The eight founders of the Pierian Sodality of 1808 tempered their desire for "the members' mutual improvement in instrumental music" with a congenital weakness for good times during and after rehearsals. Despite these tendencies, administrative curbs, and financial troubles, the Sodality is still maintaining its tradition of music and enjoyment, celebrating its 150th birthday with a concert this Friday. In their first century and a half, the followers of the Nine Muses who dwell on Mt. Pieria have managed to found the Harvard Glee Club, the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, and the annual Concert Series.
According to their secretary, the musicians were serious about their music, but continually discovered obstacles to the smooth operation of the group. Absence, failure to learn music, indecent behavior--talking in meetings without addressing the President--and too much eloquence were offenses which occasioned fines ranging from $.06 to $.25. Despite these curbs the young gentlemen managed to have a good time at every rehearsal, perhaps because they ended every meeting with wine or the mysterious Pierian Punch, still served at present meetings.
Pierians kept the "town" in mind when planning their activities. Whenever they felt they played well enough, they serenaded the ladies of Cambridge. Invitations inside the ladies' homes to warm the chilled musicians were the objects of these expeditions, but if an invitation were lacking, the resourceful Pierians turned to the Wursthaus of their day.
But the life was not all gaiety. Broken strings, lack of necessary instruments, no permanent rehearsal room were problems that continually nagged the Sodality. Pierian pertinacity, however, eventually overcame these predicaments. Almost more important and certainly harder to solve were the Pierian's treasury and membership roster, both of which fluctuated greatly. In 1818 the treasurer reported that the treasury contained $0.00, but presumably this situation was only temporary, because soon after they agreed that "brandy is an excellent ingredient for precipating harmonious sounds."
The membership question was not so easily disposed of. Complaints in 1832 about the Sodality's serenading led the University to ask the four members to resign, but Henry Gassett '34, the flute player, refused. For two years he met with himself, wrote up the minutes, played to himself, paid dues, and probably drank with himself. His Pierian spirit gradually attracted other musicians so that they were strong enough to found the Glee Club in 1834, and to play for a Porcellian Club entertainment in 1835.
The Sodality used much of its time to practice for Exhibition Day, occurring in the spring and fall, which the President, faculty, and students attended. Since the Sodality's appearance was considered a special occasion, pre-concert jitters were the rule. "How many were disappointed when they cast their eyes over the bill of fare and saw a blank where they are wont to see "Music by the Pierian Sodality." Sometimes the Pierians were so busy bracing themselves with a bumper that they almost missed the exercises, or arrived too breathless to play.
Although the mark of change could be seen on the Sodality's activities--they went on trips to neighboring towns in trolley cars instead of horse cars--the basic pattern of meeting, drinking and abjourning did not change much during their first 75 years. Later, however, football matches between Pierian and the Glee Club, and trips to Wellesley, Smith, and Radcliffe were added to the agenda.
The lineup of the first football game, occurring in 1882, showed the Glee Club's basses in the center and the tenors on the outside, whereas the strings and winds spread themselves evenly over the field. Pierian kicked off to the tune of the Marseillaise and the Glee Club received, singing Yankee Doodle. Yankee Doodle was too much for the Muses' followers--the singers won, 1-0.
In the following years Pierian turned to the pleasanter occupation of visiting Smith, Wellesley, and Radcliffe. Their first concert at Wellesley was under the auspices of the Tennis Association. Apparently the girls were somewhat shy of the Harvardmen; the Pierian record says that they offered "many prayers to Zeus the Averter that it would be the last."
Smith gave the visiting Pierians a different reception--"What a sea of girlish faces ... we scraped or blew as we had never scraped or blown in previous time." Radcliffe, however, did not inspire such praise. In fact the Pierians considered play at the Annex more a matter of duty than anything else.
During the 20's Pierian conformed with the rest of its overblown generation by planning a huge summer tour which included Canada and Hawaii. Before the University could cancel the trip, Pierian has lost $7,000 in defaulted bonds. Within five years, however, the debt was reduced to $1,000.
The Sodality's feasting debts stayed down during Prohibition, because, according to the minutes, they conscientiously drank ginger ale. The use of 100 proof ether instead of wine during the baptismal section of initiation also held the bills down, and knocked the neophytes out.
Thirty-five years of little association with the Annex seems to have improved Harvard-Radcliffe relations, because by November, 1936, members of Pierian were willing to assist the young Radcliffe Orchestra in some of its bigger concerts. But the Radcliffe Orchestra did not suffer from the lack of Pierian assistance in its separate concerts. "The spirit of the young players lent to their music a vitality not always found among professionals"--Boston Globe, Nov. 13, 1938.
Joint concerts with the Radcliffe Dance Group or the Choral Society enlivened the Orchestra's schedules primarily made up of lighter music by well-known composers. Occasionally, however, talented 'Cliffies took the spot-light when concertos were on the program.
The Radcliffe girls found their version of Pierian good cheer in their spring picnics and trips to Scituate, but "they never", according to Mrs. David Bailey, the orchestra's conductor for three years, "had any parties with the boys--in fact we saw them only at rehearsals."