Willow Grove Park|
BY LEIGH MITCHELL HODGES.
What is Willow Grove Park? An amusement center, they'll tell you.
They're right and then they're wrong. It is an amusement center, but that is only a tithe of the truth.
There are many amusement centers which were doing good service before this one was
opened. But, Willow Grove Park doesn't take the place of these. It doesn't supplant theaters, music-halls or resorts. It adds to them a new note, however.
It is the evolution of a novel idea. It is an institution of learning, where the best of knowledge may be got for nothing in the pleasantest of forms. It is a summer-school of music with refined amusements for optional selection by those among its multitude of patrons who desire such.
It is the musical center of America from May to September. ''As a home for concerts depending
upon the beautiful in music,'' says John Philip Sousa, of this park, ''it is a cause for congratulation to every American who takes an interest in the art development of our country.''
And the pleasure-ground thus characterized by a musical genius, lies twelve miles from the heart of Philadelphia, just beyond its northern limits in Montgomery County, and within little more than an hour's reach by trolley, train, carriage or automobile. Like a great emerald pendant, its hundred and thirty acres of r&ling meadow4and are linked to the city by seven direct car lines.
The Old York Road, as rich in historic lore as in natural beauty, is the favorite highway to Willow Grove Park, which, with its rare location and charm of surroundings, the skill and artistic feeling wherewith man has framed its fairness, and the harmonious attunement thereto of its every pleasure-giving feature, is in many ways the premier of the world's parks.
It's music, however, lifts it to a far higher plane and allots it a place unique as an inspiriting and educational influence in the life not only of a vast community, but of a country notably barren in this respect during the out-of-door months.
For here, in a setting of verdant opulence, with trees and young hills for walls and the world's cerulean ceiling for a dome, the melody of the masters as interpreted by the best of mediums, band and orchestral, is made as free as the winds which ruffle the clear waters of the lake nearby, or whisper among the white hydrangeas that revel in their snowy defiance of the summer sun.
Here is a wedding of the highest expression of man's soul to the most sublime declarations of Divinity, which has made this park first among sylvan homes of music, and unlocked in the hearts of millions a love for the language of the soul, of all things most uplifting and refining! Here is a new and better sort of school, where
sight and hearing cover the cost; where flowers and clouds and trees by day, and stars and rainbow lights by night, are the books, and where Melody is ever head-master!
And back of this school is a story.
Once upon a time fields of grain ripened on these same slopes and the scythe of the reaper, which in due course bowed to the mightier power of the machine, garnered the crops and they were stowed away in granaries, leaving the hillsides stubble-clad.
Then came men who sought to enlarge their field of profit, and they said, 'We will carpet these slopes and embroider them with flowers and here provide entertainment for the people.''
Which they did, and Willow Grove Park was so clean and beautiful and so well conducted that many sought it to escape the heat and dust and clamor of the city. And they liked it, and some of them would stop to hear the concerts as they went from one part of the place to another.
At first these concerts were not so different from those given in parks elsewhere.
They were entrees in the day's feast of entertainment and as such served their purpose. The people went to Willow Grove Park AND heard the music. They did not go TO hear the music. There's a difference!
But somewhere in that company of business-builders back of the park was a strain of the stuff that sees through mists material the true worth of things that minister to the higher side of humanity. Somewhere, I do not know who deserves the laurel wreath ! - was a determination to give music that was more than mere melody.
And one day Philadelphia learned that a couple of car-fares, which were fully compensated by a cooling ride, placed within its reach a new treasure! For instead of the mediocre music that had been an attraction was the music of the masters played by masters, which at once became and still is THE feature and attraction, making of this pleasure-ground a real university of melody, where the mightiest of arts in its speech universal-the ''arch reformer'' as Thoreau called it -holds potent sway.
It is not possible to measure in words the worth of music to man. Some of you have seen how a simple song will still a wild panic a stirring march refresh footsore soldiers a peal of triumph turn the tide of battle ! Some of you have wept like children over the strains of a song you heard softly sung long, long ago, and some of you have
found in a musical masterpiece the courage and enthusiasm needed for a dreaded task.
Even mere melody, like mere speech, has power to charm. But it is the music born of dreams and struggles, of baskings in the ideal and tussling with the real, that spurs and ennobles, just as the flowering of speech into literature has somewhat the same influence.
In the huge pavilion, whose 3000 seats hold only the first few rows of the listening throng, a multitude of men, women and children have learned their first lesson in music of nobler form. In these seats, and the four-fold number around them on the green grass, this multitude, daily augmented by newcomers, has advanced step by step from an inherent love for time and tune to a genuinely intelligent appreciation and understanding of the greatest messages given to man through music.
I have seen men and women whose appearance bespoke lives of labor
lived amid cramped surroundings, cling to the outer edge of a crowd of 30,000 as if their last hope depended thereon, and all to catch the soul-swaying strains of ''Siegfried's'' "Forging of the Sword." I have seen a ripple of frowns course through a sea of 10,000 faces when the French horn flatted one note in Tschaikowsky's "Symphony Pathetique," and most of those who felt this small slip as a twang of pain had never heard of this marvelous swan-song until seeing it on a Willow Grove Park program!
Can you show me the limits to which such an awakening to new power may lift the masses! If so, then you can lead me to the base of the rainbow and reveal to me what manner of leaves encircle its seven-fold stem! Then you can read me the thoughts of the new-born child, whose rose-bud mouth curls into a smile while he sleeps!
For this mastery of music over men is a deep mystery, and only as we view its power to weld and lead and enlighten do we fully realize how much it means to place such a magic wand within easy grasp of the multitude.
Only when we see it attract and hold tens of thousands, as it does daily at Willow Grove Park, do we even begin to grasp its higher meaning, and at that, we are as unlearned children in the presence of sublimated knowledge!
Thus it has attracted and thus held, and such distinguished conductors as Damrosch, Herbert, Sousa and Pryor have combined to make this woodland annex to the city of homes a vital force for all that is better in the lives of the people, and in these homes it has set a new standard for music.
The full significance of this is not apparent until you know there are more pianos and organs in Philadelphia than in any other city of similar size. Nor is it far from bare fact to say the messages these instruments are made to speak are chiefly influenced by the symphonic, classical, operatic and popular programs heard at Willow Grove Park.
It is chiefly because of this musical development that Bach and Beethoven, Wagner and Chopin, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Schumann, Berlioz, Rossini and Verdi and the others who speak from the mountain heights of melody, have become household favorites in Philadelphia and surrounding towns.
You know what this means. If not, I shall tell you. It means the stimulation of the intellect and the acquisition of refinement. It means the repression of the baser and the rousing of the nobler passions. Who understands and loves good music is educated to a certain high point in everything good and desirable.
And it is to this point Willow Grove Park has educated its multitude of patrons and shall continue to do so.
Return to Learn More