On June 15-19, 1869, over 11,000 performers participated in a five-day musical extravaganza celebrating the end of the American Civil War. To mark the 150th anniversary of Patrick Gilmore’s National Peace Jubilee, the Associates of the Boston Public Library held a free public concert, in collaboration with New England Conservatory (NEC), on March 29, 2019.
The evening featured performances by NEC’s Chamber Singers, and Wind Ensemble playing works by Aaron Copland and Georg Fredric Handel, among others. One of the more exciting moments was when four members of the Greater Boston Firefighters Pipes and Drums , joined NEC performers for Giuseppe Verdi’s Anvil Chorus by striking two anvils in tune with the joyous song.
Starting off the concert, HUB History podcast host Jake Sconyers explained the background of the original Peace Jubilee and the significance of the event to the packed audience. At the time, the high-profile, widely anticipated Peace Jubilee was the largest music event in the country, with an audience of over 30,000 people. It featured thousands of vocalists, hundreds of musicians in wind bands, an orchestra led by famed violinist Ole Bull, 100 firemen playing anvils, and the newly commissioned poem "Hymn of Peace" written by Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes. This took place in a temporary building constructed specifically for the affair and dubbed the “Temple of Peace,” just steps away from the current Boston Public Library’s Central Library in Copley Square. Jake showed slides of photographs from the Boston Public Library's Special Collections to illustrate his points.
One of the highlights of the commemoration concert was the poem “Unnamed” written and recited by Porsha Olayiwola, the City of Boston’s Poet Laureate. She spoke from the heart about her journey tracing her mother’s family lineage. The poem touched on the fact that many of the Black Americans who were freed from slavery, chose names such as Freedman or Freeman and even used the last names of their former masters in order to find relatives that had been sold.
Another highlight, keynote speaker Professor Theodore C. Landsmark, emphasized that it is time for Boston to look within itself to find a way to incorporate inclusion and diversity in its growth. Landsmark said, “We have a lot of unfinished business when it comes to social inequality” and “that we as individuals have to fight to overcome them.” He also noted that “we can individually make a difference in addressing inequalities” and that “Libraries are the repositories and the distributors of our culture… they are archives and advocates for our shared values.”
The event ended with a rousing performance of the Hallelujah Chorus by Handel. Overall the Peace Jubilee commemoration concert was a success that celebrated a truly epic event of the time period that will give us a chance to learn and reflect on what we can do for the future.
The concert was the Associates’ inaugural Pierce Performance Series event. Thank you to the Harold Whitworth Pierce Charitable Trust for funding this series. Please stay tuned to find out what next year’s event will entail.
To learn more about the evening’s content, click the videos below for either the highlights version or the full program.