This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

The Wedding Alphorn

17 September 2016

Today is the day.
Today is The Day!
From mountain high
to valley low,

Some composers can write a tune at the drop of a hat.
Some need the inspiration of a beautiful place
or a special occasion. 

Three weeks ago today, I found inspiration
to perform an original alphorn call,
composed by yours truly,
and inspired by both place and occasion,
and two people I love.

The place was on a former dairy farm
underneath the shadow of the
southern Appalachian mountains.
And the occasion was the wedding
of my son, Sam Brubaker, and his bride, Elina Thomas. 

My simple tune was constrained
by the alphorn's limited scale and notes.
Cows of the Alps or the Appalachians
do not care for complicated chromatic music,
and prefer rustic melodies that are easy to remember.
Sensible cows also recognize
that the steep mountain slopes
rule out any square dancing.
Consequently they prefer
the mellifluous sound of the alphorn 
to the jarring noise of the banjo.
Therefore alphorn players
really only have to play slow songs.
And only down hill.

What the wedding guests could not know,
since I had no time to prepare a proper alpine choir,
was that my wedding alphorn call had words.




Today is the day.
Today is The Day!
From mountain high
to valley low,

 Elina and Sam.
Today is their day!
We wish them love
and happiness,

The reception required an encore
for the happy couple
and another song too.
This time sung and not played
as it is in a minor key
whose notes are not available on the alphorn.
I was merely the lyricist,
motivated to invent this educational song
when my son was age two
riding in the backseat of my truck.

It is based on the children's round tune
"Bruder Jakob"
more commonly known
as "Frère Jacques";
that Gustave Mahler used
in the third movement
of his Symphony No. 1.

It is suitable for all ages.

Do not whimper,
do not whimper.
Do not whine,
do not whine!
Please refrain from crying,
please refrain from crying.
Do not scream.
Do not scream!

On August 27, 2016
My son and I posed with our faithful family tractor,
cleaned up special for the celebration.

This is my belated contribution
to the August edition
of Sepia Saturday
where there are no rules,
only the love of good stories.

Master Eddie Derville - Cornet Soloist

09 September 2016

This kid's a real professional.
His confident gaze,
his relaxed demeanor
exhibit all the traits
of a musician
who's got chops.
Who knows
that he can play,
and play well.

His instrument?
The premier
musical instrument
of the 19th century,
the cornet.

It can't be more than an hour
since he got off a barber's chair.
  Hair neatly oiled and combed,
we can almost smell the
rose water and witch hazel.
His velvet jacket is trimmed
with the folded ribbons
and toggle buttons
characteristic of
a British bandsman's uniform.
His silver B-flat cornet gleams
in the photographer's studio light.

This is boy with a very high class portrait.


The photographer was Charles Eisenmann of 229 Bowery, N. Y. whose wonderful trademark design is printed on the back. A gallant photographer leaps across a globe faintly labeled Instantaneous Photographs.  Camera in his arms, the figure pulls the lens cap off to take the world's picture. (Snap shutters on cameras were a late development.)

This cabinet card photograph was made at Eisenmann's branch gallery at 18 West 14th Str. in New York. Eisenmann made a specialty of photographing people of the theater and circus world who passed through New York's Bowery theater district.

Last week I featured another young musician's publicity photo from this studio in my story, Musical Children at Work. That drummer boy/tuba player/cellist posed for a smaller cdv photo in the 1870s and was unidentified. This boy cornetist is on a larger format made about 10 years later and has a priceless penciled name in the top corner.

Edie Derville

Boston Herald
27 January 1883
In January 1883, Eddie Derville, the Great Musical Wonder, made his first reappearance in Boston at the Howard Athenæum theater. The newspaper advertisement called it a reappearance because earlier that week the police commissioner had forbidden the theater manager from letting an eight year old child perform on stage. After some negotiation (and undoubtedly some exchange of money,) Boston officials permitted Eddie to play as a special feature rather than as part of the regular show. With suitable hyperbole the advert claimed Eddie Derville was The Youngest Cornet Soloist In The World.  

