One day not so long after the Civil War, a man had a vision. That man was Patrick S. Gilmore and, holy shit, did he pull off something spectacular. Gilmore had a couple other visions, too, like this one from the first of several gestures toward enormity:
“In addition to many other patriotic tunes, during the last number, Hail Columbia, Gilmore shot off thirty-six cannon by electric buttons from the podium. As the cannon fired methodically in time with the beat, the bells from churches and cathedrals throughout the city chimed to create a most spectacular effect.”
Using an entire city (New Orleans) as an instrument gives you some sense of Gilmore’s relationship with scale (also of note, this happened in 1864, during the latter stages of the entire Civil War – and that was just two years after the Union reclaimed the city). The man lived on 11, in other words, but that’s what it takes to pull an absolutely epic, town-consuming event all the way off. That came five summers later, when Gilmore staged The National Peace Jubilee in Boston, Massachusetts, in June 1869, an event on a scale all but unimaginable in the era of the telegraph, before auto-ready highways, and the hospitality services that followed therefrom, before even the light bulb. Damn it…even that framing feels inadequate. The point is, so much of the tech we take for granted had only just started to get rolling.
Gilmore didn’t want for inspiration, either, he was mindful that, per Richard Crawford, “the war’s end had not soothed the bitterness between North and South.” He wasn’t the only person to try, on the other hand, because even Abraham Lincoln called for a playing of the semi-infamous “Dixie” immediately after the Civil War, and just because he liked the tune. Impressive as Lincoln’s gesture was, Gilmore (somehow) operated on a grander scale (yes, that the President of the United States). His vision/mission statement/declaration bears quoting in full (and that came from this):
“A vast structure rose before me, filled with the loyal of the land, through whose arches a chorus of ten thousand voices and the harmony of a thousand instruments rolled their sea of sound, accompanied by the chiming of bells and the booming of cannon, all pouring forth their praises and gratification in loud hosannas with all the majesty and grandeur of which music seemed capable.”
He would go on to pull this off, per Wikipedia’s entry, by employing (ahem): “100 choral groups with a total of 10,926 singers, 525 musicians with the orchestra, and 486 musicians with the brass band.” Again, Gilmore hauled this business to coherence just four years after the conclusion of this nation’s greatest trauma – and he did it all by begging and borrowing (no record of stealing) from (presumably) Boston’s famed Brahmins, businessmen, and anyone else with the cash to fund the vision. The whole thing came off too, with even critics like the (reportedly) notorious local critic John Sullivan Dwight coming ‘round, to the tune of the eloquent phrasing Richard Crawford would note in his (violently abridged) An Introduction to America's Music, it gave “’all classes (save, unfortunately, the poorest)’ the chance to experience music…perhaps ‘for the first time…a high and holy influence’ and ‘the birthright of a free American.’”