"Expositions are the timekeepers of progress. They record the world's advancement. They stimulate the energy, enterprise, and intellect of the people; and quicken human genius. They go into the home. They broaden and brighten the daily life of the people. They open mighty storehouses of information to the student. Every exposition, great or small, has helped to some onward step." President William McKinley, speaking at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY.
The 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago inaugurated an age of great fairs and expositions in the United States whose influence is felt to this day. The Chicago Exposition and the similar events that followed in Buffalo, NY; St. Louis, MO; Seattle, WA, San Francisco, CA and New York, NY dramatized technology and the fine arts, and illuminated the era ahead, as industrialism took hold, immigration peaked, science moved ever forward, and a vibrant, multi-faceted American music culture grew throughout the country.
Though the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia had been a great success, the Chicago Exposition took its immediate inspiration from the Exposition Universelle held in Paris in 1889. Like all previous world's fairs, the Paris exposition hosted music and other entertainment among its exhibits, but in greater variety and on a much larger scale. A major work, Esclarmonde, was commissioned from French composer Jules Massenet and was performed nightly. Music from all over the world was heard, including Javanese gamelan, which was to have a profound effect on composer Claude Debussy. Fairgoers could also hear indigenous music at the village nègre, where some 400 Africans from European colonies spent the duration of the fair demonstrating their culture and crafts. A similarly conceived Algerian Village was also an attraction.
The organizers of the Chicago Exposition would try to match or outdo the 1889 Exposition in every way. For awhile, they even thought of creating a structure taller than the Eiffel Tower built for the 1889 fair, and the tallest building in the world at the time. In the end, they settled for a spectacular city-within-a-city that sprawled over 600 acres and featured 65,000 exhibits. "The White City," so named for its many white buidlings that were made even brighter by the night-time illumination supplied by General Electric, captured the imagination of the country, and drew over 27 million paying customers during its run from May 1st to October 30th, 1893. Within its walls, fairgoers could marvel at the ever-multiplying technological wonders of the age, enjoy art exhibits, concerts and sports; listen to lectures on various topics, view short films in the world's first dedicated movie theater, or ride the original Ferris Wheel.
The Ferris Wheel loomed over the portion of the grounds billed as the "Midway Plaisance," or simply "the Midway," a sort of outdoor arcade 220 yards across that stretched for a mile outside the main fairgrounds in Jackson Park, where rides, music, food, amusements and sideshows of every description were on offer. The "Street in Cairo" exhibit was the most popular of all, drawing more than two million customers to see the first American display of Middle Eastern belly-dancing.
Music at the World Columbian Exposition
"It is well for the pilgrim to the World's Fair if he have music in his soul and be moved with concord of sweet sounds. Not that even so the fair is a bed of roses, for there is most awful cacophony to be heard upon the Midway Plaisance. There are two or three authentic and awful bagpipers caterwauling attention to one of the side-shows, to wit, the 'World's Congress of Beauty." Then there are a Turkish orchestra, an Egyptian orchestra and an Algerian orchestra, all of the same model, comprising a giant mandolin and a violin played like a cello, and drums beaten by hand. Yea, there is a Chinese orchestra: nay, there are two Chinese orchestra—one in the theatre, and one outside calling attention to the performance—each more terrible than the other. These are in Ercle's vein. The Javanese orchestra is more consoling, consisting of mild flutes, and an assortment of, as it were, zithers, and a large, so to speak, violin: but they are all soft and inoffensive instruments. All the same, the lover of what the civilized modern man means by music will get little good out of the barbarous bands."
Music of every description abounded at the 1893 Exposition, from the elaborate concerts and recitals that were part of the official program, to the performances described above by the disapproving critic from Harper's Weekly, who did have a few kind words for the German and Italian musicians to be heard there.
Lovers of symphonic, chamber, choral and military band music had much to choose from. There was an official Exposition Orchestra, conducted at various times by Theodore Thomas, William L. Tomlins, Max Bendix and Antonin Dvorak. (Dvorak met one of his most important students at the Exposition, African-American violinist and composer Will Marion Cook). The Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New York Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Arthur Nikisch and Walter Damrosch, respectively, both performed two concerts. The Lineff Russian Choir performed for a week. The Cymdodorian Society of Chicago, sponsored an eisteddfod choral competition for Welsh choirs. America's oldest choir, the Stoughton Musical Society from Massachusetts, performed the works of 18th Century American hymnists William Billings, Oliver Holden, Jacob French and Daniel Read in colonial garb for an audience of over 2,000 in August.