Child labor laws were a new kind of progressive regulation that started with the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Founded in 1875 by Henry Bergh, ironically the same man who in 1866 founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the NYSPCC was organized as a child protective agency for the many abused and overworked children living in  New York City. Three years later in 1878, Bergh, set up the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children with the same worthy goals of protecting children and advocating for child labor laws.

Most working children in the mid-19th century toiled at low wage jobs in sweatshops, mines, and factories, but the era also saw a proliferation of theaters which engaged thousands of acts that included children. Theaters, music halls, and dime museums were never considered reputable establishments for respectable women and children. Child entertainers were subject to rough hours, poor pay, and often abusive working conditions, and a child's life on the stage was also contrary to any idea of a proper education. By the 1880s many big city politicians recognized that restricting child performers from playing in the bawdy environments of the music halls and taverns made good political theater too, so the prohibition against young Eddie's cornet playing was not unusual. In fact it may have been "arranged" just for the publicity.  

Boston Globe
23 January 1883

Two Irish entrepreneurs, Wheatly and Traynor,  presented the variety show program at the Howard Athenæum. There was Ned Lang and Viola Rose in their Dutch sketches with songs and dances. Messrs. Fox and Ward followed with clog dancing. Fannie Beane and Charles Gilday offered a not very good sketch called "The Servants' Holiday." But little Eddie Derville, the boy wonder, in his cornet solos is simply "immense" and deserves more than a passing notice. His rendition of the "Ah! che la morte" (from Verdi's Il Trovatore) was specially fine.

The show continued with Harry Kennedy, a ventriloquist; McIntire and Heath with plantation pastimes (i.e. blackface minstrels); Miss Malvina Renner with her Swiss warbling songs; the O'Brian Brothers doing gymnastics exercises; Charles F. Hoey in his eccentricities; and Frank Bush, the inimitable Hebrew impersonator.  The evening concluded with a comic farce, entitled "Forty Winks."

Even if he didn't participate in the last number, little Eddie probably wasn't tucked into bed for his 40 winks until well after 11 PM.


Eddie was the son of Frank Derville, an English musician/actor who with his wife Lucy immigrated to Canada in the 1870s, where Eddie was born in Toronto. Around 1880, Frank moved his family to Ashburnham, MA, northwest of Boston where he was employed as the local band leader. Typical of many bandmaster's children, his son learned to play the cornet at a very early age and soon became accomplished enough to appear on band concerts with his father in 1882. Newspaper reports said Master Teddy was 12 years old but he was actually age 9. Years later, when Eddie reported to his local draft board, he gave his date of birth as August 14, 1873.

By December 1882, Frank quit his band job and with his wife and three children embarked on a family career in show business. Eddie was the oldest, but his younger sister Katie had some talent, and the baby Lottie could at least add a cuteness value.

Boston Sunday Globe
12 August 1883

Clipped to his jacket is a heavy watch chain  with a wildcat fob. I suspect this has some symbolism for a fraternal society which I've not been able to identify. Eddie's B-flat cornet has the right sepia tone for a silver instrument, and Eisenmann's camera almost picks up the splendid engraved decoration and letters on the bell. It is likely that this instrument is the one he received on August 11, 1883 as a birthday gift from an admirer, Mr. William J. Regan. It was a handsomely engraved silver cornet, gold mounted. with pearl-topped valves, valued at $150.

Cornet players were by far the most photographed musicians of the 19th century. In this age before recorded sound, every village, town, and city in America boasted of its local cornet soloist. The most celebrated cornet artists toured the country with their own bands performing to great acclaim. For youthful musical talents like Master Eddie, the challenge was to make it big while they were still young, and in the 1880s boy cornetists were a pretty competitive field. Besides Eddie Derville, newspapers in the 1880s heralded concerts by several young cornet players like Will A. Cushing, Master Johnny Skelton, and Clarence Worrall. All were boys between age 8 and 18 who traveled along the ever expanding vaudeville circuit. 


Boston Globe
19 June 1885

Frank Derville played cornet too, and likely found other musical employment in the Boston area. In the years 1883-84, his son Eddie was a regular feature on Boston's theater stages.

