A grand jubilee for universal peace
BEATING of drums and blaring of trumpets resounded through Boston streets. National bands from Europe, together with the United States Marine Band, marched past crowds welcoming them to the first World's Peace Jubilee and International Music Festival. There was the British Grenadier Band of London, the Kaiser Franz Regiment Band of Berlin, the Garde R'epu-blicaine of Paris, and the Irish National Band of Dublin. For several days before the parade, visitors and musicians poured into Boston by train, boat, and horseback. Hundreds of orchestra players and thousands of choral singers came from the other New England states, the South, and the West. All came to celebrate peace in the world now that the Franco-Prussian War was over in Europe. It was June of 1872.
On every corner were fiddlers, singers, whistlers, trumpeters, Scottish bagpipers, German brass bands, or Italian organ grinders with their monkeys.
Meanwhile, far out on the newly filled land near the Exeter Street shore of the Back Bay, an enormous concert hall called the Coliseum (with as many seats as the ancient amphitheater in Rome) was rising higher every day. Ever since early spring, when a wind-storm blew down its supporting arches, workmen had been redoubling their efforts to complete the huge temporary structure in time for the opening on June 17.
Everyone knew that before the seats could be set up for the concert audiences, the Coliseum had to be prepared for dancing at the Jubilee Ball. But who had the idea for a world's peace jubilee and why was all this going on in Boston?
It was a popular Boston bandmaster, Albert Gilmour, who had come from Ireland when a young man. He had promoted the National Peace Jubilee in 1869, which brought together singers and orchestra players from the North and South in a musical festival to celebrate peace after the long War Between the States. Gilmour began to dream of a world's peace jubilee and international musical festival.
New York music critics viewed Gil-mour more as a showman than a great musical director and were not interested in having the jubilee in New York City, so he settled on Boston as the place for the celebration. President Grant gave Gilmour a letter addressed to American diplomatic representatives in European countries. In it he recommended that they help Gilmour in his plans to bring to Boston the national bands of Europe to play in the proposed event.
Gilmour even persuaded the composer Johann Strauss to come with full orchestra to take part.
Thus it was that on June 15, 22,000 privileged guests, including President Grant, gathered for an evening of dancing, with Johann Strauss conducting his orchestra. Finally on June 17, people flocked to the Coliseum. They walked from horsecars on Washington Street and over the flat new land from downtown Boston. Others came on bicycles, in carriages, and still others crossed the Back Bay from Roxbury in little boats.
Everyone was in a festive mood. Some stopped at the booths that lined the road to buy souvenirs, toy drums, trumpets, bandsmen's caps and flags, and lemonade at 5 cents a glass.
As they approached the gigantic Coliseum, they were greeted with the view of flags of many nations flying from the roof, and above them all a banner proclaiming ``Universal Peace.''
ON a spacious stage at one end of the hall there were hundreds of chairs, several harps, an organ, kettledrums, and the largest bass drum in the world - 12 feet across. On the right-hand side of the platform were two rows of chairs facing each other with an anvil in front of each chair.
Programs rustled as people read the titles of the selections they would be hearing: ``The Star-Spangled Banner,'' accompanied by bell and cannon; ``The Blue Danube,'' composed and conducted by Johann Strauss; and Verdi's ``Anvil Chorus'' from ``Il Trovatore.''
At last the grand orchestra, the military bands, and the full chorus arrived on the huge platform. For months each musical group had practiced the opening song. Now for the first time, they were to join in playing together America's national anthem. When the conductor lifted his six-foot baton, the vast audience stood up to join in singing ``The Star-Spangled Banner.''
At the close of the national anthem, the booming of cannons and the ringing of church bells sounded from the city beyond. A telegraphic message had been dispatched at just the right moment to waiting bellringers and men manning cannons.
Johann Strauss, the composer of ``The Blue Danube,'' stepped onto the platform to conduct that loved composition. The audience gave him and his orchestra a standing ovation.
Many had noticed the anvils and empty chairs at one side of the platform. But everyone was taken by surprise when 100 Boston firemen, wearing red shirts, black trousers, and jaunty white caps, came in sight, carrying sledgehammers over their shoulders. They marched down the aisles toward the platform. There each man sat behind an anvil, holding his hammer - ready to join with the orchestra in playing ``The Anvil Chorus.''
When the conductor signaled, they whanged on the anvils with their hammers, keeping perfect time with the orchestra. The sound was tremendous and at the end, the silence was startling.
Then the audience jumped to its feet, clapping, cheering, shouting.
The opening concert was the success Albert Gilmour had hoped for. The World's Peace Jubilee was launched. For the next 18 days crowds came out to the Coliseum to hear the bands, orchestras, and singers perform a variety of musical programs. Those without tickets came to catch glimpses of the bandsmen in their colorful uniforms and to listen to the music that poured out of the open windows and doors of the great concert hall. Some came to watch the trains from Needham dumping gravel into the shrinking Back Bay, lingering on the outskirts of the crowds and catching snatches of the music. All caught the spirit of the occasion, and an atmosphere of fellowship and camaraderie prevailed.
On July 4, the final day of the Peace Jubilee, every European band took part, and at each concert a different woman soloist sang ``The Star-Spangled Banner.'' At the Promenade and Dance Festival held in the evening, many danced until midnight.
When the festivities ended, dancers and musicians from Europe and all parts of the United States went out together into the warm summer night where the flags of many nations flew from the roof of the Coliseum, and above them all blowing in the wind was the banner proclaiming ``Universal Peace.''
Because of a research error, a Home Forum essay in the July 30 Monitor identified the bandmaster as Albert Gilmour. The name should have read Patrick S. Gilmore.