BBC Music Magazine : 2019-04-17

First Transconti­nental Railroad : 44 : 46

First Transconti­nental Railroad

First Transconti­nental Railroad 46 BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE Key to the railroad’s constructi­on were immigrant labourers – mostly from Ireland and China – who worked amid avalanches, disease, clashes with Native Americans and searing summer heat. ‘Not that many people know how hard it was to build, and how many perished while building this,’ says Zhou Tian, a Chineseame­rican composer whose new orchestral work Transcend pays tribute to these workers. The piece, which includes melodies in the style of the folk tunes that the Chinese labourers sang, will be performed by 14 US orchestras this year (see ‘Anniversar­y events’, p49). Tian adds: ‘As significan­t and magnificen­t as the structure was, it was at the core a human story.’ As the Transconti­nental Railroad opened up the American West, dusty frontier towns with little more than a jail and a saloon aspired to display their growing wealth and ambition. Naturally, this meant culture. Between 1865 and 1900, some 4,000 opera houses were built, from the Corinne Opera ★ouse, in Corinne, Utah (1870) to the Downs Opera ★ouse in Evanston, Wyoming (1885). ‘As soon as the railroad came to town, or even before its routes were finalised, town fathers, newspaper editors, culture-hungry women and ordinary citizens campaigned for an opera house on Main Street,’ writes Ann Satterthwa­ite in Local Glories: Opera Houses on Main Street, Where Art and Community Meet. Naturally, the term ‘opera’ should be loosely applied to the frontier opera houses. Most presented an assortment of musical fter the freezing morning of 10 May 1869, a crowd gathered at Utah’s Promontory Summit to watch as a golden spike was pounded into an unfinished railroad track. Within moments, a telegraph was sent from one side of the country to the other announcing the completion of North America’s first transconti­nental railroad. It set off the first coast-to-coast celebratio­n, and at New York City’s Trinity Church, a choir chanted the Te Deum, ‘imparting thankful harmonies’, in the words of mayor A Oakey ★all. Completed four years after the Civil War, the new rail link enabled the flow of people and commerce to the West Coast, with a trip that had once taken as long as six months cut down to a week. The impact was huge, and with the 150th anniversar­y this year marked by a wealth of museum exhibits and performanc­es, it’s clear that classical music in the US was forever transforme­d by the golden age of train travel. Wayoutwest 150 years ago, America’s First Transconti­nental Railroad was completed. Brian Wise describes how music thrived in the golden age of train travel A Carriage made in heaven: Sunday services on a train of the Central Pacific Railroad, 1876; (below) Leland Stanford hammers in the Golden Spike

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