.

  And so I went on, without taking any lesson, but studying by myself in a very hard way. When I was about 16 years of age, something happened for which I have to be grateful to God and also to my parish priest. This parish priest had just come to my town. During the vacations, he being a very good musician and a good tenor used to play for me on his nice violin. His violin had also a history. Before coming to my town as parish priest, he was parish priest in a small but fashionable little town, near the Lake of Varese. To this town rich people used to go to pass their holidays.

  The priest told me that on one occasion a poor beggar played the violin outside his door; but his instrument was dilapidated and practically useless. The priest took compassion on him and after having given the beggar some alms he also gave him his own violin: “with my instrument (he told him) you will play better and touch more easily the heart of your listeners… and get more money.”

  A famous violinist heard about this and presented the priest with his own violin, as a sign of admiration for what the priest had done. This violin was given me by this priest when I came to Hong Kong in 1920. But it did not stand well the damp climate of Hong Kong and when I opened the case a few months after my arrival in Hong Kong, I found it all in pieces, as the glue had given way. Foolishly, I gave that violin away for nothing to someone who had it nicely repaired.

  Going back to that parish priest of mine, he used to play violin and when he hear that I was playing mandoline, he told me to bring my instrument to his house, together with some suitable music for duets. I had written something for that purpose and when we played together the priest asked me the name of the composer. Blushingly… I told him that I was the composer of that little rubbish… But he took his hat and went down straight to my father and told them that when going back to the seminary next year I had to be given the opportunity of taking piano lessons and study piano in the proper way. He was even willing to pay for the expenses. But my father told him that there was no need of that; he would provide the money for the lessons and for the hire of the piano in the seminary.

  In the seminary, there were different pianos in different classes; for each piano, 4 students, who had to practise only during recreation time, half hour a day, but it was compulsory to pay for lesson which were given by an old teacher. I got about two lessons, during the first two months; but then I saw that it was absolutely useless to pay for lessons as the poor old teacher used to fall asleep and snore during the half hour lesson. Therefore, as he was rather good player, I decide to do like this: when called for the lesson I brought with me some opera or other nice music and made the teacher play for me. And so the teacher had to keep himself awake and I listened to something pleasant.

  When I went home for my vacation (I was then 16 years of age), I had the great surprise of finding at home a beautiful piano which had been acquired for very little money. A man who had been rather rich in previous years, had given himself of drinking and was reduced to difficulties. Unfortunately, one morning in winter after a heavy snowfall, he had been found dead in a small hut, outside the town. His children, in order to make some money sold the piano for practically nothing and my daddy bought it.

  With such a nice piano at my disposal I used to pass practically the whole day playing. My mother never complained, because she loved me very much, but I am sure that she must have felt very tired of hearing the piano being played during the whole day, and sometimes even in the night. In order to learn how to play the organ, I had the organ pedals made for me and put them under the piano, so that I could practise organ playing even when playing only the piano. At that time I composed a little piano piece, my father was very fond of. He always asked me to play that little piece. When I went home from Hong Kong, in 1932 for holiday, I played some pieces which I had learned in Hong Kong; but then my father who had not taken very keen interest in that music, came near me and said:“Antonio please play the little melody composed by you which I like so much.” He had not forgotten the little melody and he preferred it to many other high-brow pieces…

  I also remember very well how I made great progress in my piano playing, in the seminary, each student had the right to practise only half an hour per day. But some companions of mine used to invite me to use their half hour, in order to make me play some pieces they wanted to hear. Some of these students had no musical inclination. They only took lessons because their parents were rich.

  In 1914, I felt the vocation to become a missionary and I joined the Institution of Milan for the Missions. My parents suffered a lot, but gave afterwards their consent. I also suffered because by becoming a missionary I might be sent anywhere, even in places where music was impossible or useless. But I had to follow God’s calling.

  In the Mission Seminary I became at once the organist. In 1915 the First World War broke out and I had to join the army. In 1916 I was ordained a priest and sent to Albania to the front. Of course I never neglected my music, although I had no possibility of playing. But in 1918 I was called down from the Albanian Mountains to Valona, the principal city of the territory occupied by the Italian army, I was appointed assistant to the chief chaplain; I got that place because in Valona there was a little Catholic chapel where services were held every day, for the troops. The student who was there before me had to become an officer of an infantry regiment. Poor boy he died a few months afterwards killed by mistake of our own soldiers.

  In Valona I had the possibility of arranging some nice music. We had there a little choir made up with some Italian little girls and reinforced now and then by good singers who were in the army. I composed a requiem mass which was performed on the 2nd of December, when a special service took place with the intervention also of the general commanding all the forces in Albania. I was then only a corporal.

  After that service the general wished to see me, as he was told that the mass had been composed by me. He offered me his hand and asked what position I had in the army. I answered that I was a corporal.

  He said nothing, but about a week after that, someone told me that my name had been out in the order of the day as a sergeant. That did not change my condition, but increased very much my income…

  As soon as the war was over I went back to Milan. In 1919, on the 3rd day of December, I left Milan for Marseille and arrived in Hong Kong after 41 days sea-voyage.

  In Hong Kong, I had at once the chance of applying myself to music, most probably even more than if I had remained in Italy.

  I heard that my sisters in Italy were also taking piano lessons. Teresina was making great progress. I felt her a tiny little girl. When I went home in 1932, my family and my brothers’ families had been waiting for me, until after midnight. Teresina, who had become a big girl was shy of me, and I was shy of her…

  During my staying in Italy for holidays Teresina and I practised some nice piano duets, which everybody was delighted to hear. When I went home in 1948, Teresina had something to think and had forgotten her pieces…

  During the last 17 months I have had very little opportunity to play and to apply myself to music. Some people say: “what a pity…”

  Maybe they are right.

- Appreciation of Riganti's compositions
- To know more about Antonio Riganti, please visit Hong Kong Catholic Diocesan Archives website

(Article uploaded on 4 September 2008)