Big Boom In Boston

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Although Gilmore scored another personal triumph, this second festival, running from June 15 through July 4, 1872, was disappointing artistically and financially. The size of the crowds fell short of expectations; so did some of the performances. Various disasters dogged the enterprise. A coliseum seating 100,000 was to have replaced the original Temple of Peace, which had been wrecked by a storm. The second Temple’s wooden trusses were so large and unwieldy, however, that they blew down before carpenters were able to brace them securely. The sponsors then cut its capacity to 60,000 and ran the building up as cheaply as possible. There were also instrumental troubles. The giant bass drum, twenty-one feet in diameter, was so huge its head would not vibrate properly; it was hung on the wall for show. The immense organ required so much pressure that the engine powering the bellows gave out.

Apparently the World Peace Jubilee was just too big to be practical. And it lacked the spontaneity and enthusiasm of the first. Nevertheless, the European bands made a big hit. They created a splendid show each day by marching in uniformed formation into the coliseum. And they sounded, many people thought, a lot better than the twenty-six American bands.

Perhaps this inspired Gilmore, soon after the World Peace Jubilee ended, to move to New York and announce plans to build the “best military band in the world.” He may or may not have succeeded in this, but he did assemble the first great band in America by paying the highest salaries in the business—up to $650 per week (for a featured cornetist)—and inspiring his musicians with his own electric enthusiasm.

The last twenty years of his life saw Gilmore’s Band become an American institution. New York’s old Hippodrome was renamed “Gilmore’s Gardens,” and his band packed it for 150 consecutive concerts. For thirteen seasons Gilmore’s Band was the main attraction at then-popular Manhattan Beach, and it made highly successful annual tours to the larger U.S. cities. In 1878, Gilmore and his men became the first American brass band to tour Europe.

Gilmore left behind him a musical tradition that paved the way for the great age of American bands. He died of a heart attack on September 24, 1892, while playing a series of concerts for the St. Louis Exposition. Two days later John Philip Sousa’s band gave its first concert. Sousa truly picked up where Gilmore left off, and went on to greater renown; and a score of other band leaders, with Gilmore as their inspiration, attained national or even international acclaim.

But in many ways the National Peace Jubilee of 1869 was the peak of Gilmore’s career; it was his shining hour, and he never touched that height again. As the New York Sun commented after the 1869 event: Heretofore America has had no standing in the musical artworld. England has looked down on us. Germany has supposed that no Festival could be given here except by her Sängerbunds. Italy and France have recognized for us no higher possibilities than the production of their operas. At one step … we have lifted ourselves … to an artistic level with these nations…. But [the jubilee] has done more. It has shown that our people can think of something beyond mechanical inventions and the almighty dollar, and it has given earnest of a noble musical future for America.