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 High School Orchestra

20 July 2012

Music in the schools does not always mean a marching band. At one time, school orchestras were fairly common, and in many communities, schools were expected to give children an opportunity to learn a string instrument too. These large format photographs are a good example of  how training on a musical instrument was once a standard part of scholastic life. 

Nicely posed in their rehearsal room or maybe the school assembly room, this orchestra of 21 students  has a nice compliment of 10 string players as well as some woodwind and brass. Their ages range from around 13 to 17 and they must be fairly accomplished as there are some trophies arranged in the back.

The second photo shows only 7 musicians: cornet, violin, double bass, trombone, sousaphone, horn, and oboe. The two players on the right are the reason I had to acquire this set. The young girl with her double horn and two-tone shoes seems very assured. Beside her, the oboist holds a refined woodwind instrument rarely found in a photo of any period. This instrument has a small double reed that takes more skill to prepare than the single reeds of a clarinet or saxophone. Oboists are often surrounded by more piles of wood shavings than are found in a wood shop whittling class. 

The back has a useful annotation:

Mr. Sears
Hampton -

Players in 1929 N.E. Fest. Orch.
Players in 1929 N.E. Fest. Orch.

Player on this end Eng. Horn

Player on this end Eng. Horn

So this gives a good date of 1929 for the photo and an explanation of who these musicians are (though inexplicably repeated  though inexplicably repeated.)

As I went to high school and college in Virginia, my first thought was that this school orchestra was from Hampton on the James River. But Hampton (or Hammten in southern speak) is in southeast Virginia and the geography would never be used to describe a North East Festival. So is there another Hampton?

As a matter of fact there are 18 in the US and 4 more in Canada. There is a Hampton  in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Oregon, and more. Each a potential hometown for these young boys and girls.

But there is a clue.

The flag on the right is clearly an important civic symbol, but it drapes so that the logo is read from the back. Photoshop fixes that with a reverse of the flag detail so we can see a circular seal with a date and portions of some words:


Unfortunately that doesn't match any state flag of the 18 potential Hamptons. 1784 is also an odd date, as it is not part of any American State symbol.

The large wall plague seems to depict 17th century men making an amphibious landing. That suggests an earlier colonial heritage, which rules out Minnesota, Nebraska, and other Midwest states. What about the faint image in the center circle? It's a ship of some kind. Is there a similar maritime symbol for one of the other states?

The flag for New Hampshire seems a very close fit, but the year 1776 is different and the words around the state seal do not match the flag in the photo. (It seems this flag is considered one of the 10 worst flag designs in the USA)

It turns out that the New Hampshire State seal was changed in 1931. Finding a decent image of the earlier seal proved to be a challenge but the detail makes everything clear.

The old circular motto is:

Sigillum Republica Neo Hantoniensis 1784

The year 1784 celebrates the adoption of the first New Hampshire constitution. The Latin words translate as: Seal of the State of New Hampshire, which is not as inspiring as the State's other motto: "Live Free or Die"   (Which was only adopted in 1945. The full quote is from General John Stark who declined an anniversary reunion invitation in 1809 because of ill health with the phrase: "Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.") 

The ship depicts New Hampshire's shipbuilding industry in Portsmouth, NH. But over the decades several variances had changed the original seal by adding figures of people and barrels of rum! This was too much for some sober citizens of the Granite State so a new seal was designed in 1931. 

The seven musicians of the Hampton, New Hampshire High School Orchestra rearranged themselves for one more photograph. You get a better view of the oboe, the horn player's shoes, and the socks too.

In 1930 the population of Hampton, NH was only 1500 citizens. Mr. Sears was Arthur C. Sears, listed in the census as married, age 33, occupation - Principal, Public School.  I'm sure he was very proud of his music students and their prize winning orchestra..

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday.
Click the link for more fairies and young people. 


Karen S. said...

Tremendous as always, but I have to admit, this has got to be the best dressed group yet. Not stuffy just all having a great time, with the coolest of socks! They are just so neat!

Brett Payne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brett Payne said...

Another fascinating photograph with a history/mystery, and again you have solved the mystery with some good detective work.

Alan Burnett said...

Just the kind of investigative thriller based on some fascinating old images that I have come to expect my friend. It is posts like this that makes Sepia Saturday so fascinating to take part in.

Little Nell said...

They all look so serious. School orchestra are wonderful, not just for the music-making but the friendship. My daughter played trumpet in hers and we enjoyed many concerts. Perhaps the first inscription on the card was quite faint and the author thought they’d make sure the message wasn’t lost some time later. It is odd though, like an echo.

barbara and nancy said...

I always look forward to your wonderful musical posts each week. This weeks is the best ever. Your investigative work really makes this story come to life.

Postcardy said...

Good work in tracking down the location.

Food Smarts said...

Great story-telling. I particularly like the trombonist with the socks.

Kristin said...

Several of my grandchildren are studying instruments at school - one bass, one oboe, one violin and one clarinet. I have had the opportunity to hear them play with their orchestras over the years. Sometimes those violins can raise the hair on my neck. Good experience though.

L. D. Burgus said...

Great investigative work. It was probably fun to find the answer. I really enjoy seeing all the different clothes on these kids and the instruments themselves. What great time capsules to see.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Hi Mike! Well, first of all, I have never even heard of Hampton, Oregon, and I'm going to have to check out where it is and if anybody still lives there today.

Your posts are always so interesting, and they teach me to look at all the little details.

I am so sad that music keeps being cut in schools today. For some kids, that is the highlight of their day.

Thanks again for all of your hard work,

Kathy M.

Queen Bee said...

Impressive detective work as always. I was in a grade school orchestra and played violin & played clarinet in junior high school. Your post brought back fun memories for me - thanks! Great photos - my favorite instrument in this set is the double bass.

Sharon said...

Another interesting post. Great detective work.

Wendy said...

I'm always surprised to see orchestras in high school because there were no orchestras in Portsmouth, Virginia high schools in the 60s. I never knew they were even possible until my own girls were in school. They started in the strings program in the 5th grade and played throughout high school. One played cello and the other viola.


Great research here!! I never learned music but I grew up with a musical school right next door to where I lived, hearing piano and violin through my bedroom window.

Teresa Wilson Rogers said...

These are wonderful photos and your research was excellent as usual, but I have to say that all I could concentrate on was the crazy socks the two boys were wearing in the second photo!


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