Choral Tradition in Cincinnati
Cincinnati has a rich history in music, dating back to the first band organized here shortly after the city was founded in 1788.
Throughout the years, there were various singing societies, perhaps kicked off in 1814 with the formation of the Cincinnati Harmonical Society. In 1819, several church choirs and musical societies organized into the Haydn Society. The society held concerts to which they sold tickets, raising funds to buy an organ for the church in which they performed and to purchase music for the Society.
The singing kicked into high gear as German immigrants moved into the city and in 1838 the first German singing society was formed. Comprised soley of men who sang four-part harmony, they met weekly at an inn in Over-the-Rhine. It's been said that "the (beer) drinking may have played a greater role in this first German singing society than the singing."
Over the years, more groups formed and, in the 1840s, they started to band together into festivals reminiscent of those in Germany. And in 1849, in Cincinnati, singing societies from Louisville, Madison, Indiana, and Cincinnati formed Saengerbund of North America and held America's first German Saengerfest.
The third festival was also held in Cincinnati in 1851 and by that time it had grown to include fourteen societies. The festival would rotate among the predominantly German cities in the midwest. In 1867, again the Saengerbund was held in Cincinnati. The event had grown to include nearly two thousand singers and it was held in a structure erected specifically for the festival. The festivals were immensely popular and Cincinnati had received national recognition.
Were these festivals the genesis of Cincinnati's May Festival? Only in part. The first May Festival was held in 1873, but the German community did not support it, possibly seeing it as a rival but more likely because the May Festival was more "art" than casual, and it was not held in the Saengerfest tradition. The Saengerfests continued and Cincinnati singers took part, but many talented German singers "broke ranks" and performed in subsequent May Festivals.