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 }

A Vermont Citizens Band

23 March 2010

Here is one of my favorite photos that is a great example of the lost times of small town bands. The cabinet size photo came from Middlebury, Vermont but it has no marking so I can only guess that this is Middlebury's town band. But the image really captures the moment. The band poses informally in front of the bandstand with a small girl (or possibly a boy) placed in the center. The drum major stands proudly to one side in his plumed helmet. The grass has the unkempt look of summer with maybe wildflowers too. Is it before or after the concert?

There is no date so a guess might be around 1905, even 1900 but certainly not after 1914. Vermont had many town bands and since many bands toured for competitions and special occasions, this could even be a New York band. But what is certain is that these forgotten men were the faces of American music in the new 20th century.

UPDATE  April 2013:
Recently I was contacted by someone with the Henry Sheldon Museum in Middlebury, Vermont. They sent me a link to a short history on Middlebury's Bandstand with a wonderful description of how a small town park evolves. I now believe this photo dates to the 1890s. 

Pottstown Cornet

13 March 2010

Since I introduced the history of the Eb Saxhorn in the last post, here is a descendant from a few years later. This dapper musician is holding a Top Action Rotary Valve (TARV) Cornet. He is from Pottstown, Pennsylvania. This cornet in Eb is basically the same as the one in my previous post, except here the bell faces forward as with modern trumpets and cornets. The camera angle unfortunately does not provide a good look at the instrument but it is similar to another cornet in the collection of the National Music Museum. Slater Cornet in Eb

The uniform is military-like but not really connected to any of the U.S. military bands of this time. It might however indicate a professional musician from one of the many bands of Eastern Pennsylvania. Pottstown is about halfway between Reading and Philadelphia.

The back shows Thos. Taylor, Photographer, Pottstown, Pa.. The US Census of 1880 lists Thomas Taylor, age 35, occupation: photographer living with his wife Lillie in Pottstown, PA. But the earlier census of 1870 shows Thomas Taylor working in Reading, PA as a photographer. By the 1900 census, Thomas Taylor still lives in Pottstown but is now listed as newspaper proprietor.

These dates would suggest that this is a photograph from 1875-1885. It is a carte de visite size and probably survived this long in a family photo album. Unfortunately, as with so many photographs of this period, the identity of the subject remains unknown.

A Soprano Saxhorn in Eb

10 March 2010

This gentleman poses for the photographer with his Soprano Saxhorn in Eb. This is the lead solo instrument of brass bands from around 1850 to 1875. It has top action rotary valves (TARV) instead of side action rotary valves (SARV) or the piston valves of later instruments in the cornet/trumpet family. It is pitched in Eb, a fourth higher than the modern cornet in Bb.

The National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota has a very similar instrument in their collection. You can see it here:  Soprano Saxhorn

Though it is possible, it seems unlikely that this instrument was made by Adolphe Sax, who designed many of the early brass instruments. The information from the NMM website explains that this style of Saxhorn could only be made after the expiration of Monsieur Sax's patent in 1865.

There was an amazing variety of brass instruments that came out of the 19th century industrial revolution. Some were designed with the bell facing backwards, called over-the-shoulder bells and are characteristic of the American Civil War miltary bands which marched at the head of a parade. The Saxhorn is a bell-upright style coming out of France in 1845 from the Sax company. Sax also had a Saxotromba instrument similarly designed for bands on horse back. All of these early brass instruments came voiced from soprano to alto to tenor to bass, just as instruments had been designed since renaissance times. The modern saxophone, designed by Sax of course, retains that same idea of a consort of similar but differently sized instruments.

The photo is a small carte de visite and sadly has no photographer's name or other identification. I believe it is American from around 1865-1870 but even that is hard to prove. I like how the gentleman poses in a casual way with crossed legs. Note the music on the table which suggests a skilled musician. Perhaps he was an early band leader and soloist.

UPDATE:   I found this photo of a similar instrument, with Top-mounted American rotary valves using string action, manufactured by Isaac Fiske, of Worcester, MA circa 1850 - 1860.

It is from a great website for the
1st Brigade Band from Watertown, WI.  They are a brass band performing on period instruments and specializing in music of the civil war. 

Here is a video of one of their concerts and after the camera zooms in on a sleepy President Lincoln, there is a brief closeup of a Bell-Up cornet at about 0:56.

A German Boys Band

02 March 2010

This is another photo postcard that is postmarked 30 August 1912. On the back, the sender wrote in German and in pencil with a very florid script, so it is very difficult to decipher. There may be clues here but I'll need expert help with the handwriting. But the photograph is clear and shows a German version of the typical 19th century boys band.

This one has two horns along with the other brass who are using the European style rotary valve instruments instead of the piston valve kind that were produced in America at this time. Note the background of the plaster and timber framed house.

The prominent logos on the bass drum and on the flags on the herald bugles looked like possible clues as to the location of this band. I've found several websites that are devoted to cataloging the many coats-of-arms of Europe. And by many, I mean thousands. It was easy to determine that the drum and flag have the eagle of the German Reich of 1912 along with the tri-color flag.  But the drum has a Kreiswappen or District Arms that is different from the flag. It is not completely clear but distinctive enough to eliminate several hundred choices. The similarity to one city led me to recognize that the writer had included a place in dating the card. Roßlau or Rosslau, which is on the river Elbe in the district Saxony-Anhalt. It was the curious German double S character - ß - that I had missed. The postmark, though obscure, also confirmed it too.

So I think Rosslau is the location, but is this a school band or an orphans band? Still more questions. How many survived the war that will come in August of 1914?


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP