In 1869, against much public skepticism, bandleader Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore gave a concert in Boston. But this wasn’t a typical concert: it involved a chorus of twenty thousand children, among other choruses, thousands of musicians, forty bells, twelve cannons, and a giant pipe organ built especially for the occasion. Gilmore wanted to commemorate the end of the Civil War and the nation’s newfound peace with a large, loud musical extravaganza.
In Jubilee!, Alicia Potter and illustrator Matt Tavares celebrate a little-known event in American musical history and the extraordinary bandleader who organized it. Potter’s narrative transports readers from Gilmore’s boyhood in Ireland, where he fell in love with music, to the battlefields of the Civil War. There, as a bandleader and stretcher-bearer, he saw firsthand how music could lift people’s spirits. The picture-book biography is, in many ways, a celebration of sound: musical words, such as “toot” and “la-la-laaa” float over Tavares’ depictions of musicians and singers. And the book also rejoices in the music of everyday life: in one remarkable spread, readers see Patrick in the middle of a crowded city street, reveling in his plans for the jubilee and the sounds that surround him. A cat “meows” from a window, horses “clomp – clomp,” and a streetcar “screeches” and “dings” overhead.
Today, multi-day music festivals are commonplace. Jubilee! reminds readers this was not always so even as it rejoices in music’s ability to bring people together.
-Dorothy A. Dahm