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
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An English Flautist

22 February 2010


This fine looking gentleman is unknown but gives every appearance of being a professional musician. His instrument looks like a piccolo, similar to today's modern instrument in African blackwood. But I have since looked at some websites with historic musical instrument collections and found that the lower key does not match piccolos of this time, which were about 12.5 inches long. On the other hand his instrument doesn't seem to be 24 inches long for a standard wooden flute in C either.

Then I found this example of a flute in F, also called a soprano flute, that measures 20 inches. The flute was made by Joseph Riley & Sons of Birmingham 1859-1894 and it seems to match this one very well, maybe exactly. The website at the Birmingham Conservatoire also includes a few recordings of this flute performing characteristic tunes. This is a celebrated Mozart melody played on the Joseph Riley flute in F by Lisa Beznosiuk.

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Still I wasn't certain, so I sent a question to Martin Perkins, the Instrument Curator of the excellent Birmingham Conservatoire historical instrument collection found in the link above. He says that by 1880 professional flutes and piccolos would have had keys and that this is a one-keyed flute in F used in military bands and flute bands. An internet search for flute bands, produces something very different than the fife and drum bands of America. They continue as an active musical sub-culture in Britain, Ireland, and Scotland relating to the heritage of various fraternal, religious, and political groups. Below I've added some examples from YouTube.










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So I have reconsidered my idea that he is a professional musician. Because he chose to be photographed with an instrument and sheet music, I thought it strongly suggested he was displaying his professional trade or artistry. A bandsman would be in uniform, and an amateur would likely hold a more common C flute. But perhaps this is a photograph of a gentleman celebrating some other musical interest, maybe connected with a Loyalist flute band, or maybe he was a composer of flute tunes. More questions that may never be answered.

This is a Carte-de-visite or CDV about 2 3/8 inch x 4 inch. It has gilt edges and embossed script of the photographer's name - J. Joyner of 408 High St., Cheltenham. The photograph is very clear and was likely preserved by being kept in an album. But unfortunately the back is plain and missing the typical photographer's logo and any other identification.

John Joyner had his studio in Cheltenham which is in Gloucestershire, England, just to the west of Oxford and above Gloucester. I have found other examples of his work which date from around 1859 to 1901. The style of heavy card stock with the round gilt corners puts this gentleman somewhere around 1890 to 1897. Much of this information is gleaned from an excellent website devoted to the photography collection of Roger Vaughan http://www.cartes.freeuk.com/index.htm. His collection defies measurement and it includes other resource material that greatly helps dating photographs such as this.

As to our mystery gentleman, I can only imagine that he was part of that great wave of music that began in Queen Victoria's Britain. Music that included the composer Edward Elgar from Worcester,  just a very short distance to the north of Cheltenham.

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