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 }

Sharp Hats for Low Brass

24 October 2014

The uniforms of military bands have always been where more high fashion is displayed than martial arts. In the decades before 1914, an army bandsman's apparel was often as bright and flashy as any costumed entertainer in the circus or theater world. A bandsman's tunic was often bedecked with elaborate gold braid and embroidery. Each band used distinctive buttons, badges, belts, and epaulets to signify its regiment. And topping off the uniform was usually an extravagant shako cap like this sharp one worn by a musician from Hull, England.

The Prussian army helmet with its distinctive and impractical spike, called the Pickelhaube, was a popular military headgear emulated by several other nations around the world. Since the British army shared a Germanic heritage when the Hanoverian King George I became the British monarch in 1714, it was not an uncommon British helmet style prior to the Great War.

The swallowtail epaulets on this musician's shoulders are also a Germanic device used to distinguish a bandsman's uniform from an ordinary soldier. His instrument is a baritone horn, a member of the low brass family of brass band instruments and a kind of treble tuba.

Notice that he also has a short sword on his belt, which is a very useful implement to attach to a baritone or euphonium, making it an even more offensive weapon.

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Source: East Yorkshire Helmet

The helmet plate on the bandsman's hat has quite a lot of shine in the photograph, but the shape is still clear enough to identify the era it was used, which was during the reign of Queen Victoria. The center circular boss could be changed for different regimental badges and here we can see an 8 pointed star and white rose which is the symbol of the East Yorkshire Regiment of East Riding.

This image was posted on Photobucket by a collector of militaria and it offers a splendid match to the baritone player's helmet. He might even have served during the Second Anglo-Afghan War and the Second Boer War.

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The photographer was W. M. Edmonds of 123 Witham, Near North Bridge, Hull or Kingston upon Hull as it is formally known. On the back he advertises for Large Groups and All branches of outdoor Photography.  The style of helmet and photographer's stamp would date this carte de visite to the 1890s.

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American bandsmen also used the Prussian helmet style but often added extra height with a feathered plume. This tuba player sports a frilled hat as he stands for the photographer in Jackson, California, which is SE of Sacramento. Unlike the shoulder pads on the bandsman of Hull, his fringed epaulets are a style used by the French military. His jacket also has cut-away tails which are difficult to see. He appears not to have a belt or sword. But then tuba players rarely need them.

This cabinet card dates from the 1890s and the photographer was W. Kay of Jackson, Cal., with L. C. Swain, operator, who must have jiggled the camera or there was a small earthquake, as the image is a bit blurred.   

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To give a better view of the American army band uniform of this period I bring back one of the well dressed trombonists I featured in a post from May 2012. This valve trombone player was a musician in a U.S. Army regimental band in California's premier city, San Francisco. His plume reveals more of the spike and eagle helmet plate. The original photo is quite faded so I have improved and enlarged it.

The photographer was the New York Gallery of J. H. Peters & Co. of 25 Third St., San Francisco.

He might have worn a sword on his belt too, but it would be hidden behind his back. A typical trombone trick. 

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Finally a quartet of seriously low brass from Osage, Iowa. These bandsmen have posed with an alto horn (back right), two tenor horns (left back and front), and a baritone horn (front right). Their uniforms are similar to other army bands of the 1880s and 1890s and I believe they may be members of the 6th Regiment of the Iowa National Guard. They wear a variation of a German style cap that has a flattened top and short plume. The photographer of this cabinet card was Evans and Conray of Osage, IA. which is in north central Iowa near Minnesota. If you click the image to enlarge it, you can see a faint outline of engraving on the horn bells.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where tall hats are all the rage again.

Send in the Clowns!

17 October 2014

Did she catch your eye? That girl looking into the camera? She distracts our attention from this saxophone quartet until we notice that the other three players are made up with clown faces. Of the four musicians dressed in military band uniforms, she's the only pretty one and no doubt the smart one too, in The Bonnes Cie., a music hall act from Belgium.

The name of the group, The Bonnes Cie., may involve an ironic mixture of the French word bon for good, (bonnes = fem. version) with the term bonnes for a domestic or housemaid. The use of an English article, The, with a French abbreviation Cie. for compagnie or company adds to the confusion, which of course is probably the idea since clowns specialize in nonsense. Here the quartet have replaced saxophones for muskets and bayonets and put on tall military hats. We get a larger view of the painted stage backdrop which shows an army encampment outside the walls of a formidable fortress.

