Classical Jazz '05

American Music


African American spirituals, usually with a Christian religious theme, were originally monophonic and a cappella and were antecedents of the blues. The terms Negro spiritual, Black spiritual, and African-American spiritual, jubilee, and African-American folk songs are all synonymous. Spirituals sometimes provided comfort and eased the boredom of daily tasks. They were an expression of spiritual devotion and a yearning for freedom from bondage. Sometimes they were a means of releasing pent up emotions and expressing sorrow. Frederick Douglass, a former slave wrote, "I did not, when a slave, fully understand the deep meaning of those rude and apparently incoherent songs. I was, myself, within the circle, so that I could then neither hear nor see as those without might see and hear. They breathed the prayer and complaint of souls overflowing with the bitterest anguish. They depressed my spirits and filled my heart with ineffable sadness...The remark in the olden time was not unfrequently made, that slaves were the most contented and happy laborers in the world, and their dancing and singing were referred to in proof of this alleged fact; but it was a great mistake to suppose them happy because they sometimes made those joyful noises. The songs of the slaves represented their sorrows, rather than their joys. Like tears, they were a relief to aching hearts."

In song, lyrics about the Exodus were a metaphor for freedom from slavery. Songs like "Steal Away (to Jesus)", or "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" raised unexpectedly in a dusty field, or sung softly in the dark of night, signaled that the coast was clear and the time to escape had come. The River Jordan became the Ohio River, or the Mississippi, or another body of water that had to be crossed on the journey to freedom. “Wade in the Water” contained explicit instructions to fugitive slaves on how to avoid capture and the route to take to successfully make their way to freedom. Leaving dry land and taking to the water was a common strategy to throw pursuing bloodhounds off one's trail. “The Gospel Train”, and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” all contained veiled references to the Underground Railroad, and "Follow the Drinking Gourd" contained a coded map to the Underground Railroad. The title itself was an Africanized reference to the Big Dipper, which pointed the way to the North Star and freedom.

"Amazing Grace", performed by Elder Walter Avenues and the Little River Primitive Baptist Church
"Been In The Storm So Long", performed by the Fisk Jubilee Singers
"Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray", performed by the Tuskegee Institute Choir
"Deep Down in My Heart", performed by W. M. Givens in Darien, Georgia
March 19, 1926
"Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel?", performed by the Howard Roberts Chorale/Alvin Ailey
"Go Down, Moses", performed by Paul Robeson
"Lay Down Body", performed by Mrs. Bertha Smith (lead) and The Moving Star Hall Singers of John's Island, South Caronlina
"Little David, Play Your Harp", performed by Brother Claude Ely and the Cumberland Four
"My Good Lord Done Been Here", performed by Aunt Florida Hampton
May 29, 1939
"Pharaoh's Army Got Drowned", performed by unknown artist
"Roll the Old Chariot Along", performed by unknown artist
"Soon I Will Be Done", performed by Mahalia Jackson as "Trouble of the World"
"Steal Away to Jesus", performed by Bernice Johnson Reagon
"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", performed by Isadore Oglesby
"Take My Hand, Precious Lord", performed by Clara Ward

Patrick S. Gilmore

Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore was born on December 25, 1829 in Ballygar, County Galway, Ireland.

After accompanying his father to a protest rally against the British rule in Athlone, Ireland as a member of the Ballygar Fife and Drum Band. It was at the rally that Gilmore became enamored with the disciplined band. As a young man he moved to Athlone where he became a member of the local bands. He was introduced to the great bandleader, Patrick Keating, who taught him classical music and trumpets. Flourishing as a musician, Gilmore left Ireland for Boston in 1848.

In America, Gilmore became a member of a local band in Boston. He became the leader of the Boston Brigade Band and then the Charlestown Band. He became famous as a cornet soloist and joined the Salem Brigade Band in 1853, which at the time was regarded as the best in America. With the Salem band, Gilmore performed for the inauguration of President James Buchanan. He married Ellen O’Neill in 1858 and the next year returned to Boston.

Reorganizing the Boston Brigade Band in 1858, Gilmore founded Patrick Gilmore’s Band, which featured 2 woodwinds to each brass instrument. The ensemble was the model for what would become the modern concert band. April 9, 1859 was the date of the first performance by the Gilmore Band.

Over the course of his life, Gilmore wrote several marches songs (often under the pseudonym Louis Lambert) including “Good News From Home”, “We Are Coming Father Abraham”, “Seeing Nellie Home”, 22nd Regiment March”, “Sad News From Home”, “The Everlasting Polka”, “Music Fills My Soul With Sadness” and the definitive performance of Henry C. Work’s “God Save the Nation”. However it was after the Battle of Gettysburg that Gilmore’s biggest hit was written: “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”.

In 1861, Gilmore’s Band enlisted in the Union Army and in 1863, Gilmore was put in charge of training bands in Massachusetts, an honor bestowed upon him by Governor Andrews of Massachusetts. Gilmore would train, equip and send out 20 bands from Massachusetts. After his own service was completed, and the War came to a close, Gilmore was asked by President Lincoln to organize and perform a celebration in New Orleans. After the success of the performance, which included the use of a cannon for the first time, Gilmore received a letter of thanks from the President.

