Symphony Humanity in the Piazza

At Home in Rome.

Her arms were those of a power lifter. The intensity on her face matched the execution of her bow. Mind you, this was no Pablo Casals protégé. But, her love of music, passion for her cello and perhaps the need to earn a few extra placed her in Piazza Farnese during the golden light hours.

This beautiful surprise of a square is just south of the famous Campo de’ Fiore in Rome. Farnese is mostly a surprise because most visitors to the area never experience it, even though it is visible from the prestigious market and just a few steps away.

At 18:00 hours, 6 PM, the sun is bathing the eastern walls of Piazza Farnese, turning the pasted structures into colorful mirrors of their solar source. Our cellist, of course, has found a central location just inside the shade and barely out of the unmarked access lane of diplomat limos and taxis that are (supposedly) the only permitted motor vehicles in this otherwise peaceful, pedestrian piazza. I say supposedly only because there is always a lost tourist in a rental car or a Roman lunatic who thinks driving and anarchy are synonymous.

I Think, “This should provide perfect ingredients for audio ecstasy”. Acoustic cello, babbling fountains, an occasional clip-clop of horse and carriage, and the buzz of visitors who almost instinctively reduce their voices to a hum in homage to the soundtrack make this is the ideal setting. Then a force penetrates the meditation like a firecracker.


A brood of pre-teen boys has converted a section of the piazza into their soccer field. Bikes have become goal boundaries. Beyond that, there are no restrictions as the where the ball and boys will go.

Military guards, who probably played here once or twice in their youth, observe with subtle smiles as they dangle their machine guns in front of the French Embassy. The magnificent palazzo has the mark of Michelangelo, Carracci and a host of others. And the Fleur-de-lis symbols on the façade enhance the assumed pride this Mission-Francais must have. Headquarters in Palazzo Farnese, Rome.

As is to be expected, the ball knows nothing about classical music and chooses to interrupt an arpeggio on with a bounce and bop on the face of our performance artist. She grabs the ball. The boys come over to retrieve it. The die is cast for a verbal bloodbath. I am almost ready to intercede in what I know will be an ugly scene. Heaven knows the guards aren’t going to do anything. Too many pretty tourist girls are swaying through at the moment.

To my astonishment and utter joy, she smiles and explains she, like they, “plays” in the piazza. An elderly woman in a restaurant apron strolls in to contribute, probably on her smoking break before she begins preparing the evening repast for customers.

In a matter of moments, the boys pick up the gear. Chair, tip bucket, bags, charts, and music stand. She holds on to her axe (cello), of course). Quietly and quickly, she is transported to a relatively out-of-bounds location. “Grazie” all around. Happy musician, polite boys and everyone can get back to “playing”.

I was prepared for, “Damn kids don’t respect nuttin’”. Or, “Stupid old bat can’t’ play that fiddle no how”. Instead, there is music, running, laughter, groans at misses, celebration at success and, in almost intended composition, musical crescendos accompanying each goal.

I muse at this, chalking it up to chance. Then the boys loose the ball in one of the large fountains. It takes them easily five to ten minutes to paddle the ball to the perimeter so they can fetch it. All this while “Ave Maria” is bathing the ears of a now appreciative and attentive audience (even the guards).

The piece ends. Amen. The boys, completely oblivious to any of this, fish their toy out seven seconds after the applause. The tip jar clinks. Bouncing, yelling, kicking and laughter continues. The cellist flips the page and delves into Bach.

Here is a symphony of humanity phenomenon, the true purpose of the piazza. The notes placed in negotiated stanzas of culture, sport, entertainment, and, in my case, inspiration. It is a quiet movement moment for me as I stroll through the madness and miracle that is Rome.