The quartet now pose around a small cannon and we are left to wonder at what buffoonery is about to happen. Can you see the confetti about to explode in someone's face?

The postcards were never mailed but on the back is the mark of a photography studio in Anvers or Antwerp, Belgium where the languages spoken can be French, Flemish, and sometimes Dutch.

Photographie Jacqmain
113 RUE CARNOT, 113
ANVERS. Téléphone 5957

Poses á la lumière électrique, le
soir jusqu'á 8 heures également
les Dimanches
Pas de succursales.

Opnamen met electrisch licht.
's avonds tot 8 uren Zon-en
Geene bijhuizen

Pictures in electric light
evening up to 8:00 also Sundays.
No branches.
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Source: The Internet

Somewhere in the vast universe of the internet, on a website now lost, I found this image of a colorful poster for

The Original Bonnes Co. 
Great Musical Novelty

The illustrator has used the last two photographs to draw the four comical characters in their military uniforms.  Presumably the jacket and trouser colors of red and blue did match the real costumes.

Though they are advertised as a musical novelty, for some reason the saxophones do not appear on the poster. However just behind their name is an American flag! What's that about?

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The Bonnes quartet returned with instruments to an unnamed studio for this next photo postcard which shows a typical saxophone quartet in 4 different sizes, (l-r) soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones. The saxophone was invented in 1840 by Adolphe Sax, a Belgian instrument maker working in Paris, who had the imagination to combine the single reed sound of a woodwind instrument with a brass instrument so that it would be louder and more stable when played outdoors in a military band. It could even be made in 8 sizes, with one smaller than the soprano, and three monstrous bass saxophones larger than the baritone. It was first used in French and Belgian army bands in the mid-19th century but was generally ignored by German bands and was not common in British and American bands until the 20th century. 

The musician's uniforms, except for the girl's gypsy bandana, resemble those of the Belgian army bands of the era before 1914, so I believe the photos of this vaudeville music hall act date from before the First World War.

The back of this postcard has the address of a French music agent in Paris,
15, Rue de l'Echiquier, 15
TELEPHONE No. 271 60

His stamp appears on other music hall acts of the pre-war era.

The Bonnes also brought along another quartet of instruments – 4 concertinas, a type of free reed button accordion. It would appear that the girl's instrument is one size larger and therefor more baritone than the squeezeboxes of the other men.

And what self-respecting clown could neglect the most comical of instruments – the highland bagpipes?  In this last photo, the Bonnes have changed instruments for two Scottish bagpipes with snare and bass drums. The tall bearskin caps were a feature of the grenadiers or guards uniforms in several armies as well as the British army. The pineapple shaped badge on the Bonnes' caps is the emblem of the Belgian grenadier regiment.

advertisment for Theatro S. Jose
Correio da Manhã, Rio de Janeiro
6 November 1926

The group kept together during the war years and must have been successful enough to keep people of any nationality laughing, as the Bonnes Co. - (phantasistas musicaes) turned up in a 1926 notice for a Brazilian music hall in Rio de Janeiro. They were on a South American tour and performed twice a day at 4:00 and 8:00 alongside Japanese acrobats, Tyrolean singers, and the Catalini bicyclists who pedaled around on a giant spinning plate. The theater also showed a silent film with the American actress Norma Talmadge.

I think the sound of a saxophone quartet can make terrific music, whether for classical, jazz, or pop. We can never know what jokes or music that the Bonnes Co. made, but if they were around today I think we might hear them performing at Disney World, just like this saxophone quartet that works the streets of the Tokyo Disney Resort. And they have one girl too.



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link to find out what other folks have cobbled together this weekend.

The Band on the Pier

11 October 2014

The custom of having a band play to welcome a ship on its return to port is a fine naval tradition. But these musicians must have been a thrilling surprise to the young college men on deck, all Army ROTC students of the University of Maryland, who had just completed their first sea voyage. I know this detail because standing center left with his back to the camera is my father, Russell Brubaker. It was the summer of 1949 and he was 20 years old.

