King's Own Band
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The King's Own Band is a Maltese philharmonic band, founded 1874, based in the country's capital Valletta. It got its name from King Edward VII, who chose the name in 1901 upon advancing to the English throne, as it was previously called the Prince of Wales band. The first Band Club, or philharmonic society as they were known, to be set up in Valletta was known as La Nazionale. This refers directly to the fact that the band club was established in the capital city of Malta. Colloquially this band was and still is referred to as Ta’ l-Istilla. The reason is that the promoters of this society had in mind their participation during the feast day of St. Dominic, one of the patron saint that has his feast celebrated in Valletta. And the symbol of the saint is a star, Stilla in Maltese. The year was 1874.
The name of the same band has also been one of continuous change, due to the historical circumstances. The first name that was given to the band club was that of La Nazionale. This name reflects immediately the aim of the founders, that it would not only be the band club for the feast of St. Dominic, but also a national one as it was born in the capital city of Malta, Valletta. Besides that aim was to foster more appreciation for this type of music around the island. Its participation in the various localities of Malta was to confirm this commitment. The second name was that of La Nazionale Vincitrice, adding the appellation that it was victorious. This was given to the band club by its own admirers in order to recognise the achievements and successes that had been registered.
Another change in name occurred in 1885. the Prince of Wales, who had visited Malta three times during the 1860s, was asked to grant a new name to the band club, namely The Prince of Wales Band. This was to be retained till 1901 when the Prince was crowned the King of the British Empire. The Committee made a formal request this time to have their name changed once more. From a letter dated 4 March 1901 the British Prime Minister communicated the decision to the Governor of Malta, Sir F. Grenfell. The band was to be officially known as King’s Own Band. This name has been retained till this very day.
This Royal connection of the band with the British monarchy was continued throughout the years. In 1903 the king paid an official visit to the islands, arriving in Malta on April 16. The King’s Own Band was invited to play in the Palace Square during that evening when a dinner was held in the Palace on the occasion of the Royal visitor. Later during the same visit, the King presented a banner to the Band Club inside the Palace. Unfortunately that same banner was destroyed during the Second World War when the club premises were hit during one of the aerial attacks. In 1954 the Governor of Malta presented another Royal standard in lieu of the lost one. While in 1967, during her visit to Malta, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II presented another Royal Banner to the King’s Own Band.
Probably the most interesting event for the King’s Own Band Club was that of 1936, when it was the first local band club to play the National Anthem of Malta in public. The activity was to commemorate the National Day, 8 September.
The King’s Own Band Club has had a varied and an interesting history, like many other band clubs in Malta. It served as an important social, political and musical club for many people. Being also situated in Valletta, it has always attracted particular attention from foreign visitors to the islands. Thus, when His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, visited the club’s premises on 28 November 1952, he stated that:
I hope that this my visit to the King’s Own Band Club will be interpreted as if I had been to all the band clubs of Malta.
The King's Own Band still bears the title of Eccellenza (Excellence), a tribute to the high level that the band had achieved in Algiers (1912) while participating in the Grand Concours International de Musique.
Today the band is composed of about 95 musicians. The band performs in a very busy schedule which fills up most of the year. In fact the band starts its activities in March in preparation for the feast of St. Joseph in Rabat – Malta right through October/November in a grand finale in the form of the Annual Concert, which has become very popular with music lovers.
In December 2002, Mro. John Galea B.Mus.(Hons)(Dunelm), F.T.C.L., L.R.S.M., F.Musicol.A.M.S. (Honoris Causa) was appointed bandmaster, succeeding Mro. Carmelo Caruana who retired after 29 years.