In 1885, Frank and Eddie joined the ranks of a Boston gospel temperance evangelist to perform at public meetings. The Dervilles probably considered it good publicity to be connected with a well-known preacher, but unfortunately, as we will see, Frank's pledge to the temperance cause was less than sincere.


Philadelphia Times
24 January 1886

Frank and his wife Lucy, (sometime called Lou,) also fancied themselves as comedic actors. Many family bands developed skits suitable for displaying both their musical and acting talents. The Dervilles called their bit "The Family Rehearsal." These early vaudeville revues were a flamboyant mix of music and stunts, interspersed with short melodramas and comic sketches. Anything that attracted a paying audience was good.

Beginning around June/July 1885, the Derville Family began touring as a troupe of five, joining a traveling show that played Leadville, Colorado.  By January 1886 Frank, Lou, Eddie, Katie, and Lottie appeared at the lecture hall of Forepaugh's Theatre and Museum in Philadelphia. They opened for an Irish melodrama in five acts entitled "Collen  Bawn." The Derville act included Masterly Instrumental Musicians, Vocalists, Dnacers, Comedians, and Mimics


St Paul MN Globe
23 May 1886

If his birthday of August 14, 1873 was truthful, Eddie would be 12 going on 13 in 1886. This is when I think the Dervilles stopped in New York to have Eddie pose for Mr. Eisenmann's camera. A good publicity photo was just the thing to send to theater managers or sell to adoring fans. That year they played in Washington, DC; Petersburg, VA; Chicago; St. Paul, MN; Trenton, NJ; Buffalo, NY.

In St. Paul the Derville Family was listed on the playbill for Sackett & Wiggins' Mammoth Amusement Palace. People could see novelties like the Turtle Boy from the Florida Keys or the perfect incubator hatching eggs by artificial means. There was the Mysterious Cabinet magic act; the Swiss bell ringers; the Langan Drum Corps. The Derville Family were the famous English Vaudeville Artists. Admission was a dime, opera chairs cost an extra nickel.


San Francisco Chronicle
01 May, 1887

The beginning of 1887 saw them on the West Coast in San Fransisco and Seattle. The Derville family were now six in number with the addition of another son, Jack F. Derville, the comical Baby Derville. Eddie was promoted as "The Boy LEVY" alluding to the celebrated English cornet soloist of the time, Jules Levy (1838-1903).

It was about this time that the Dervilles decided to settle down in a small village called Steilacoom just down the coast from Tacoma, Washington. They continued with tours to Idaho, Montana, Iowa, Colorado, and California but it was clear that the novelty of travel was wearing off. In the Washinton state census of 1892, the Dervilles were now seven, with another child, a daughter age 3. Eddie was 18, Katie 15, and Frank Derville listed his occupation as musician. Eddie began appearing as a cornet soloist on the programs of band concerts in Seattle and Tacoma.


Riverside CA News
15 January 1895

The price of celebrity often brings with it fame and infamy in equal measure. Theatrical families were an easy source of fillers for the dense pages of America's newspapers. The stranger the news, the better.

In January 1895 the Riverside, California News reported that on the street of Steilacoom, WA (the population was only 290)  Mrs. Frank Derville took a horsewhip to a young man she deemed was making improper advances on her daughter Katie.  Mrs. Derville was noted as the mother of the famous Derville Family which toured the country as a musical organization. Katie was 17 years old, and played the coronet and violin.  

The next year in 1886, the newspaper of Anaconda, Montana reported that Frank Derville had purchased a steam yacht. Montanans probably didn't appreciate the coastline of Washington with its tangled maze of islands, bays, and sounds. A steam powered boat would actually make a very practical craft to quickly get around the Seattle area by water rather than traveling by road. The yacht could accommodate a dozen people and Engineer Russ was instructing Eddie Derville in its management. It could make eight knots. The Dervilles were scheduled for a performance in Anaconda that October.

Barely a year later, Frank placed a For Sale notice in the Seattle newspaper offering his steam pleasure launch as a bargain of a lifetime. He was heading for the Klondike. The price was for nearly half the cost of the engine.

