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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The North Western Silver Cornet Band

31 May 2010

The first popular brass bands in America came from the tradition of army bands that used Over The Shoulder (OTS) brass Saxhorns. These bands marched at the head of parades with their peculiar instruments pointing backwards to the marching troops behind them, and when standing they would perform in a circle with the bells facing out. This wonderful group shows off a consort of different sized Saxhorns ranging from soprano to bass, presumably silver plated, along with fine uniforms and plumed shakos. By the 1890's the OTS brass instruments had pretty much disappeared to be replaced by piston valve instruments that were easier to play and more comfortable to carry. more on Saxhorns
All of the photos I collect are original antiques but this one is a second generation reprint postcard from around 1910-18. The original was no doubt a larger cabinet or studio size photo which was embellished by an over zealous photographer with various outline detailing and eccentric calligraphy. But in doing the initial research, I was misdirected by the different writing on the top. From Pa. turns out to refer not to Pennsylvania but to someone's old dad! Hidden in the lower right corner is a quarter circle of faded writing that says From Jack Harris Gallery, Bryan O. A different corner of the north west.

A search in the 1880 US Census brings up almost all of these names for Bryan and other communities of Williams County, Ohio. Then I discovered this reference from the Bryan Times of Oct 30, 1884.

A Grand Concert by the North Western Silver Cornet Band

John H. Shouf takes pleasure in announcing that he has made arrangements for a grand concert in Music Hall Bryan (date will be fixed subsequently) by the North Western Silver Cornet Band, Prof. Miller, Director assisted by first class talent from abroad.
It is the purpose of the management to make the concert the most interesting and enjoyable ever given in Bryan. An interesting feature of the concert will be the presentation to ticketholders of the following lots of real estate situated in Bryan.
  • Frame house 1 1/2 story high, furnished throughout, on No.6 in Pratt & nelson's addition to Bryan, valued at $890.00
  • House and half acre of land in Will's Second addition to Bryan, valued at $325.00
  • Lot No.1 in Shouf's addition to Bryan, valued at $200.00
  • Lot No.3 in Shouf's addition to Bryan, valued at $175.00
  • Two Thirds of Lot No.4 in Shouf's addition to Bryan, valued at $125.00
  • Lot No.6 in Shouf's addition to Bryan, valued at $175.00 
Titles perfect and warranty deeds will be given. 
The concert will be given as soon as arrangements can be perfected.
Tickets each $2.00
Seats may be reserved without extra charge.
J.H. Shouf

John Shouf was born in Ohio in 1844 into a family of 10 children. He listed his occupation as farmer in the 1880 census for Pulaski, Ohio which is just next to Bryan. During the Civil War, he served in the Union army as a Private in the 3rd Ohio Cavalry. Perhaps that is where the musical organization comes from. It seems a curious sweepstakes to use a band concert to sell real estate. I can not find the outcome of this enterprise, but Mr. Shouf remained in Pulaski through the 1910 census. Certainly an good example of a 19th century entrepreneur.

Then I found an another reference to a band of the same name. This one for a July 4th, 1884 performance in Whitewater, Wisconsin, where The Chronicle describes Professor Joslin's Great North Western Menagerie and Colossal Combination of Startling Wonders whose "Four magnificent bands, in expensive uniforms, furnished music for the immense array, and soothed the savage breasts of the weird animals and huge monstrosities which go to make up the aggregated show."
After Professor Joslin, riding on his white horse at the head of the circus parade, there came, "the Great North Western Silver Cornet Band of eighteen pieces, with beautiful uniforms, consisting of black silk hats, gray linen dusters, blue overalls and cowhide boots. The music which they produced was prepared expressly for this band, and was something utterly unheard of before in musical circles. So touching was it that people held their hands over their ears to prevent their feelings being too greatly harrowed."

The report offers a lengthy and vivid description of this traveling entertainment, describing clowns, Ethiopian jugglers, an 8' tall giantess, a sacred white elephant, and even a hippopotamus!  It resembles descriptions of similar shows like those of  P.T. Barnum and Buffalo Bill Cody, that have their start in this period - every one using a large brass band.

Is this photograph the same band? The description matches the photo. But I can't say yes with as much assurance as I can say that they are definitely from Bryan, Ohio. Possibly Professor Joslin was from Ohio too, as the name does show up in the same county. But this was a turbulent time in America, because in May 1884 there was a serious national recession set off by a panic on Wall St. Perhaps many shows went bust and the performers returned to their hometowns to pursue more stable work, while selling off their property with a sweep-stake lottery.

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