The Armory of the First Troop,
Philadelphia City Cavalry



In west Center city, a fortress-like structure stands out among the proliferation of commercial and residential structures. Built in 1901, the Armory is a granite building which houses the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, the oldest cavalry unit in continuous service in the United States. Formed in 1774, just after the First Continental Congress, the Troop was created by the volunteering of 28 distinguished Philadelphia men to defend the city of Philadelphia. The Troop acted as George Washington’s personal bodyguard in the Revolutionary War; this began its tradition of escorting leaders, both foreign and domestic. The Troop fought by Washington’s side in the Revolutionary War, for the Union at Gettysburg during the Civil War, and fought in both World Wars, and also defended both the city and country in other conflicts, local, national, and international. The Armory reflects the protective and stately nature of the Troop. In 1899, the Troop’s Armory at 21stt and Ranstead Streets collapsed under heavy snow, necessitating a new structure, designed by one of its own members, in 1900. Even in the past 50 years, the Troop’s commitment to service has continued, now as a part of the National Guard, with regular drills and involved in the nation’s most recent conflicts. What’s more, the Troop has maintained a tight fraternity, with various social events and equestrian events for its members, who are still well-connected and members of other social organizations and Philadelphia businesses.

Research: Sarah L. Hunter
Site Photos: Joseph E.B. Elliott

Project: Battle Hymns

Utilizing the large, empty space of the 23rd Street Armory, which once stored arms and ammunition, Leah Stein’s site specific choreography of movement and Pulitzer Prize winning composer David Lang’s music performed by the Mendelssohn Club chorus will investigate the great potential of many bodies in the large space and military atmosphere of the Armory.  This third collaboration between Leah Stein and Alan Harler involves more than 90 performers in a powerful intersection of voice, movement and history.

Co-Producer: Mendelssohn Club Chorus of Philadelphia and The Leah Stein Dance Company
This project is made possible by generous support from: The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, through Dance Advance, The William Penn Foundation, The Presser Foundation, The Aaron Copland Fund for Music.


Alan Harler and Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia
Alan Harler, Music Director and conductor of the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia chorus, is a strong advocate for new American music. Over the past 20 years, his direction has positioned the 135 year-old chorus as a leader in commissioning new choral works as well as groundbreaking multidisciplinary collaborations.  He also serves as Laura H. Carnell Professor and Chairman of Choral Music at Temple University’s Esther Boyer College of Music and Dance and his former conducting students hold conducting and teaching positions around the world.  Harler has led numerous master classes in conducting and currently serves as a Conducting Mentor with the Conductors Guild.  He is an active conductor outside of Philadelphia, having performed regularly at the Festival Casals in San Juan, Puerto Rico and the Aspen Choral Institute, and has given master classes and conducted performances in Taiwan and China under the sponsorship of the Taiwan Philharmonic Association.

Mendelssohn Club’s long history includes many premieres of significant works, including the 1916 U.S. premiere of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 with Leopold Stokowski and The Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Philadelphia premieres of Brahms’ German Requiem, Prokofiev’s Ivan the Terrible, Scriabin’s Symphony No. 1, and Bartók’s Cantata Profana.  Alan Harler and Mendelssohn Club have commissioned and premiered 43 new works since 1990, earning an ASCAP/Chorus America Award for Adventurous Programming.  Harler conducted Mendelssohn Club in a critically acclaimed recording of one of the commissions, Robert Moran’s Requiem: Chant du Cygne, for Argo/London Records in 1994.  The chorus has become highly regarded for Harler’s distinctive programming of new work along with standard repertoire and neglected masterworks.  80 members of the 150-voice chorus are performing in Battle Hymns.

David Lang
David Lang is an eclectic composer whose music runs a stylistic gamut from the minimalist to the dramatic, and is being heard by more and more audiences around the globe. His many prizes and awards include the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Music for the The Little Match Girl Passion, commissioned by Carnegie Hall for Paul Hillier’s vocal ensemble, Theater of Voices.  Co-founder and co-artistic director of New York’s legendary music festival, Bang on a Can, Lang has collaborated on a number of works for the stage, including operas and an oratorio, as well as a number of prominent dance productions.  Previous projects include monumental musical environments like the dark and meditative amplified orchestra piece The Passing Measures; Writing on Water for the London Sinfonietta with visuals by English filmmaker Peter Greenaway; Shelter for Trio Medaeival and musikFabrik, with co-composers Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe; The Difficulty of Crossing a Field – an opera for the Kronos Quartet; Grind to a Halt for the San Francisco Symphony; World to Come, a commission for cellist Maya Beiser from Carnegie Hall, and loud love songs, a concerto for the percussionist Evelyn Glennie and orchestra.  Lang’s music can be found on the Argo/Decca, BMG, Cantaloupe Music, Chandos, Caprice, CRI, Point, and Sony Classical labels.

Leah Stein and The Leah Stein Dance Company
Originally from the Hudson Valley, New York, Leah Stein has been living and making dances in Philadelphia since 1987 and currently teaches at Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore Colleges. Well-known for her site-specific work, she has created dances on site and on stage throughout the U.S. and in Canada, Scotland, Romania, Poland, Indonesia and Japan. In 2001, Stein was awarded a Herald Angel Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland for In Situ. During a residence at Djerassi Resident Artist Program in California , she received an Honorary Merit Award for Barn Dance. She has collaborated with composer Pauline Oliveros, choreographers Sean Feldman, Roko Kawai, Gus Solomons Jr., sculptors Jeanne Jaffee, Edward Dormer, poet Josey Foo, composers/musicians Dave Burrell, Robert Maggio, David Forlano, Daniel Peterson and Toshi Makihara. In 2001, Stein founded the Leah Stein Dance Company, a well-seasoned group of movement artists that creates works for the stage, outdoor landscapes and unusual sites. In 2004, LSDC established a program for annual local on site performance projects called “On Site Philadelphia” with the performance of Corner Stone in Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia. In 2007, filmmaker Anastacia Wilde created a documentary film of the making of GATE, a seminal site work by Stein and LSDC at Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site in Philadelphia. Urban ECHO was presented at the 2008 Live Arts Festival in collaboration with the Mendelssohn Club and composer Pauline Oliveros and launched the first exploration of singers and dancers moving in the same space.