Sedalia was known during the late 19th century as being a musical town. Numerous music stores, music teachers, bands and choirs offered instruments, instruction and entertainment to the city’s residents. The pamphlet “Sedalia, Missouri,” printed in 1904 by the Sedalia Sentinel, praised the city’s reputation for its musical talent. The pamphlet specifically mentioned the Gentlemen’s Musical Club, organized in 1894, “as having many of the best singers in the state.”
The 56 members of the Gentlemen’s Musical Club gave their first concert Thursday, Feb. 1, 1895, at First Christian Church, then located at Sixth Street and Massachusetts Avenue. The church was filled and extra chairs had to be set in the aisles to accommodate the crowd. The concert began promptly at 8:20 p.m., a fact commented on positively by the Sedalia Democrat, when the members of the choir and of the Mandolin Club filed in. They were dressed in formal attire; each man wore a boutonniere provided by the Ladies’ Musical Society.
The free concert, directed by Mr. Charles Taylor and accompanied by Professor J.M. Chance, included several songs about the ocean, sailing and water. It began with “The Flowing Sea,” a song with “snap and vim.” The second number, “The Water Mill,” alternated fast and slow passages and loud and soft passages in a manner that showed the group’s “constant, careful practice.”
Another number, “Soft the Glassy Waves,” presented soloist J. Brown Harris. A comic number, “The Skipper of St. Ives,” featured soloist Richard Johnson. The choir’s final number, “Sweet and Low,” was a lullaby that continued the nautical theme.
The concert also included instrumental numbers. Professor Chance played several numbers on the church’s organ. The Mandolin Club played “Spanish Serenade” and “Nordica Valse,” and accompanied the choir, along with guitars and violins, as it sang “Forsaken.” E.J. Stark, son of music publisher John Stark, played a violin solo that showed him to “be a master of that most difficult instrument.”
The audience responded with vigorous applause. The Democrat called the concert a “grand success.”
After the concert, members of the club went to the Boston Café to celebrate the success of their first concert. Members toasted director Charles Taylor, accompanist J.M. Chance, club secretary W.H. Hogg, the Mandolin Club, Father Grimshaw, and the Ladies’ Musical Society.
Not everyone was pleased with the concert. The Sedalia Gazette printed what the Democrat referred to as an “unkind criticism” of the concert that focused on the lack of proficiency of a few of the first tenors. The Democrat printed a response from the Gentlemen’s Musical Club that noted the group was recently organized and that many of the choir’s members had never before sung for an audience.
The club further noted that the club was organized so all members could perform, that the concert was free to the public, and that it was unfair to single out certain singers for criticism. The club ended its commentary by pointing out the writers of the Gazette were not trained musicians and should not criticize something they knew nothing about.
The Gentlemen’s Musical Club continued to perform and to improve. In 1902, it won first prize in a statewide choir contest in Kansas City. Its concerts became important “events in Sedalia’s select circles.”
Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.