Willoughby: Aspen’s music offerings of 1893 resonate with those of today | AspenTimes.com

Willoughby: Aspen’s music offerings of 1893 resonate with those of today

Tim Willoughby
Legends & Legacies
A photo of one of Aspen’s brass bands stirs memories of music and dancing.
Willoughby collection

The Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra will perform Antonin Dvorak’s symphony, “From the New World,” this summer. The symphony premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1893. Dvorak, who headed the National Conservatory of Music of America, drew inspiration for the composition during a vacation in Spillville, Iowa. His exposure to Native American music and African American spirituals influenced the piece.

Aspen’s newspapers reported music events and artists in New York. But they did not cover Dvorak. Although Aspen’s residents did not hear the symphony locally that year, diverse fare did reach their ears. A selection from the first two months follows.

The Cowenhoven Hose Co. kicked off 1893 with a grand ball that featured Daggett’s orchestra. Two-hundred couples attended. The Ide & Kennington dancing company had set people’s feet tapping in December, when they staged 20 dances. Kennington taught dance steps and Ide led an orchestra.

Daggett and Ide dominated music events in Aspen throughout the year. Daggett’s Orchestra performed at Washington’s Birthday ball, and at Aspen’s other opera house, the Tivoli. Ide’s Orchestra performed for 400, at the Letter Carriers Ball.

The Tivoli also booked the Georgia University Graduates, a traveling group of African American singers who charmed Aspen.

The Wheeler hosted two exciting musical events. A traveling group of 60 performers staged “The Spider and The Fly.” It featured a chorus, “opera and high class vaudeville.” Another group performed Goethe’s opera “Faust,” which featured well-known actor John Griffith and a “choir of trained voices.”

Ethnic music featured Ide’s Orchestra in a celebration of Scottish poet Robert Burns, sponsored by the Caledonian Club. Aspen’s newspaper claimed, “it is safe to say that sweeter sounds harmonious were never rendered.” If you did not favor the music, the sword dance may have made the evening worthwhile.

The Ancient Order of United Workman sponsored the largest event, held at Armory Hall. Professor James Williams’s brass orchestra entertained 300 couples.

Aspen’s churches hosted events with various local groups. At a fundraiser for Citizen’s Hospital, singers known as the Schubert Quartet brought down the house with their rendition of “Old Kentucky Home.” At Easter, the Presbyterian Church featured the popular group.

St. Mary’s choir performed a mass, “Mozart’s Twelfth.” Later, evidence showed that Mozart did not write the piece. The First Spiritual Church had music weekly and also featured a psychic. Attendees would consult the psychic in their search for a connection with the dead. The Temperance Union offered the entertainment of solo musicians at its gatherings.

Classical fans rejoiced to hear the recital of Miss Alva Lochhead, who had grown up in Aspen. She was attending the Broad Street Conservatory of Music in Philadelphia, where she was considered one of the best piano students.

If you preferred outdoor venues, the Carnival of Skates offered music and bonfires at William’s Lake. Aspen’s First Regiment Band performed at the corner of Mill Street and Hopkins Avenue weekly, including winter. The Knights of Pythias band provided similar outdoor performances.

As they listen to a symphony from the new world this summer, Aspenites may feel elevated. But the old orchestras of 1893 stirred audiences to dance.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.