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 lots of 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. In 1838 the first German singing society was formed.
Comprised solely 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? In part.
The first May Festival was held in 1873 and a number of Cincinnati Singing Societies took part, including some German choruses.
Meanwhile, the Saengerfests continued and Cincinnati singers took part. And many talented German singers "broke ranks" and performed in subsequent May Festivals.
History of the May Festival gives a more detailed look at the history of choruses and singing in Cincinnati.