Seattle Daily Times
26 September 1897


  A pause for intermission  

At this point the story of Eddie Derville, the boy wonder of the cornet, and his musical family is only an outline of a life. Using the vast internet archives I can construct the framework of a family; fill in dates and names; and with a liberal allowance of speculation, even recreate a bit of Eddie's historical context. But I know that it's only the briefest sketch of a person. As much as I admire Eddie's handsome photograph and try to understand what he was, I really can't write his full biography. The ephemera of his family's private life is just not available for us to ever know the real person.  

So I write this as a preface
to the last news clippings of the Dervilles
when their family story takes a very grim turn.

Tacoma WA Daily News
30 May 1898

On a Saturday evening, the 28th of May 1898, Frank Derville returned to his home in Steilacoom drunk and in a foul mood. He and his wife Lucy began to argue and Frank became violent, kicked over a table, smashed dishes, and attempted to beat her.

The town constable was called and he managed to take Frank away to cool down. With a promise to behave, he was released, but when he went back inside the house he began swearing vengeance at his wife. At that moment the youngest boy, Jack Derville, came into the kitchen just as his father was about to strike his mother with a chair. The boy rushed to another room where his father kept a revolver and returned to shoot his father in the back, killing him almost instantly.

Frank Derville was 61. His wife Lucy was 42. Their son Jack Derville was 13 years old.


San Francisco Chronicle
30 May 1898

This tragic story ran in newspapers across the country. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Frank threatened to kill his wife with a knife. Derville was known to go on an occasional drunken spree, which aroused his combative tendencies...Too drunk to know what he was about, he seized an ordinary table knife, brandished it and threatened to kill his wife. She did not realize that he was perfectly harmless and began screaming.

Other newspapers condensed the dramatic action into a single paragraph. The facts began to change. Frank drew a big knife and rushed his wife. Jack Derville was 12 years old. The boy was arrested. The boy was not arrested.  The boy fired a shotgun. The people of the town consider the killing justifiable.

I believe the Tacoma Daily News likely got most of the facts straight. I certainly hope that I've managed to avoid making any mistakes retelling the account of this family's terrible misfortune.   

There was no mention of Eddie or the other Derville siblings. Frank is described as a kind father when sober, of good disposition who treated his family wellexcept when under the influence of liquor when he became hard to get along with.

There are many things we can never know or understand. But we can see that the comical Baby Derville of 1887 was sadly destined to become the pitiful son Jack of 1898.



A month later at the end of June 1898, Frank Derville's estate was taken to probate court. His last will and testament (which is available in,) brought the Dervilles to the attention of America's newspapers one last time. Frank left everything to his wife, but he blocked his oldest daughter Catherine "Katie" Derville from ever receiving any inheritance. Her sin? Running off to Montana to marry that horsewhipped young man deemed unacceptable. 

The year 1898 ended on a happier note when on December 1, the other sister, Lottie Derville, married a man from Tacoma. The wedding notice said the bride possessed an unusually fine contralto voice and delighted the guests at the reception by performing an impromptu concert of opera selections.

The unfortunate widow Lucy Derville married a second time in 1904, and from the few records I found seems to have lived to great age of nearly 100. Her youngest children also survived into the post-WW1 years.

Eddie's talent on the cornet kept him in a career in music. In the 1900s he moved to Butte, MT where he got married and worked as a music teacher. By the war years he was in Idaho, leading a small theater band that accompanied silent movies. In the 1930s he lived in California still working as a musician.

Eddie's brother, Jack F. Derville, moved to Butte, Montana. In a strange twist of irony, he became a champion marksman, winning a position on a rifle team that represented Montana at a national shooting competition in 1919. And if that wasn't ironic enough, in 1931 a Frank Derville was arrested at Bear Creek, MT for making moonshine. He had a 50-gallon still, some mash, 40 gallons of whisky, and 140 gallons of wine.

This is my contribution to September's Sepia Saturday
where life is work, no matter the age or year.

Musical Children at Work

03 September 2016

Tools of a young musician's trade:
violin and bow,
ruffles and ribbons,
hair combs and ringlets,
stockings and slippers.

And one more special item -

a large ball to stand on.

