Once it was known as the Pierian Sodality of 1808. By 1900 it had become the Harvard Orchestra. And, in 1942, undergoing a metamorphosis, it emerged as the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra. But whatever its name happened to be at the time, the Orchestra has continued to foster, "the mutual improvement of its members in instrumental music," as was first ordained in its charter.
This week marks the 140th Anniversary of Pierian, in celebration whereof, a special Anniversary Concert has been scheduled for Friday evening. The visual enticements of the Radcliffe Dance Group will also be on display to put the final clink into the Sodality's toast to itself.
Although Pierian's interest in the feminine sex is nothing new, it has not always been so aesthetic. In the earlier years of its existence, the Sodality regarded the serenading of Boston belles as one of its handsomest traditions. Lantern-lit expeditions of romance-bent musicians would start from Porter's Tavern in North Cambridge, and comb the land from Brattle Street and Brookline to Jamaica Plain and Beacon Hill.
According to legend, one troubadour's session ended in a musical salute to a Harvard president's daughter, while the unresponsive female was giving birth to a baby.
Pot and Piccolo
On the serious side, Pierian's 19th century exploits were not quite as noteworthy. Its members were famed for their prowess with the pot much more than with the Piccolo. Minutes of many during this "primitive" period read: "The Sodality met, practised, liquored, and adjourned."
The Sodality proclaims itself as not only the oldest instrumental group in America, but also as the original guiding spirit behind such organizations as the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Harvard Glee Club. Evidently, its founders had reason to believe that Pierian would last long, or, at least they did their best to insure it. On the front page of the first volume of its records, the following verse is inscribed:
"Blest be the Muses who uprear'd this band,
Blest be the men who lend a willing hand,
Blest be its members whom its laws command,
And damn'd be all who would its cause withstand!"
Underneath the word "damn'd," a heavy black noose is drawn.
In 1937, a group of Pierian Alumni formed the Harvard Musical Association, and it was this organization's influence that prompted Henry Lee Higginson to found the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1881. Prior to this, in 1833, the Sodality had organized Harvard's first Glee Club, which, although prosperoous for only ten years, is still the perous for only ten years, is still the Club.
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