The St. Cecilia Society established one of the earliest traditions of musical patronage.
Of all the saints of the Holy City, most are sacred: St. Michael, St. Philip, and St. Matthew, among others. But there is also St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music, whose feast day has been celebrated on November 22 in secular circles for centuries.
In November 1766, prestigious local gentlemen created the first private musical society in America, and until 1820, the St. Cecilia Society held concerts and balls from mid fall to spring. Performances featured amateur musicians, as well as some of the best professionals on this side of the Atlantic. Following British custom, the series presented chamber concerts, orchestral pieces, and vocal music, sometimes with performances by women, who were allowed to attend through the invitation of male members. It was, historians attest, the best example of musical patronage in this country, until eclipsed by the New York Philharmonic, founded in 1842.
The society never owned its own hall, but rented venues throughout town. Economic depressions and use of the musical talent for traveling theatrical troupes led to its decline. But the name and some traditions continue. Since the 1880s, St. Cecilia Balls, open only to the elite men of the city and their guests, have been held in Hibernian Hall, with few details made public. Echoes of one of the city's most significant contributions to musical history can still be heard.