My father was about to start his junior year in the university's Reserve Officers Training Corps program. That summer he went to an ROTC training camp at Ft. Monmouth, NJ where he also found part-time work in the signal corps photography lab to help pay for his college expenses. This explains how he came to have this official 8" x 10" photo. The camp activities for the men included two field trips, first to Bermuda and later to Havana, Cuba. The cruise to Bermuda was aboard a U.S. Army Transport ship, the FS-122, which departed from Annapolis, MD but never actually got there, as half way into the Atlantic a bad storm forced them to turn around and return to a port in Hampton Roads, VA. The photo catches the moment of their arrival at the docks of the Ft. Eustis army base on the James River.

The ship was not part of the navy fleet but instead was operated by the army as a Freight and Supply vessel for transporting troops, equipment, and supplies. The FS-122 was one of many army cargo ships that played an important logistic role in World War 2 on both the Atlantic and Pacific campaigns. After the war many of these ships were moved into coast guard and navy service, but in 1949 though the operating crew were likely to be coast guardsmen they were still under army command. The fate of FS-122 is unknown but a website on US Coast Guard history provided an image of the FS-177 which probably resembles the ship my father was on that summer as it shared the same ship class design. 

U.S.A.T. ship FS-177
Source: United States Coast Guard

My father did not mention how long they were at sea. Since Bermuda is about 800 miles (1300 km) southeast from the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, I would guess they were aboard for at least 3 days which in rough weather it must have seemed twice as long for a Maryland country boy who had never been on a boat of any kind. When the small ship tied up to the wharf, the sound of a military band must have sharpened their sense of relief on getting ashore again.
There is a detail that makes this family photograph more interesting to me for its music history. The band playing on the pier is definitely a US Army band, but it is not one usually seen in photographs from this era. All the musicians are African-American as this is a band from one of the negro army battalions. Racial segregation was once an institutional part of the military just as it was in the rest of American society in the last century. In both WW1 and WW2 black servicemen were restricted to segregated units used mainly for support work, and many served in the US Army Transportation Corps. Though President Truman officially ended segregation in the armed forces by signing Executive Order 998 on July 26, 1948, the implementation struggled against fierce opposition. A year later Truman's Secretary of the Army, Gen. Kenneth Claiborne Royall, still refused to desegregate the army and was compelled to resign. 

I've been unable to make an exact identification of this army band, but I believe it could have been attached to the 62nd Transportation Truck Battalion, a negro unit which was reactivated in 1947 from the former 120th Quartermaster Battalion and was stationed in Ft. Eustis managing heavy trucks from 1947 to 1950.  Since Virginia was a state in America's segregated South, there are few public records of a negro battalion band and they may have rarely played off the base for civilian audiences. What I can be sure of is that they made a big impression on one young man.

The University of Maryland's ROTC program trained officers for the army's air, infantry, signal, and transportation corps. Though my father initially chose the signal corps, in January 1951 after completing all his courses, he received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the transportation corps detailed to the infantry. 1951 would turn out to be a busy year as in August he married my mom and by the end of the year he was on board another ship, this time crossing the Pacific to join the war in Korea.    

A few years later my father saw this pier again when the army posted him to Ft. Eustis and he would return twice more during nearly 25 years of service at 15 different stations. Somehow that summer field trip of 1949 left him with a taste for saltwater, and after his retirement our family chose a home on the water in Virginia Beach, VA. The inland bays around the Chesapeake inspired my dad's enthusiasm for boating and shortly after leaving the army he became a volunteer in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, exchanging a uniform of army khaki for one in coast guard blue. Over nearly as many years as his army career, my dad was an instructor for the USCG Aux and taught countless people how to tie a proper knot; navigate a small boat on a dark night; and hoist the correct sail in a storm. On weekends he would take his own boat out to stand watch and help the Coast Guard monitor the thousands of boaters and fishermen on the popular waters of Virginia Beach. When motors failed or sails got fouled, my dad and his fellow Auxiliarists were there to assist. 

2nd Lt. Russell E. Brubaker

Two weeks ago on Friday morning September 26th my father died unexpectedly
but quietly at his home. He was 85. Somehow fortune sent me there for a visit that week and
allowed me to be with him and my mother. 

Earlier this year when I found this photo in the family file box my dad was able to explain some of the context then. Setting aside the band on the pier, I thought it made a great photograph because of how it set up my father's future career. I know that this small adventure captured his imagination and persuaded him that the army life was for him, changing his focus from radio engineering to the logistic side of military organization. It would lead to many more adventures in Korea, France, Germany, and Vietnam. Later after retirement he continued to enjoy the excitement of travel, though without the hazard pay, visiting exotic places like Russia, Egypt, and even England a few times.  