Inspired by the success of the New Orleans event, Gilmore organized a peace festival to celebrate the end of the war. Doubling the numbers of musicians and singers from the New Orleans affair (from 500 to 1,000 and 5,000 to 10,000 respectfully), Gilmore’s National Peace Festival was held in Cooley Square on the Boston Common in 1869. The festival was the biggest social event of the century in Boston and was even attended by President Grant and his cabinet.

In 1872, Gilmore traveled to Europe with his band. Making contact with European bands, Gilmore came back to the United States with the grandiose idea of a World Peace Jubilee, which was held in Boston in 1872. Although a financial failure, the Jubilee solidified Gilmore as a national musical figure and premiere bandmaster of the time.

In the late 1870’s, Gilmore created Gilmore’s Concert Garden (the first Madison Square Garden) in New York. He was also the bandleader for many national celebrations including the July 4th Centennial in Philadelphia (1876), opening of the amusement park on Manhattan Beach in 1979 and the Dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886.

Gilmore joined the 22nd Regiment Band in New York in the early 1880’s. With this band, Gilmore started the tradition of gathering in Times Square at midnight on December 31 to celebrate the New Year. The tradition began in 1888. Gilmore and the Regiment Band would go to Times Square and at midnight, Gilmore would fire two pistols in the air to usher in the New Year.

Gilmore continued touring the nation with the 22nd until his death in 1892 from a heart attack. He was buried in Old Calvary Cemetery in New York. On the night of his funeral, a young bandleader named John Philip Sousa dedicated his performance in memory of the late Patrick S. Gilmore - in Sousa’s reference, “The Father Of the American Band”.

In 1969, The Patrick S. Gilmore Society was founded in Boston dedicated to commemorating the accomplishments of Gilmore and to encourage and promote community band music. In 1992, on the Centennial of his death, the Society erected a monument at his gravesite.


Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was an American bondwoman who escaped from slavery in the South to become a leading abolitionist before the American Civil War. She was born in Maryland in 1820, and successfully escaped in 1849. Yet she returned many times to rescue both family members and non-relatives from the plantation system. She led hundreds to freedom in the North as the most famous "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, an elaborate secret network of safe houses organized for that purpose.

Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery in 1849, fleeing to Philadelphia. Tubman decided to escape following a bout of illness and the death of her owner in 1849. Tubman feared that her family would be further severed, and feared for own her fate as a sickly slave of low economic value. She initially left Maryland with two of her brothers, Ben and Henry, on September 17, 1849. A notice published in the Cambridge Democrat offered a $300 reward for the return of Araminta (Minty), Harry and Ben. Once they had left, Tubman’s brothers had second thoughts and returned to the plantation. Harriet had no plans to remain in bondage. Seeing her brothers safely home, she soon set off alone for Pennsylvania.

Tubman made use of the network known as the Underground Railroad to travel nearly 90 miles to Philadelphia. She crossed into the free state of Pennsylvania with a feeling of relief and awe, and recalled later: “When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.”

Rather than remaining in the safety of the North, Tubman made it her mission to rescue her family and others living in slavery. In December 1850, Tubman received a warning that her niece Kessiah was going to be sold, along with her two young children. Kessiah’s husband, a free black man named John Bowley, made the winning bid for his wife at an auction in Baltimore. Harriet then helped the entire family make the journey to Philadelphia. This was the first of many trips by Tubman, who earned the nickname “Moses” for her leadership. Over time, she was able to guide her parents, several siblings and about 60 others to freedom. One family member who declined to make the journey was Harriet’s husband, John, who preferred to stay in Maryland with his new wife.

The dynamics of escaping slavery changed in 1850, with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law. This law stated that escaped slaves could be captured in the North and returned to slavery, leading to the abduction of former slaves and free blacks living in Free States. Law enforcement officials in the North were compelled to aid in the capture of slaves, regardless of their personal principles. In response to the law, Tubman re-routed the Underground Railroad to Canada, which prohibited slavery categorically.

In December 1851, Tubman guided a group of 11 fugitives northward. There is evidence to suggest that the party stopped at the home of abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass.

In April 1858, Tubman was introduced to the abolitionist John Brown, who advocated the use of violence to disrupt and destroy the institution of slavery. Tubman shared Brown’s goals and at least tolerated his methods. Tubman claimed to have had a prophetic vision of Brown before they met. When Brown began recruiting supporters for an attack on slaveholders at Harper’s Ferry, he turned to “General Tubman” for help.

Harriet Tubman, widely known and well-respected while she was alive, became an American icon in the years after she died. A survey at the end of the 20th century named her as one of the most famous civilians in American history before the Civil War, third only to Betsy Ross and Paul Revere. She continues to inspire generations of Americans struggling for civil rights with her bravery and bold action.

When she died, Tubman was buried with military honors at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn. The city commemorated her life with a plaque on the courthouse. Tubman was celebrated in many other ways throughout the nation in the 20th century. Dozens of schools were named in her honor, and both the Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn and the Harriet Tubman Museum in Cambridge serve as monuments to her life.


Conducting is the art of directing a musical performance by way of visible gestures. The primary duties of the conductor are to unify performers, set the tempo, execute clear preparations and beats, and to listen critically and shape the sound of the ensemble. Orchestras, choirs, concert bands and other musical ensembles often have conductors.


Printable version

Ticket info - call 800-555-1212