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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Ruby's Orchestra

20 February 2010

A studio portrait of an anonymous orchestra from somewhere in America at the end of the 19th century. Unfortunately there is no photographer's stamp on the print to give a location. I've called them Ruby's Orchestra because the one woman in the group reminds me of my grandmother whose name was Ruby. She is the best clue for dating this, as her hair and especially her wonderful dress seem close to the fashion styles of 1895. At first I mistakenly thought 1880's but I have since found a few websites devoted to women's fashion and the big leg o'mutton sleeves are later. I didn't know that they were held up by a weave of horse hair! Instead of an instrument she holds a paper roll of music, which indicates a pianist. She may even have been the leader. Perhaps an orchestra for a church musical soiree, or a town opera production. I imagine the sleeves looked very impressive at the keyboard.

The other clue for a date are the wonderful mustaches! Barbers did pretty well in 19th century America, but styles change and by 1910, handlebars are out. Like the White Tie Orchestra earlier, they also are arranged so that some gaze directly into the camera and others off into the distance. Seated on the floor is a horn player holding a French style piston horn, most likely in F judging by the crook size. There was almost enough clarity in the bell reflection to capture the image of the photographer's studio! Studios at that time used natural light from windows instead of flash light, so that may account for the glare on the horn and the white dress.

This is a large format photograph with a curious cut-out design perhaps intended for some artful frame or scrapbook. Scrapbooks were another feature of the 19th century leisure time and many people kept collections of photos, personal cards and letters. Who kept this photograph?

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