What songs come to mind when you think of Washington, D.C.? Maybe Go-go music, or patriotic Sousa marches? Then of course there’s the “official” song, that instantly recognizable classic— “Washington,” by Jimmie Dodd (Yes, the composer is the same grown man who went on to lead the Mouseketeers in the original “Mickey Mouse Club” in 1955).
Doesn’t ring a bell? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
On the evening of July 14, 1935, just behind the Lincoln Memorial, on the steps of the Watergate Amphitheatre, 10,000 Washingtonians, dressed in flannel and gingham, sat on blankets and newspapers. Out on the water, hundreds of others dressed in bathing suits floated in canoes, eager to experience Washington’s newest summertime tradition: floating concerts by the National Symphony Orchestra. The NSO was taking to the water, inaugurating a new “Sunset Symphony” series, wherein the orchestra would offer summertime performances on a 75 foot concert barge bobbing in the Potomac River.
At 4:45 p.m. on January 31, 1930 the “new and shaky ensemble known tentatively as the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington D.C.” took the stage of the recently finished DAR Constitution Hall at eighteenth and C streets northwest. Conductor Rudolf Schueller and the musicians were welcomed into the hall by vigorous applause from an audience of 2,000 music-loving Washingtonians who eagerly awaited the newly established orchestra’s first notes. Arriving at this moment of glory did not happen easily, or quickly for that matter. While Washington is typically considered a capital of arts and culture today, this was definitely not the case in the early 1900s.