At Penn's Landing, Philadelphia Orchestra's Biggest Crowd of Season

Saturday night's free Philadelphia Orchestra neighborhood concert was mobbed. Unofficial estimates put the Penn's Landing crowd at about 12,000, which would make it the largest audience of the orchestra's season.

Of course, you could make the case that a lot of listeners were there first and foremost to get a good spot for the fireworks that followed. And in fact, many talked their way through the concert - until the cannons at the end of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture focused their attention stage-ward. However deeply or superficially visitors experienced the concert, there's no question the orchestral soundtrack was the big contributor to a great-night-in-the-city feeling.

Notable, too, was the diversity of the audience. This was the most representative slice of Philadelphia I've seen at any event in a long time. The bats flying overhead and the silent, distant fireworks dotting the New Jersey horizon across the Delaware added touches of poetry.

One interesting aspect of Friday night's Philly Pops audience in front of Independence Hall was how young the audience was. You might have expected a largely older population to turn out for an orchestra concert of patriotic tunes. But the lawns were dotted with young parents surreptitiously sipping wine, and even a lot of babies.

No bats here, though little girls dancing on brick pathways paused to let dragonflies by. To them, Morton Gould's American Salute, a set of variations on "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," was just another vehicle for choreography. For older others, though, the piece - played at both Independence Hall and Penn's Landing - was a prideful girding to soldiers and their families, a regrettable reminder of how many moments like this have come since the song was first put to use in the Civil War, or both.

Here was orchestral music once again asserting a bigger place in our psyche than anyone showing up with a mood meter set for entertainment might have expected.

Update: Attendance for the Philly Pops concert was 6,000, according to an orchestra spokeswoman. We're still trying to nail down a reasonably accurate count for the Philadelphia Orchestra's Penn's Landing concert.