Her serious gaze is directed slightly away from the camera,
yet her poise is confident atop a brightly decorated ball.
She seems ready to demonstrate
a combination somersault
and arpeggio.

This young girl's carte de visite photo is quite simple and without markings. Its square corners assign it to the first decade of this photo type, 1860-1870, and the lack of borders may even date it to 1860-1862. She looks about age 8, give or take a year or two, but surely not a teenager, despite her fashionable dress.

Though we may not know her name (yet), she is an anonymous example of an special 19th century occupation open to talented children - the musical stage. The violin and balancing ball were the necessary tools of her acrobatic circus or theatrical act. Most likely she made her entrance with quick footwork rolling onto the stage, playing a fiddle tune, and probably singing at the same time too. People would pay good money to see that. 


This next girl is dressed in nearly the same extravagant style, but with velvet rather than satin fabric. She chose a more pensive pose leaning on a photographer's studio chair with her instrument, a cornet. The fancy frock, white stockings and button shoes are no school uniform but marks of a career on stage. She seems is a bit older than the violinist, closer to age 12.

Her name is unknown too, but like the other cdv, this photo is  also very simple and likely dates from the same 1860s decade. The piston valves on the cornet may place her later to 1868-1870. 

She looks like a member of a family band, which was really the only acceptable ensemble for a female  cornetist in the theater world of the 1800s. One day I hope to find the rest of her group and make a proper identification.   


On the back of her photo
is a photographer's mark:

W. A. Elwell
78 Front Street
Gloucester, Mass.

William A. Ewell (1821-1891) listed his occupation as a daguerrian artist in the 1860 Gloucester city directory, and was one of three photographists who kept a studio there in 1869. This small coastal town, known for its mackerel fishing and shipbuilding industries, is situated on the eastern end of Cape Ann, northeast of Boston. It claimed a population of nearly 12,000 in the 1869 Gloucester city directory.



This musical lad posed with three instruments – a violincello, a tuba, and a snare drum. Being a boy, his costume is less embellished than a girl's, but it is neatly tailored from a rich velvet material, and his shoes are of a soft kid leather with buttons, not typical of most children's footwear. He looks about 10 years old.

The image of a drummer boy carried a strong symbolic and emotional message for Americans who had endured the years of strife during the Civil War. Like the other photos, this cdv was reproduced for sale at theater performances. I believe the boy was a member of a musical family troupe who traveled the early vaudeville theater circuit. These ensembles commonly made souvenir photos of individual children featured in the concerts. Because of their size, both the tuba and the cello, are unusual to see pictured with a child. Note also the photographer's stand behind the boy's feet.


The photo's borders, the rounded corners, and the photographer's imprint,

Eisenmann, Photo - 229. Bowery, N.Y.

as well as the more ornate design on the back, place this young musician in the mid-1870s.
Charles Eisenmann (1855-1927) was a prolific New York photographer whose material in now very collectible because of his subjects. An immigrant from Germany, he set up his studio in New York's Bowery district and became successful photographing the performers of New York's theater and circus world. Many of his clientele were people who made a living as human curiosities on display at P.T. Barnum's American Museum on Broadway. It seems



This last child musician shows a style very similar to the others. She is maybe age 8 or 9. Her slender frame leans casually on the arm of a photographer's studio chair, a cornet in her left hand. She wears a dress with more lace and frills than most mothers would allow. Her white stockings have a horizontal stripe and the tall white button shoes have an ornamental fringe. Around her neck is a Christian cross pendant and one arm has a bracelet. The cdv has no marks but its style and the piston valve cornet place it most likely in the mid to late 1870s.  

It is her face that I find most affecting. Her slightly downcast eyes, her gaunt features, her poor attempt at a fashionable hair style defeated by her wide ears, and especially her thin unsmiling lips, make this an occupational photo of a child at work. And hard work too.

