September 29, 2001
A fictional tuba player in Josef Skvorecky's historical novel Dvorak in Love is describing the setting of bandleader Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore's 1869 National Peace Jubilee concert. "He saw a gigantic coliseum, the great stadium in Boston where whole sections of instruments, rather than gladiators, were to clash in mortal combat...He stared in amazement at a hundred new anvils..., at the ten cannon...connected by wires to the conductor's podium, which towered above the stadium like a lighthouse. At the other side of the orchestra pit was a larger-than-life orchestrion painted in carnival colors...there was a steam engine ready to impel a gale of hurricane force into pipes as thick as the smoke stack of a trans-Atlantic liner."
Other descriptions of the event are every bit as exciting. It was June 15, 1869, Day One of five days of mammoth musical might. Lured here by over $27,000 worth of advertising, 20,000 spectators filed into the $120,000 temporary building, decorated with $11,000 worth of flags and bunting, spectators from across the country and beyond. That famous musical critic Ulysses S. Grant - "I know only two tunes. One is 'Yankee Doodle' and the other one isn't." - would arrive for Day Two. That day would open with a 5400-man military review for Grant. But today's audience contained Admiral David G. Farragut, mayor Shurtleff of Boston and his fellow Massachusetts mayors from Lynn and Worcester, as well as mayors from Wheeling, Hartford, Omaha and Mobile. The ministers of Britain and Haiti were also in attendance. The press corps consisted of reporters and critics from over 300 newspapers. At 3 PM nearly everyone was in place. Conspicuous were two rows, each containing 50 blacksmiths' anvils, stretching from the rear of the stage down to the audience. Behind each stood a firemen in full dress uniform. The rest of the stage was occupied by an ocean of musicians - 10,000 singers from 103 choral societies, an orchestra of 525 players and a 486-man military band.
After speeches from Edward Everett (who had made a much longer speech at Gettysburg) and from Mayor Shurtleff, it was time to roll. Gilmore's three fellow conductors - Eben Tourjee, Julius Eichberg and Carl Zerrahn were in place. Norwegian master violinist Ole Bull, guest first violin, strolled out and took his place to enthusiastic applause. As that was dying down Gilmore strode out to the podium to even louder acclaim, as the chorus waved a sea of handkerchiefs in the air. Each day's program would vary. Today it opened with My Country Tis of Thee. The baton came down as the maestro pushed a series of buttons connected by electrical wires to the cannons outside. As the first booms reverberated in the streets the basses and tenors echoed the pitch with the first verse. The altos and sopranos took the next verse, with the full orchestra, organ, band, and orchestrion vying for supremacy during the choruses. Everyone including the audience joined the final chorus. Then, at the audience's vociferous request, they did it all again. After a few more numbers, mostly classical, and an intermission, it was back to it again. The centerpiece of the second half was a selection from Verdi's _Il Trovatore_. Even the slowest audience member suddenly knew what the anvils were for. As the full company catapulted into the famous chorus, one row of firemen raised their hammers and brought them down on the hard metal. The other row was now raising their arms to hammer out the next beat, with cannon and church bells joining the din of the finale. When your audience jumps hollering onto their seats at the end, there's only one thing to do. Play it again, Pat!
And he did.
When the five days were over there was a profit of close to $160,000 on the books. Gilmore would go on to produce more massive concerts, even importing Richard Strauss for the next Boston effort. But none was as sucessful as the 1869 Peace Jubilee. It would be 100 years and two months before it was surpassed. At a farm in Bethel, New York.
For Classical 91.5 and 90-point-3, this is David Minor
© 2001 David Minor / Eagles Byte
URL OF THE WEEK
For a visit to the early days of the phonograph (young whippersnappers may have ssen them in museums and in old movies, old whippersnappers will remember them) a good starting place is Tim Gracyk's Home Page at
First of all there are the articles on the delivery systems themselves, where you can read "Victrola Needles (How They Evolved, How To Use Them, Where To Buy New Ones Today)", "Tips For Selling Your Collection of 78s (What Are Those Old 78s Worth?)", "Opera on Old 78 RPM Records -- Great To Hear, Hard To Sell", "Piano Rolls for Reproducing Pianos" and "Edison Cylinder Machines". If you just want to learn about the music popular over the last 100 years, you can read articles on "Tin Pan Alley, Broadway Show Tunes, Ragtime, and Sousa Marches", "African-American Pioneers and Early Ragtime Recordings", "Ten 78s Loved by Our Grandparents", "Early Jazz--or "Jass"--and Tin Pan Alley, With Lyrics to the First Record to Refer to the New Music", Jas Obrecht's "The King Of Ragtime Guitar: Blind Blake & His Piano-Sounding Guitar", and "Happiness Boys: Billy Jones & Ernest Hare." Finally there are the links. Links to everything from where to get phongraphs repaired to the Archeophone Record Company that reissues the old music on CDs. You'll also be able to link to other related home pages. So grab your mouse, keep your eye on the upraised baton, wait for the down beat - and Strike Up the Band.
It Still Waves ! !
© 2001 David Minor /Eagles Byte