One of the special characteristics of Corfu is its marching bands. When the first of the month falls on a Sunday or on saints’ days, major and minor, the Philharmonic orchestras turn out in their colourful uniforms and add a cheerful note to the festivities in both the capital and in the villages. The island’s orchestras date from the early days of the British Protectorate. It seems that when the British refused to allow their own band to play for one of the four annual processions in honour of Corfu’s patron St. Spyridon (1837), the Corfiots’ reaction was “see if we care, we’ll create our own.” Thus, in 1840 was founded the first Philharmonic orchestra of Corfu, the “Philharmonic Corfiot Society”, setting an example for lots of others to follow.
The island is home to 17 marching bands, four of which are based in Corfu town, the rest in such villages as Gastouri, Skripero, Korakiana, Lefkimmi, Synarades, Avliotes, Lakones, Kontokali etc. with a total membership of 2000 musicians. They are all nonprofit organizations whose purpose is to promote the development of Corfiot musical tradition and education and many Greek musicians have come from their ranks. They play a primary role at the festivities and cultural happenings of Corfu island, but also all over Greece.
The Philharmonic Corfiot Society (known in Corfu as the Old Philharmonic) was founded in 1840, not just because the British refused to play for the Saint’s procession, but was also a natural consequence of the growing popularity of special clubs and societies in Europe in those days, an innovation introduced by Corfiot graduates of European universities. The Old Philharmonic was successful from the very beginning thanks to its conductor Nikolaos Halikopoulos Mantzaros, the composer of the Greek national anthem. He devoted his life to teaching and composing music and until his death in 1872 was the soul of the organization. The Corfu Philharmonic was the first to perform the National Anthem and won acclaim in 1896 at the first Olympic Games when it played the Olympic Hymn, composed by Corfiot Spiros Samaras, at the Kallimarmaron Stadium of Athens.
The marching bands of Corfu continue to play a vital role in the cultural life of the island.