Today, 1757: City’s First Public Concert

Freemason's Lodge, 1755

Today marks the 255th anniversary of the first documented public concert to be held in Philadelphia. The January 20, 1757 edition of the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser included the following notice:

By particular desire; On Tuesday next, the 25th Instant, at the Assembly Room, in Lodge Alley, will be performed a CONCERT of MUSIC, under the Direction of Mr. John Palma … Tickets to be had at the London Coffee-house, at one Dollar each.

There had been private concerts–basically musical soirees for invited guests–prior to this in Philadelphia, and there had been dancing assemblies where the elite of the city gathered at members-only events to dance and socialize, but John Palma’s is the first known concert in Philadelphia open to the general public. Philadelphia was actually well behind other colonial American cities in this regard; there had been public concerts since the 1730s in Boston, New York, and Charleston.

Little is known about John Palma, one of many European immigrant professional musicians active in Philadelphia in the eighteenth century, and nothing is known about the music that was performed at his concert. There is no surviving program or description of the event. It was probably a mix of scores by European composers who were popular at that time and perhaps some pieces composed by Palma himself.

The location of the concert, though forgotten today, can be traced from historical accounts and maps. In 1755 the Freemasons of Pennsylvania erected a Masonic Hall in Lodge Alley near 2nd and Walnut Streets. The stately two-story Georgian style brick building, known as Freemasons Lodge or Lodge Hall, was the first Masonic hall in America. The Assembly Room in the Hall was the venue for Palma’s concert and would be the site of many musical events over the next several decades.

The building was situated on the south side of Lodge Alley, which ran for a half block, west from 2nd Street, north of and parallel to Walnut Street. There is no trace of the building or Lodge Alley today. Masonic Hall was demolished around 1801 and the alley is now a non-descript parking area behind the massive US Customs House building that fronts on Chestnut Street. Lodge Hall would have been in the parking area on the south side of the Customs House, just west of 2nd Street, perhaps 100 feet or so northwest of City Tavern.

John Palma’s January 25th concert must have been fairly successful, for a few months later the Journal and Weekly Advertiser carried a notice for another concert to be held March 25th at the same place. John Palma is not mentioned by name in this notice, but we know from another source that he was involved.

In attendance that evening was young Virginia military officer named George Washington. In his ledger book, Washington recorded an entry on March 17, 1757 for purchase of “Mr. Palmas Tickets.” This was probably Washington’s first concert in Philadelphia, but it would not be his last. Some thirty years later he would be a regular concertgoer as a resident of the city, first as President of the Constitutional Convention and later as President of the United States.

Current view of location of Lodge Alley, off 2nd Street behind US Customs House. Freemason's Hall would have been approximately where the cars are parked. Photo by Jack McCarthy

Late January 1757 was an auspicious time in Philadelphia music history. In addition to the first public concert, the first performance of a “serious” opera in America took place at this time at another location in the city. This will be the subject of a future article.

 

About the author

Jack McCarthy is a certified archivist and longtime Philadelphia area archival/historical consultant. He is currently directing a project for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania focusing on the archival collections of the region’s many small historical institutions. He recently concluded work as consulting archivist and researcher for Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio, an audio documentary on the history of Philadelphia Black radio, and served as consulting archivist for the Philadelphia Orchestra's 2012-2013 Leopold Stokowski centennial celebration. Jack has a master’s degree in music history from West Chester University and is particularly interested in the history of Philadelphia music. He is also involved in Northeast Philadelphia history. He is co-founder of the Northeast Philadelphia History Network, founding director of the Northeast Philadelphia Hall of Fame, and president of Friends of Northeast Philadelphia History.

Send him a message at: jacksnotes88[at]verizon[dot]net



No Comments


Trackbacks

  1. Something New In America: Serious Opera, 1757 | Hidden City Philadelphia
Recent Posts
A Monumental Shift At Dilworth Park

A Monumental Shift At Dilworth Park

October 24, 2014  |  Vantage

Olin's design for Dilworth Park gives Philadelphia what it has long struggled for: a suitably grand approach to the monumental City Hall, says Hidden City co-editor Nathaniel Popkin. Here's his review of the park, now essentially complete > more

Kenney To Hist Commission: Put Buildings On Register, Get More Funding

Kenney To Hist Commission: Put Buildings On Register, Get More Funding

October 24, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Firm would simply recoup money through ads, Councilman Kenney wants to bolster Historical Commission, Councilman Henon undaunted by Planning Commission’s non-recommendation for Mayfair overlay, and Guinn hard at work on latest mural > more

Bill Seeks To Preempt Tragedy With Better Data For Firefighters

Bill Seeks To Preempt Tragedy With Better Data For Firefighters

October 23, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Blueprint reconnaissance for firefighter safety, improvements to the Burk Mansion, City Council considers beautification of vacant land by former convicts, and more inaction on PGW sale > more

Why The Flying Saucer Deserves Your LOVE

Why The Flying Saucer Deserves Your LOVE

October 22, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Preservation Alliance calls iconic LOVE Park building a “place to save,” zoning changes introduced for parts of North Philly, another firm for the Navy Yard, and a sinking pharmacy in South Philly > more

The Missing Namesake Of North Philly's Lost Necropolis

The Missing Namesake Of North Philly’s Lost Necropolis

October 21, 2014  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

Next up in our Halloween cemetery series: Harry K hits the tomes looking for the missing obelisk of Monument Cemetery. Is it sitting in a gravestone dumping ground at the foot of the Betsy Ross Bridge? Its fate may be forever unknown > more

Of Birds And Drinking Water

Of Birds And Drinking Water

October 21, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Inside the East Park Reservoir, Temple students adopting blocks, UCD to start early on 40th Street plaza, and Jewish life gets a boost at Penn > more