New pieces commissioned for the Exposition and premiered there included George Whitefield Chadwick's "Dedicatory Ode," and John Knowles Paine's "Columbus March and Hymn." The first performance of Paine's piece featured at 5,500 voice chorus and the band of John Philip Sousa. At the dedication of the Women's Building on May 2, three new works by women composers were featured: "Grand March" by Jean Ingeborg von Bronsart of Weimar, "Dramatic Oveture" by France Ellecot of London, and "Jubilate" by Mrs. H.H.A. Beach of Boston. American composers were also invited to submit new compositions for possible performance at the fair, including "Overture: Witichis" by Margaret Ruthven Lang, "Suite Creole" by John A. Broekhoven and "Carnival Overture" and "Suite: The Ruined Castle" by Harry Rowe Shelley.
More than sixty organ recitals were given on an instrument specially built for the fair, an enormous creation with 3,901 pipes.. Featured organists included French virtuoso Alexander Guilmant, who improvised on "The Star Spangled Banner," and Clarence Eddy, who pronounced it one of the few great organs in the world. After the fair, it was disassembled and found a new home on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor.
John Philip Sousa's six-week run at the fair was one of the most popular engagements of all, and a key event in his career. Sousa's band was barely a year old at the time, and his exposure at the fair brought his music to hundreds of thousands, if not millions. The year before, Sousa left the band of Patrick Gilmore, composer of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" and one of the first superstars of American popular music. Gilmore died in September of 1892, following his performance at a dedicatory event for the Exposition. His band survived for a time, and was conducted at the fair by D.W. Reeves. Other featured bands included Frederick Neal Innes' 13th Regiment Band of New York; the Iowa State Band directed by Frederick Phinney, `Michael Brand's Cincinnati Band, Adolph Liesegang's Chicago Band, the Banda Rossa, and the Carlisle Indian band and choir.
The Presto, a weekly national music magazine based in Chicago, set up an office on the fairgrounds and distributed a one-sheet guide to musical happenings at the fair called the "Daily Presto," from June 1st to the end of the exposition. Throughout the fair, the Musical Courier, another weekly, published a "Columbian Letter" and other coverage of music, musicians and instruments at the fair.
The "village" concept from the 1889 fair was modified and greatly expanded. There was a South Sea Island Village, a Java Village, a Turkish Street Village, the Street in Cairo, a Persian Village, an Algerian Village, the East India Bazaar, the Chinese Village, the Dahomean village, the Irish Village, the German Village, the Austrian Village, the Lapland Village, and the Aztec Village. Other nationalities, including Native Americans, Hungarians and Brazilians, held forth in theaters, restaurants and other venues built for them.
Patrick J. Touhey, one of the greatest Irish uillean bagpipers, performed at the Irish Village. Farida Mazar Spyropoulos, a dancer in the Street of Cairo productions billed as "Fatima," introduced audiences to belly dancing, making the Street of Cairo the single most popular attraction of the whole fair. The Dahomean village, which was seen by many as representative of humanity's lowest stages of development, still captured the imagination of many, and performances there provoked discussion among scholars such as E. H. Krehbiel and Abigail Christensen about the links between African and African-American music. In 1902, the African-American vaudevillians Bert Williams and George Walker collaborated with composer Will Marion Cook and writer Paul Laurence Dunbar, who did attend, to create In Dahomey, a musical fantasy about two American blacks who gain control of that African nation. Americans also got their first glimpse of Hawaiian Hula dancing at the Hawaii Exhibit, thanks to a troupe of dancers and musicians from the still independent island nation. Unfortunately, the names of many of the Midway performers are lost to time.
Nearly every major instrument maker in America exhibited, as did many from abroad. Many countries promoted their national music and instruments in their own buildings on the main fairgrounds in Jackson Park. The Guatemalan building drew many visitors with the giant marimba, played by Samuel and Pedro Chavez, Lucio Castelanos and Antolin Molina, who received a special award from the Exposition for "a musical instrument of original design known as the 'Marimba' upon which the player is able to render European compositions as well as selections common to their own country, Guatemala." Contemporary accounts state that while at the fair, the four men learned to play such hits of the day as "After the Ball" and "The Bowery."
The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition introduced millions of Americans to many performers and forms of music. The cumulative influence is hard to assess, but it can be found throughout the nation's musical life. Subsequent expositions were similarly influential, and often created explosions in popularity for styles and instruments, and made the reputations and careers of many artists. Several musical features of the Columbian Exposition were repeated at subsequent fairs, including many of the ethnic villages, organ recitals on new state-of-the art instruments, band concerts and the Welsh eisteddfod. It has been suggested that ragtime music was played on the grounds of the fair, and that it's subsequent national popularity can be traced here, but this is highly speculative, and no evidence has come to light to suggest that any ragtime was actually heard at the fair, though the music was by this time in nascent state and might have been elsewhere in Chicago by visitors.
There was an active and vital local and national music press in America by this time, but in the days before radio, and with the recording business in its technical and commercial infancy, no performer could wish for greater national exposure than that afforded by a succesful engagement at the Columbian Exposition.