Organized in 1786, this is currently America's oldest choral society. Over the past two centuries it has had many distinguished accomplishments. In 1908, when incorporated under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the name was changed to Old Stoughton Musical Society
. It has retained that designation ever since.
From the inspiration of a singing school given in Stoughton in 1774 by Boston
composer, William Billings
, a group of male singers in town decided to form a singing society. There were 25 names and all of them listed in the membership journal with the date of organization being November 7
. Their first President was Elijah Dunbar, 1740-1814. He was also their conductor and a singer, who Daniel T.V. Huntoon described as having a voice, "like that of many waters, and rendered the old Continental (or early American) music to perfection." The first music collection the musical society purchased was compiled by William Billings
and published in 1794, titled: The Continental Harmony
In 1790, the Stoughton singers met a chorus from the nearby First Parish Church in Dorchester and they had the first documented singing contest held in America. The Stoughton Musical Society men won the contest, after singing from memory and without any instrumental accompaniment, Handel's majestic Hallelujah Chorus
from his oratorio, Messiah.
This Handel chorus had been published for the first time in America only a few years earlier by Isaiah Thomas
in his 1786 tunebook, The Worcester Collection of Sacred Harmony.
On June 9
the Stoughton Musical Society celebrated its centennial with a full day of activities including a special dinner and an evening concert attended by both Governor George D. Robinson and Lt. Governor Oliver Ames. Gov. Robinson spoke glowingly about this centennial concert, ending with these remarks: "Let me commend, so far as my opinion can possibly extend, the fine production of this evening. It has afforded me real delight." The featured work for the concert was Haydn's oratorio, The Creation,
for soloists, chorus and orchestra.
World's Fair Concerts
One of their greatest achievements took place at the World's Columbian Exposition
in 1893. The Stoughton Musical Society's 100 musicians performed two concerts in the Music Hall. Both the singers and orchestra wore Colonial costumes. At the first concert on August 14
, there were 2,000 people in attendance, more than had attended the symphony concerts conducted by Theodore Thomas. The music performed by the musical society consisted of 24 pieces by such 18th century New England composers as: William Billings
, Oliver Holden, Jacob French, and Daniel Read. Some of these composers were later recorded by the Stoughton Musical Society on their LP album in 1975 titled "An Appeal to Heaven."
The small town of Stoughton
has produced a number of composers who have written music performed by the Stoughton Musical Society and other performing organizations:
- 18th century
- Supply Belcher, b. 1751/ d. 1836 (Farmington, Maine)
- Samuel Capen, b. 1745/ d. 1809 (Canton, Massachusetts)
- Edward French, b. 1761/ d. 1845 (Sharon, Massachusetts)
- Jacob French, b. 1754/ d. 1817 (Simsbury, Connecticut)
- 19th century
- Alanson Belcher, b. 1810/ d. 1900 (Stoughton)
- Edwin Arthur Jones, b. 1854/ d. 1911 (Stoughton)-- his cantata for soloists, chorus and orchestra, Song of Our Saviour (1881), received its world premiere performance in Stoughton in 1992.
- 20th century
- F. William Kempf, b. 1901/ d. 1950 (Stoughton)- one of his instrumental works, Suite Classique (1940) was performed by the Boston Pops, conducted by Arthur Fiedler.
- Laura Shafer Gebhardt, b. 1885/ d. 1959 (Stoughton) - composed Flag of All Our Country for the bicentennial of the Town of Stoughton in 1926.
- Roger L. Hall, b. 1942 - composed several commemorative pieces, including Two Old Stoughton Songs (1981/ 1986).
- Roger L. Hall, Music in Stoughton: A Brief Survey, 1989.
- _____________, Singing Stoughton - Selected Highlights from America's Oldest Choral Society, Old Stoughton Musical Society, 1985.
- Daniel T.V. Huntoon , History of the Town of Canton, Norfolk County, Mass., Cambridge, John Wilson and Co., 1893.
- Lemuel W. Standish, editor, Old Stoughton Musical Society - An Historical and Informative Record of the Oldest Choral Society in America, Stoughton, 1929. [Now online]