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Occasional Music

Music was an important part of the Centennial experience for every visitor. In the exhibition halls, along the garden walkways, in restaurants, there were concerts, choirs, organ recitals, chimes, minstrel shows, and musical instrument demonstrations adding to the hum of machinery, the rattle of the West End Railway, and the voices of thousands of visitors.

Opening Day ceremonies provided an indication of things to come and an example of the musical taste of the time. After Hail to the Chief upon the entrance of President and Mrs. Grant, the orchestra under the direction of Theodore Thomas, began the inaugural performance of the Centennial March by Richard Wagner, a piece commissioned by the Women's Centennial Committee. Although Wagner had stated that he was moved by "the inspiration of the beautiful ladies of America," even he admitted in private that the best thing about the piece was his $5,000 commission. Prayers and benedictions followed, then a cantata by Sidney Lanier, Centennial Meditation of Columbia and a hymn by John Greenleaf Whittier. Speeches by President Grant and other dignitaries followed, and then a rendition of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus accompanied by the Centennial Chimes, church bells, factory whistles, and a 100-gun salvo, after which the President and Dom Pedro, the visiting Emperor of Brazil, walked to Machinery Hall to start the immense Corliss Engine.

Opening Day Musical Program

The main source of music during the Centennial was the Music Pavilion at the central transept of the Main Exhibition Hall, which was usually occupied by popular bands. In the same building were two immense organs, the Centennial Organ by Hook and Hastings of Boston, and the Roosevelt Organ by Hilborne L. Roosevelt of New York, which had a special "electric echo" effect. A second Music Pavilion was located outdoors in Lansdowne Valley between Memorial Hall and Horticultural Hall.

Machinery Hall, of all places, was home to the Centennial Chimes, 13 chimes representing the 13 original colonies, played three times daily by a professor Widdows of Washington, D.C. There were daily concerts arranged by manufacturers of musical instruments. Visitors flocked to hear the Steinway Centennial Concert Grand Piano. A series of concerts was arranged by the Women's Committee at the Edwin Forrest estate. The Great American Restaurant offered a beer garden with concert music, and the Restaurant of the South featured an "Old Time Darky Band." In addition, every state day, every special event, was the occasion for more concerts, marching bands, and choruses.

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