Out of curiousity, I recently did an Internet search for any information regarding the history of the old Boston CYO music and marching circuit. Sadly, there is nothing available online, so I decided to do some research myself, resulting in the Music Festival results I’ve made available on this blog. While assembling the championship results, I’ve also come up with sufficient information to write a bare-bones history of the music circuit over the years.
The first natural question is How did the CYO circuit start? As shown on the Results page, the first competition of Boston Archdiocese bands and drum corps was in 1932 under Cardinal O’Connell. This first competition was among what seem to have been school groups, although there may have been some general parish units as well. But where did they get the idea to hold their first competition? I speculate that the answer can be found in a Boston Globe article from May 22, 1930.
As described in the article, a Music Festival was held on Boston Common by the Boston Publc Schools in honor of Boston’s Tercentenary. . Three thousand children from 61 schools took part in bands, fife drum and bugle corps and drum corps. Please note that this was two years before the first Catholic school contest. I suspect that the Boston public school contest was discussed over the next year, and then the preparations were made to hold a similar contest the following Spring.
At this point, the Catholic Youth Organization did not exist yet. In its parochial school system, the American Catholic church was offering an alternative to the public schools in an effort to keep Catholic children lifelong Catholics, and so it makes sense to me that they would want to keep up with the public schools and offer similar activities to the public schools. Later, with the founding of the CYO, there would be sports teams, bowling, debating teams, and other activities to keep Catholic youth busy and under the influence of the church. The timing is too good for me not to believe that music festival held to honor Boston’s three hundred year anniversary was the inspiration for the later contest of Catholic school groups at St John’s Seminary.
If I haven’t convinced you yet that the 1930 Boston Common Music Festival was the inspiration for the first Boston Archdiocese band and drum corps contest, I’ll now share the evidence that convinced me. Among the leaders of the Boston Public School music system were director John O’Shea and his assistant Fortunato Sordillo. Both men participated in the event, conducting massed band performances. In the caption under the photograph in the Boston Globe article reporting on the 1932 parochial school contest, two judges are named - John O’Shea and Fortunato Sordillo. In fact, both men continued as music judges in the Archdiocese contests through the 1930s. I'd say that locks up the connection between the two events.