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At first, Friday, November 22, 1963, was a Friday like any other for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. At 2 o'clock, a crowd had turned out for the orchestra's usual Friday afternoon performance at Symphony Hall. President Kennedy had been shot half an hour earlier and while some in the audience had heard the news, word of his death had not yet spread.


The orchestra stuck to the program until 2:35. After a brief break, conductor Eric Leinsdorf walked slowly back on stage.

ERIC LEINSDORF: Ladies and gentlemen, we have a press report over the wires. We hope that it is unconfirmed, but we have to doubt it.

SIEGEL: Offstage, the symphony's librarians had quickly prepared for a change in the program. They pulled sheet music for a different piece and had already slipped it onto music stands when Leinsdorf broke the news.

LEINSDORF: The president of the United States has been the victim of an assassination.


LEINSDORF: We will play the funeral march from Beethoven's "3rd Symphony."


BLOCK: When the orchestra finished, the musicians left the stage for a scheduled intermission. Backstage, they debated whether it was appropriate to continue. Ultimately, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's president of trustees, Henry B. Cabot, took the stage.

HENRY B. CABOT: That ladies and gentlemen of the orchestra came to me during intermission and some of them felt that we should not continue the concert. I told them that I felt we should continue and I told them that the day my father died, I came to a symphony concert for consolation and I believe you will receive it yourselves.

SIEGEL: And so, the orchestra played on, mourning a president who had been born just a few miles from where they stand.

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