In 2022, the Orpheus Club will celebrate 150 years of Orpheus concerts. It all began with the first presentation given by the twenty-two original members at The Musical Fund Hall on December 7, 1872. The founders, including the celebrated conductor Michael Hurley Cross, broke away from the old Abt Society in the summer of 1872 with the intention of establishing an enduring organization. Article 11 of the charter reads:
“Its object shall be in the attainment of the greatest possible excellence in the performance of part songs for male voice.”
The formation of The Orpheus Club was obviously very successful. In the first season alone, 319 persons were proposed and elected as Associate members. During the Club’s second season, in addition to the three regular concerts at the Hall owned by The Musical Fund Society, the Club made its first appearance at the Academy of Music. Its members sang two numbers in a program marking the Centennial of the Boston Tea Party on December 17, 1873.
The members of Orpheus also quickly established the tradition of performing for charity when they gave an open air concert at Belmont Mansion on June 9, 1873, for the benefit of the Children’s Hospital.
In May of 1889, the Club moved to the Academy of Music having outgrown the capacity of The Musical Fund Hall.
The Euredice Chorus was formed in November of 1886 on identical lines of The Orpheus Club, for the purpose of singing choral works written for women’s voices. The women of Euredice gave two concerts each year, and it was reported that the quality of their work was excellent.
For over 25 years, Euredice shared conductors with Orpheus, used O.C.’s rehearsal room, and sang in many concerts with the men of Orpheus.
During the Orpheus Club’s first season, headquarters were in a room in the A.P.A. building at 1415 Locust Street. This location was soon abandoned in favor of more satisfactory quarters at the northwest corner of 12th and Chestnut Streets, where meetings and rehearsals were held for five additional seasons. Subsequently, in 1928 after several moves, we settled permanently in our Clubhouse at the present location at 254 S. Van Pelt Street.
Through the years we have been assisted by a remarkable list of guest artists whose abilities and artistic talents have enhanced the reputation of The Orpheus Club while contributing to the popularity and fame of the artist. Among these were Maude Powell, violinist, who accompanied and played in no less than seven formal concerts between 1886 and 1897; Victor Herbert, violoncellist (1896); Pablo Casals, violoncellist (1904); Marcel Tabuteau, oboist: William Kinkaid, flautist: Louise Homer, soprano; David Bisham, baritone (coincidentally a member of The Orpheus Club and a star of the Metropolitan Opera); Noah Swayne and Wilbur Evans, bassos (also members of The Orpheus Club) and many others, including at regular intervals, the tradition of presenting soloists from the Club. Thus over years, The Orpheus Club has demanded and maintained a high order of excellence in its soloists and, as can be seen, the choice is not confined to the vocal field.
No sketch of Orpheus would be complete without mention of our annual Twelfth Night Revels performance. While strict adherence to the Twelfth Night is a thing of the past, the yearly production, given at the Annual Dinner since 1893, has become an honored tradition. The musical review is written, produced, acted and directed by a group of Singing members and includes popular songs (current and ancient) with appropriate lyrics all held together by a somewhat tenuous plot. Many of our most pleasing Round Table numbers develop from these shows.
Another favorite Club tradition is the Round Table singing after rehearsals when we retire to the upstairs meeting room at the Clubhouse. Here guests are introduced and invited to sing a song or tell a story after which they have the privilege of calling on anyone in the room to follow suit. And so it goes from member to member until all in the room have contributed.
At the close of each Orpheus season, in early June, the Singing Members gather for our annual summer outing, as we have for well over a hundred years at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, for a strenuous day of sports, singing, and fellowship, culminating in the traditional dinner and singing on into the night.