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Tom was born Thomas James Shaker on August 13, 1952, to Mary Katherine Christopher Shaker (daughter of Italian immigrants) and Mitchell Francis Shaker (son of Lebanese immigrants) in the town of Niles, Ohio. He is the fifth of eight children. He scored the lead role in his kindergarten play Frosty the Snowman and never looked back. Throughout his 12-year parochial education, Tom mixed high academic marks with countless arts, sports, and student government activities. This culminated with his becoming a participant, then counselor and finally consultant to the National Association of Student Councils (NASC) and its affiliates in Ohio (OASC) and Pennsylvania (PASC). Tom also was selected and participated in the Buckeye Boys State leadership conference sponsored by the State of Ohio. He continued these activities as he prepared for undergraduate school. Entering Kent State University in September 1970, Tom immediately became involved with activities surrounding the tragic campus shootings the previous May 4. He was a founding member of the Candlelight Vigil Committee and continued to work with the Centre for Peaceful Change. From 1970-74, Tom produced many theatrical works off campus while performing in university theatre department plays. He was inducted into three honoraria and given the Senior Service Award. Tom graduated with countless student activity, government and Arts credits highlighted by his work as the publisher for the Chestnut Burr Yearbook and Kent Stater Campus Newspaper. Tom earned his AEA Actors' Equity Association Card (the union for professional stage actors) in the summer of 1974 as the third cowboy from the left in Oklahoma and fourth Buddhist from the right in The King and I. He was accepted to Akron University Law School, attending in the fall of 1974. But, the draw to the arts was too strong and he left law school to continue his main pursuit, the stage. Tom spent 1975 as a teaching consultant for the Portage County Schools, filming and coaching teachers on classroom presentation and speaking techniques. He began his Masters Degree program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, autumn, 1976. Again Tom graduated with high marks and a series of honors in spring, 1978, most notably serving as President of the Michigan Union. He also worked on a graduate school scholarship as a counselor in the University Admissions Office. Tom simultaneously spent those years in Ann Arbor battling Hodgkin's Disease, a form of lymphatic cancer that warranted his regular sessions of MOPP Chemotherapy throughout his academic tenure at the U of M. With diploma in hand and a clean bill of health, Tom moved to Detroit and spent twelve years distinguishing himself as an actor, director, producer and Edu-Tainer. He earned union membership in Screens Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Announcers (AFTRA). His countless commercial, industrial and film credits included national spots for General Motors, the voice for Cadillac and a role in Beverly Hills Cop with Eddie Murphy. He also formed his production company, staging dozens of musicals including Fiddler on The Roof, West Side Story, Guys and Dolls, Oklahoma…and touring schools with creative interpretations of classic works from Shakespeare to Aesop to Dickens. His Edu-Tainment company created an improvisational concept called Storybuilding where student stories and ideas were brought to life before the entire school assembly of their peers, thus building creative writing interest, literacy skills, and self-esteem. He even developed a school outreach program for McDonalds Corporation and actually portrayed the character Ronald McDonald for the dozen years he spent in Detroit. He also served as a board member for The Ronald McDonald Houses (RMC) in both Ann Arbor and Detroit and was a consultant to Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities (RMCC) at Hamburger University in Oakbrook, Illinois. Broadway had always been beckoning. In 1991, Tom moved to NYC and spent another decade in countless film, television, theatre and Edu-Tainment projects. Productions included Law and Order, Ransom, 15 Minutes, Die Hard III and a critically acclaimed showcase of his original musical Birdsville ,(adapted from the Aristophanes farce), staged at the Kauffman Theatre on 42nd Street. In 2000, Tom travelled to Rome, Italy in search of his Italian heritage. A two-week vacation turned into a change of continents and he is now a dual citizen commuting between The Eternal City and The Big Apple. He is Dottore Shaker in Italy, Director of Performing and Visual Arts Education, consulting at Sapienza Roma I University and Link Campus University. He is also a member of the USO committee in Rome, serves as a volunteer warden for the American Embassy, and is a past president of the American International Club of Rome (AICR). He has spent countless hours on various sets and sound stages including Cinecitta, “Hollywood on the Tiber”. Mel Gibson selected Tom for the role of Eyepatch in The Passion of the Christ. Then, the Cinecitta Jerusalem of Gibson became the Roman Forum for HBO and Tom was cast for recurring appearances in the drama mini-series, Rome. He is the Court Lictor in the episode titled Spoils. In Italy, Tom is writing his books, At Home in Rome, 24 Hours in… and Italy with Tom Shaker. He is scouting for his documentary Film "Kissa Grandpa" and producing/singing an album of new jazz standards with his band, "Tom and the Cats", featuring his original tunes, Bella Roma and Italiano-Americano. He has produced and recorded the album, Giggin’ with God, in the Vatican City studios. Tom has completed principal photography for the first fifteen episodes of his International media project, Where in the World with Tom Shaker, Rome 360º, the Churches. He has completed the pilot for his wine series, In Vino Veritas, as well. In Paris, France, Tom co-wrote, shot and starred in the TV series, Forget About It (Fugedaboudit), the story of a bar/diner owner and his screwy clientele. The show was accepted and showcased at the Hollywood Film Festival in December 2012. Works in Progress include: • In Vino Veritas / 30-minute episode series about wines of the world • 24 hours in… / a look at Piazza, Square and Centers around the Globe • Post Production, Rome 360º, Season I • Pre-Production, Season II, Rome 360º, March 2013 • Episode and distribution development for Forget About It 2016 will see the completion of his latest screenplays, The Siege of Malta and Roma Rewrite. Finally, Tom keeps busy in Italy lecture-guiding friends, colleagues, and referrals around the entire boot and islands.

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