When people think of concerts attended by huge crowds they often think back to Woodstock, maybe Lollapalooza, or Simon & Garfunkel in Central Park. While those were well-attended events, the big numbers were in the audience not on the stage. But what about concerts that had a large number of performers? Hundreds of people in a choir? Dozens and dozens of bands at a weekend long festival? Not even close!
The place was Boston, MA and the dates were June 17th (Bunker Hill Day) to July 4th in the year 1872. A man by the name of Patrick Gilmore (1829 – 1892) organized the World Peace Jubilee and International Music Festival. The performers consisted of 20,000 singers and 2,000 musicians. They performed both in groups and en masse.
Gilmore, an Irish native, had emigrated to the U.S. from Galway and was known as a talented composer and band leader. He settled in the Boston area and had a dream that music could be the vehicle which brought about peace among the world’s people. He also wanted to organize an event that celebrated the end of the Franco Prussian war the year before. He was no stranger to organizing big concerts (he had done one in New Orleans and a few years earlier in Boston) but the 1872 one would top them all.
He persuaded a number of nations and armies to send their band’s over to the US for the event. A massive steel structure was built in the Back Bay section of Boston on what is now the site of the Back Bay railroad station near Copley Square. The structure held 60,000 spectators and 22,000 musicians.
Musicians and spectators descended on Boston from far and wide. President Grant attended along world leaders and ambassadors from Europe and South America. Johann Strauss attended and composed the “Jubilee Waltz” for the occasion.
The crowds were treated to a mix of classical and popular music that included works by Bach and Mozart, sacred songs, and songs such as “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” for which Gilmore had written the lyrics (set to an old Irish tune) during the Civil War. One interesting note is that 100 members of the Boston Fire Department were enlisted to pound on anvils during “The Anvil Chorus” by Verdi. Can you imagine the sound of 100 anvils being pounded at the same time?
The weather turned out perfect. The concert was a huge success. Music had prevailed amongst the armies of the world for a peaceful 17 days.