Countless hours of practice perfecting new show tunes. Weeks of long travel by steamboat, train, stage coach, and even walking I suspect. A home life in hotels and boarding houses, living out of steamer trunks. Her only companions would be her parents and siblings. Constantly on the move, the normal friendships of childhood would be impossible. School would be whatever mother had time for. All this for just a few minutes turn on stage, two or three times a day with matinees, and the last show finishing late after dark. Show business was work. It took talent to get up on the music hall stage, but it took more fortitude to make the job of an entertainer a success.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where all this month children are at work & play.

When I found photographer, William A. Elwell
listed in the 1860 Gloucester., MA city directory,
my attention was distracted by several pages entitled:

Principal Local Events of 1859

The four pages with brief almanac descriptions
succinctly convey just how difficult life was
for our ancestors who once lived
and worked along the New England seacoast.
Little did they know what lay ahead for them in the next few years. 

Principal Local Events of 1859
1860 Gloucester., MA city directory

Principal Local Events of 1859
1860 Gloucester., MA city directory

Principal Local Events of 1859
1860 Gloucester., MA city directory

Principal Local Events of 1859
1860 Gloucester., MA city directory

Musical Marital Arts

13 August 2016

Single life on the stage can be lonely.
Better to have someone to share it with.
Someone who understands you
and can play along
with the ups and downs
of performing in musical theaters.

 And carry your instrument cases too.

The husband and wife entertainers known as 
Künstler-Duo Alberts –  Alberts Artist-Duo
must have traveled with a large trunk
to store all their musical equipment.
Frau Albert played violin and zither.
Herr Albert played guitar, harmonicas, and triangle
presumably all at the same time,
though not entirely from memory
to judge by the music lyre affixed
to his guitar's headstock.
And on the table behind them
are some other instruments that are unclear,
possibly tuned jingles and glass goblets.
Their German postcard is unmarked
but their style of dress,
especially Frau Albert's hair,
suggests they worked the music halls of the 1920s.


Here is another German husband and wife act
that needed a large padded trunk for their instruments.
The Lyras Chrystall - Musik - Act
performed on tuned hand bells and glass goblets.
Herr Lyras (if that indeed was his real name) holds
a button concertina as he looks toward his wife
who appears to be blowing two simple brass horns.
I believe they made a sound from a reed
not unlike an old-fashioned car or bicycle horn.
She probably kept several arranged
on the table, tuned to play a scale.
Their musical act certainly required
a lot of action when
each water goblet, hand bell, or horn
could only play one pitch.

This postcard was sent from Dresden
on 16 January 1909


This couple were featured in on my blog
back in September 2014 in a post
entitled Two Makes Three.

They called themselves
The celebrated Gouget's Fantaisistes
of 9, Rue des Petites-Ecuries, PARIS.
Their musical specialty also called for
large trunks and cases,
as the two performed duets on
piston cornets, French hunting horns,
and other unusual brass instruments.
On this postcard Madame Gouget
holds a simple hunter's horn
made from real cow's horn,
but capable of only two or three musical pitches.
Monsieur Gouget has a fantastic
long brass instrument
approximately 7 feet
from the mouthpiece
to the end of the bell.
But if its zig-zag twists were straightened out
it probably would measure close to 16 feet,
which is comparable to the length of an
orchestral horn using all the valve plumbing.
As this horn has no valves
Monsieur Gouget could play
only the natural overtones
of an alphorn, which has
a very limited scale of about 16 notes.

This postcard is also unmarked
but I've seen other cards of the Gouget Fantaisistes
that date from 1908-09.


And finally a married couple
who toured the German theater circuit
with costume trunks marked his and hers,
but not with the apparel you would expect.

Agnes and Hans Gossmann
strike an amorous pose on this postcard.
One spouse dressed in white tie and tailcoat,
the other in an elegant dress with a frilly fringed hat.
But I believe that Agnes is on the right
and Hans is on the left.
Cross dressers were a popular genre
of theatrical entertainers in earlier times.
The Gossmann's act probably consisted of
short musical comedy sketches,
with songs and dances,
interspersed with quick costume changes.
All while keeping the audience guessing
which was the man and which the woman.

This postcard dates from the war years,
postmarked 18 May 1917 from Bautzen,
a town on the Spree River in eastern Saxony, Germany,

This is another installment for Sepia Saturday's
month long celebration of love & marriage.


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