A Tale of Two Gilmores

Mike Lawson • Commentary • May 11, 2018

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Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore (1829- 1892), the man who became known as, “The Father of the American Band,” should not be confused with William E. Gilmore (1824-1879), leader of Gilmore’s Cornet Band of Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

This confusion is very easy to do because both men lived and worked within fifty miles of each other and had similar careers in music. To the public, it was not uncommon for both bands to be referred to simply, as, Gilmore’s Band. The similarities do not stop there.

Both men were named Gilmore and were born about five years apart. Both served as bandmasters during the American Civil War and lived in New England. Both wrote marches and played the cornet. Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, who emigrated from Ireland, would lead bands at Salem, Massachussets, Boston, and New York City.

His band in Boston was associated with the Twenty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, while his band in New York was associated with the Twenty-second New York Militia Infantry Regiment, which was the forerunner to what we now know as the National Guard.

William E. Gilmore led the band of the Twenty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the Pawtucket Brass Band, and Gilmore’s Cornet Band.

Patrick S. Gilmore would lead the National Peace Jubilee in 1869 and the International Peace Jubilee in 1872. Both were held in Boston and involved thousands of musicians and choir members.

Some of the first music Patrick S. Gilmore wrote was published by George P. Reed and Company, whose offices were at 13 Tremont Street, Boston. These included the popular ballads, Good News from Home (1854), and Sad News from Home (1854). Reed and Company also published P. S. Gilmore’s polkas, among which were the Everlasting Polka (1852), the Exquisite Polka (1854), and the Prize Baby Polka (1855).

His most famous composition was, When Johnny Comes Marching Home, which he wrote under the pen-name, Louis Lambert. It was first published in 1863, by Harry Tolman and Company at 291 Washington Street, in Boston. William E. Gilmore was born in Massachusetts and relocated to nearby Rhode Island around 1849, the same time as Patrick Gilmore appears in the Boston area.

William Gilmore wrote the Etappen quickstep. Both men made a living in music, at a time when music was emerging as a profession in the United States. Each one was popular and was sought-after for public and private performances.

They both did more than just have concerts and charge admission to make money. The bands of both men were often hired by wealthy individuals and organizations to provide music for their events. Both bands were dependable and more than satisfied their audiences.

Why is Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore remembered more than William E. Gilmore?

While it’s true that William Gilmore died about thirteen years before Patrick Gilmore, there is much more to the story than just that. Patrick S. Gilmore was more aggressive. He dreamed bigger dreams. He envisioned concerts and music on a grander scale. It seemed like Patrick S. Gilmore wanted more out of his music than just to make a living.

While P. S. Gilmore was entertaining tens of thousands in Boston with his International Peace Jubilee with the best bands from all over the world, W. E. Gilmore was selling new and used pianos from an upstairs office at 164 Westminster Street in Providence, Rhode Island.

While the two Gilmore’s were contemporaries, from the same geographic area, active about the same years, served as bandmasters in the Civil War in sister regiments, and were both very good at what they did, there was one other major difference. Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore would take his band on tour and become nationally and internationally known, while William E. Gilmore would remain in the New England area and was active locally.

P. S. Gilmore also left more “footprints.” By this I mean, he left more evidence of his band and his concerts. There were printed programs for all of his concerts. Patrick S. Gilmore had his photo taken, for publicity, and signed autographs for his fans. He enjoyed his public. Few programs of William E. Gilmore’s concerts have ever been found.

Do band directors today just want to make a living, like William, or do they want something more from their music, as Patrick did? What kind of “footprints” does your band leave? Do you take photos of your band every year? What do you do with them? Is there an archive of your programs? Does your band keep a scrapbook? What will history show of today’s bandmasters contribution to music?

Patrick S. Gilmore was a strong personality. People came to see the Great Gilmore. When he died in September of 1892, the Patrick S. Gilmore Band ran through a series of leaders, but none could replace Patrick. Assistant conductor, Charles W. Freudenvoll finished conducting the band’s engagement at the St. Louis Exposition and stepped down. David Wallis Reeves tried to lead the Gilmore Band, and stuck it out for a couple of years, to little acclaim. Even the great Victor Herbert, as conductor for about three years, could not draw the crowds of Patrick S. Gilmore. Eventually, that band came to an end.

This was a good example, from which the Sousa band learned. When John Philip Sousa died in March of 1932, the Sousa Band died with him. No attempt was made to continue the band under another conductor. The band members formed a fraternal society, and had reunions, not public concerts.

But when William E. Gilmore died in May of 1879, several men were able to successfully replace him, and the band continued for many years. The following men have led the Pawtucket Band: William Gilmore, William H. Apelles, T. J. Allen, A. D. Harlow, Mr. Russell, Robert Linton, Jesse Linton.

The Pawtucket Band was incorporated under the laws of Rhode Island in May of 1880 (which passed on June 9, 1880) by Americus D. Harlow, William H. Jenks, Henry Fish, and George A. Rounds, for the purpose of keeping and, “maintaining a brass and reed band in the town of Pawtucket and to improve themselves in the art of music. . . .” While these were not lofty goals, it did serve to provide band concerts for the people of Pawtucket.

One other factor which contributed greatly to the continuity of Patrick S. Gilmore’s Band after his death, was that it was formally organized and sponsored by the Twenty-second Regiment of New York Militia. It was only, informally, and popularly, referred to as Gilmore’s Band. Patrick Gilmore was such a charismatic character and magnetic personality, that the public never separated him from his band.

Patrick S. Gilmore was commemorated in several different ways. Meredith Willson, who played flute solos as a member of Sousa’s Band, mentions P. S. Gilmore in his play, The Music Man. Willson also referrers to “O’Clarke,” which was a veiled reference to Patrick Gilmore’s solo cornet player (and later, Sousa’s), Herbert Lincoln Clarke. Patrick Gilmore was inducted into the songwriter’s hall of fame in 1970.

As far as is known, both Gilmores learned their craft as bandmasters from OJT, or, on-the-job training. Neither graduated, or even attended any colleges. They had few advantages that musicians take for granted today. They had few objective credentials schools or other employers would recognize.

Each Gilmore took to their own career path, according to their own vision, spirit, and ability. Neither man’s name is a household one, even in music circles today. But each contributed to the music profession in their own way, and were well known, and respected in their day.

These are two men, who blazed the trail for bandmasters today. They were two pioneers of American music. They helped establish becoming a musician as a career choice. By hiring and paying musicians for their bands, they helped American music move from an emerging profession to where it is today.

Major Patrick W. Dugan is a conductor and musicologist who studied with Dr. Paul Edmund Bierley. He specializes in American bands from 1830 to 1930. He can be reached at bands@cinci.rr.com.

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