And certainly this short experience on the water had a profound effect on our family life too. We once lived three years in Kansas and I don't ever remember a discussion about retiring to Topeka. Even the band music had a consequence, as the first live music I can recall hearing was of an army band, and though I may have taken up a civilian line in music, whenever I hear (or play) Sousa's El Capitan march my feet start to tap just as my dad's must have on that day on the James River.

This past week while helping my mom put his affairs in order, we discovered notebooks that my dad had used over the past several years to write down events from his life. Scattered around the pages are various memories and stories like a long list of every home he lived in (42) including descriptions and hand-drawn maps of the house layouts. A chronology of his military career with the units and his rank. Several pages devoted to a detailed list of every car he owned, along with the approximate mileage. Even a list of the members of his 1940 high school baseball team. Tucked into one notebook were two loose papers entitled "Why I Chose An Army Career" which gave me the extra details to his photo. I know my Sepia Saturday readers will recognize what a priceless treasure this is.

Photographs are about light and time. We see a moment and wonder what it all means. A beam of light refracts through the prism of a camera and creates an image of history spread out in a broad band of color. In this photo of my dad, I know what happens next. It's a long and rich story that will take some time to tell. I will miss him more than I can say, but I haven't lost his voice.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more traveler's tales.

Two Make Three

26 September 2014

When does two make three? When one half of a pair is doubled of course. In this case it is the two musicians and three cornets of the Esperantoj Artisto. On the left stands a woman playing a cornet while her gentleman partner holds two brass instruments to his lips. One is an ordinary cornet in his right hand while the larger instrument in his left a flugelhorn. He has a very uncommon skill to vibrate his lips simultaneously on both sides of his mouth.

The woman's elaborate embroidered dress with pearls and sequined butterflies could only be suitable for a music hall artist. This French postcard has no postmark but dates from around 1910. Google's Translate considers their name to be in the artificial language of Esperanto.


Not only could this duo play trios on cornets but they also played the cor de chasse, the true French hunting horn. This instrument has no valves so the Esperantaj Artisoj musicians demonstrate it in the traditional manner with the bell held up to both left or right.

The sound of the hunting horn is quite loud and raucous, which is appropriate for an outdoor instrument. In France it is commonly played by groups of cor de chasse players arranged with the musicians turning their backs and the horn bells towards the audience. Another copy of this image has a postmark date of 1909.


In this postcard, the duo has changed sides and Monsieur plays two cornets while his female partner holds the flugelhorn. Their name has changed to Les Gouget, Virtuoses musiciens.

Monsieur Gouget is dressed in formal white tie and tail coat, and wears a medal on his coat pocket. Perhaps it it a prize for most duets by one musician. Madame Gouget wears a longer embroidered gown, but I think her sensible stage shoes are the same as in the previous photos.

Making the fingers work six valves and buzzing a doubled sound with the lips into two brass mouthpieces is difficult but not impossible. But tonguing is another matter. It would take quite a special technique to get the right rhythmic articulation while playing two brass instruments at once. That would be real artistry!

Did Madame develop this same talent?


In this last card the duo has made yet another name change, this time to English, as:
The celebrated Gouget's Fantaisistes  9, Rue des Petites Écuries, Paris
(The Street of the Small Stables) 

Both musicians hold a cor de chasse at the ready, and evidently they considered themselves world class artists as seen by their white traveling outfits. Monsieur Gouget wears a kind of colonial officers uniform with tropical topee hat while Madame Gouget is dressed in a short skirt and jacket with a kind of automobile touring hat. And both wear very high and tight fitted boots.  

What music did the Gougets play? Did they include other instruments or more musicians?  Did they make costume changes in their act?

We may never find those answers but they surely captured the attention of any music hall audience.


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where every couple is on a bike.

Among my family photographs, there is a photo made in the 1920s of my grandmother Blanche Dobbin that makes a match with the Sepia Saturday theme. Not yet 20 years old she sits perched on the back of her cousin's motorcycle, outside his home in Washington D.C. 

Many years later when I was in my 20s and still in college, I bought a motorcycle and once gave my grandmother a very short ride. I doubt we went any faster than 40 mph but she had quite a thrill, no doubt remembering this long ago moment with her cousin.  


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