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 }

The Well Dressed Clarinetist No.2

19 October 2012

CLARIONET, n. An instrument of torture operated by a person with cotton in his ears.   There are two instruments that are worse than a clarionet -- two clarionets.
                                   Ambrose Bierce  -  The Devil's Dictionary
There are many uniformed musicians in my photo collection, but I would be pressed to find one that radiates pride any better than this young clarinet player from the 1890s. In his spiked helmet, gleaming buttons, and striped trousers, he strikes a gallant pose with a clarinet tucked under his arm as if it were a rifle with bayonet. He looks good and he knows it. I can't be absolutely certain, but I believe he is a bandsman from a U.S. army band as his coordinated dress style seems more soldierly than a typical town bandsman, and for a short time the tall helmet was a regulation US Army parade hat. Unfortunately there was a lot of variation in regimental uniforms in this era, and many civilian bands often wore military style uniforms.

The photographer was Ernest Adams who left a mark but no address. It is amazing how common the name Adams is among photographers, and I have found several different ones in this time frame, but none were an exact match. The best was an E. Adams in Massachusetts but the use of initials in the census records and especially the missing 1890 census, makes this a difficult identification.

The B-flat clarinet which he holds is not nearly as frightful an instrument as Ambrose Bierce complains, at least in small numbers. I suspect Bierce was referring to the smaller E-flat clarinet which played the high treble part in wind bands in the 19th century, often as the only woodwind instrument in the band. This circa 1910 photo of  a community bandsman with an E-flat clarinet was posted in 2010, with a factious title  Musical Instrument or Deadly Weapon? Having sat far too close to one on many occasions, I can attest to its disagreeable qualities. Two or more E-flats will strip paint better than a piccolo.

In the second half of the 19th century, military bands began to increase the number of woodwind instruments in the wind ensemble, as earlier bands had used only one piccolo or E-flat clarinet. The improvements in the design of woodwind keys and the efficiency of mass production made better musical instruments that could play more complex music. As the 20th century approached, the tremendous popularity of band music inspired composers to develop more colors in the band sound, and in arrangements of opera and symphonic music, the larger woodwind sections now substituted for the string parts of the original orchestra music.

This army bandsman was featured in my first Well Dressed Clarinet post from 2011. His uniform coat has a fuller cut with a darker color than the first clarinetist's tail coat. He does have a similar tall helmet that sports a tall two-toned feathered plume. The photographer was George H. Eggers of Dunkirk, NY and the cabinet photo dates from the 1890s. .

But when it comes to fashion, no man can compete with a woman's style. These six ladies are musicians in the Oesterr. Damen-Orchester "Singspiel" from a 1904 Austrian postcard. Their uniforms are in at least three colors, and include magnificent helmets with spikes, plumes, and cords. They don't have their instruments but I'd bet that one, or maybe two, could play the clarionet.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday

where you might discover more tall hat stories. 


barbara and nancy said...

After seeing the band uniform with the feathered hat above, I think you're right about my post of last week with the military uniforms. I think my first photo of the plumed helmet was actually a band uniform as you thought.
Love the photo of the ladies - right out of "Some Like It Hot".

Bob Scotney said...

Two great helmets for the men, but the ladies must take the prize.

[Mike, thanks for mentioning "The Fatal Shore" on my convict post some time back. I've acquired a copy from our library and am reading its horrific detail with interest. Bob]

Wendy said...

And here I thought a clarinet is a clarinet is a clarinet. The beautiful one I can conjure up in my mind's ear must not be an E flat.

Kat Mortensen said...

The three gentlemen's poses are all so different and particularly the way in which they (if you'll pardon my choice of words) hold their instruments.

The top fellow is confident indeed, and the middle guy seems almost lackadaisical, whereas the bottom bloke just looks very naive and wet behind the ears to me.

As for "Old Gringo", I wonder what he had to say about bagpipes?

Christine H. said...

I'd like to join that Austrian women's group just to wear the uniform.

Helen Bauch McHargue said...

Fabulous uniforms. Does the seated clarinetist look a little like John Lennon? Is the cord on the ladies hats attached to the plume? I can't quite make it out - but having the option of a dangling plume would make these terrific outfits even more spectacular.

Postcardy said...

I think the first musician looks too proud. "Haughty" would be a better description.

dawn-in-nz said...

A very different take on the prompt photo. I love the clarinet so pooh to Ambrose! Great photos too.

Christine H. said...

See this week's New Yorker (page 67) for a clarinet cartoon.

Joy said...

Good to see they converted the spike to plumes. I always associate the spiked helmet with Prussia and Germany, interesting it was adopted in the US.

Karen S. said...

May I have this dance! That is so what I see in the face of your first photo, quite a handsome man, and yes I'd dance and dance! Great post....and photos as always!

Peter said...

An instrument of torture?? I beg to differ with Ambrose Bierce. Monty Sunshine's Petite Fleur is still one of my favorites! Hope I am not blacklisted now :)

Liz Stratton said...

Substitute for strings?! Say its not so. In college I signed up for a music appreciation course. The Professor said, "we don't need to listen to the clarinet. It sounds just like a violin." :))))

I dropped the course and took Music Theory for Music Majors instead. Now THAT was a great course. Thanks for the memory. :-)

Queen Bee said...

Lovely selection of images for this week's theme. I played the clarinet in junior high band and never thought it was an "instrument of torture." Benny Goodman is still my favorite clarinetist.

Little Nell said...

Every picture is a gem Mike but I thnk I've fallen in love with the first one. I love his whole bearing and confident air, and, as you say, one doesn't expect a musical instrument under his arm!

Titania said...

This is such a wonderful and interesting post. The first clarinetist is very sure of himself!
The Austrian ladies band is very impressive. The second gentleman looks like a poet! I like the clarinet!


Keeping your post for last, I am now satiated. I think this was possibly one of your most elegant selection.
Love them all!!


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP