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 }

Sepia Saturday No. 200

25 October 2013

This weekend we are celebrating the special 200th edition of Sepia Saturday, an internet club that I have been proud to participate in since the Sepia Saturday No. 56 of January 8, 2011, and everyone has been challenged to submit their favorite entry from the last 200 thematic prompts. 

At the time I joined, it seemed like just an entertaining way to add readership to a blog, but I soon learned that I was linking into a new type of media, a kind of weekly internet digest. Its imaginative editor-in-chief, Alan Burnett, produced this magazine by inviting bloggers from around the globe to focus their attention on an unusual black and white photograph and then write their own story based on similar old photos.  Now nearly three years later, I have used Alan's clever choice of subject (or sometimes those of his wonderful assistants) as the inspiration for every post on my website.

Not only has it influenced my choice of photo story, but it has been the best defense against that bĂȘte noire of authors, the writer's block. Alan's perceptive insight on the hidden story inside an image, has led me and my fellow Sepian contributors to look beyond the camera lens and search for shadows of forgotten time. Those shades often have great tales to tell, though sometimes, just like ghosts, there really is nothing there. But that's part of the fun too.

It also has been a great delight to meet so many people who share Alan's wonder of vintage photos. Not only have they expanded my knowledge of history and geography, but I have been introduced to countless fascinating families, collections, and interests. We've become one gigantic interrelated clan, as I'm quite sure I am not the only one who thinks Alan's Uncle Frank and Aunt Miriam are part of their own family tree.

The best part of Sepia Saturday though, has been following the many creative writers who all share an insatiable curiosity and a love for a good story. The photos may inspire but the good writing will easily keep us going on to number 300.

So thank you, Alan. And my thanks to each of you who have read my stories through Sepia Saturday.

** **

As the unofficial music correspondent of the Sepia Saturday group, it was very hard to select just one musical post from my blog. The title of my website, TempoSenzaTempo comes from fusing together two common Italian words used in music - Time Without Time. It describes the characteristic of many of the anonymous photographs in my collection: unknown musicians from some unidentified place and some forgotten time.

The story I chose comes from earlier this year and was inspired by the theme image for Sepia Saturday No. 161. It's an 1890s photo of a fruit and oyster vendor in Raleigh, North Carolina, which just happens to be the state where I live. This typical street view shows two merchants in front of their shop and just to one side stands an unidentified black man, perhaps an employee, who adds an intriguing element to the picture. By chance, Alan's theme came on the week that the United States inaugurated Barack Obama to a second term as President. And this event also occurred on the national holiday celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.

It happened that I had an anonymous photo that fit perfectly with this alignment of themes, and inspired by my friends on Sepia Saturday who have encouraged my fiction, I invented the following story. I hope you enjoy this reprise. 

** **

A Band for Juneteenth

25 January 2013

    A short fiction   
    glimpsed through the summer haze    
    of an old photograph.   

It was still early in the afternoon, and being a Sunday, people were in no hurry to get to the park. The teams had yet to arrive, so no one was up in the bleachers. Hal took the band through the march one more time.

"No, no, no," he shouted. "Something's not right." The music sputtered to a stop. George gave one last thud on his bass drum. "That last part wasn't even close to the right speed. And you," said Hal, pointing to the trombones, "are playing it all wrong or something." He squinted at the music on his stand. "I know Mr. Sousa didn't write it that way."

The boys looked at one another. Henry called out from the back, "Maybe Tom's got gum on his shoe again and can't tap his toe." They giggled. And laughed again when a loud burp came from one of the tenor horns.

"Would you all just keep quiet a minute and let me figure this out," cried Hal. He scratched his ear and frowned at the music. He looked toward the fence where a man was sitting on a picnic table. "Say Franklin, can you make out what the problem is?"

The tall black man came over to the band and smiled at the boys. "Well Mr. Hal, I was listening right close and I think when the tune comes round again, some'a you cornets played an extra bar." He looked at the trombones. "And there's a queer note sounding in that 'companiment."

"Dang it, Milton," said Hal. "That's an A-flat. Watch your key signature." He twisted the curl on his mustache. "Cornets did you get that? The second time through you got to skip over that first repeat.  Show them how it goes, Franklin."

Franklin drew a breath  and in a deep voice sang their part, adding emphasis to the correct pitch. He gave a nod toward the drummer. "Mr. Francis, you could help them out with the rhythm there too. Taaa, tuh, ta, ta, ta.  Taaa, tuh, ta, ta, ta.  Ta, ta, ta, Taaa, tuh, taaa"

Hal picked up his tuba. "Alright. Let's give her another push, and maybe get her going down the right track. From the top. ONE, TWO. ONE, TWO." The music stumbled along with a melody that stayed mostly upright. Franklin stood to the side waving his hand to the beat.

The band finished and Hal could see that the crowd in the grandstand was getting larger now. "Take a short break, fellas. Leo, you keep next to your brother and don't go wandering." They placed their instruments down on a bench near the diamond's backstop. . "And don't forget," he called, "we got a photographer from Marshall's going to take our picture after the game!" 
Just past the assembly of wagons and pony traps over at the corner, some of the players were getting off the street car. The umpire had unpacked his bag and was setting out the bases. There was a pleasant summer taste to the air. It was a fine day for baseball.

Hal re-shuffled his stack of music. "I sure am glad for your help, Franklin. Ever since Mr. Holloway left, we've been lacking a good ear." He set his tuba down by the bench and walked over to the table. "We don't play the Tremont team too often. Shame we couldn't do it on Flag Day, but that rain last week was enough to float Noah's boat. It would have made a real special day for the band."

"Yes, sir, Mr. Hal, but it's still a special day alright." He smiled at the sky. "It be Juneteenth. A very special day"

Hal frowned. "Juneteenth? Oh, you mean June 19th."

"No, I mean Juneteenth. The day Mr. Lincoln freed the slaves." He smiled again. "My daddy was in Galveston back then, and ever since I was a little'un we always celebrate Juneteenth. Now since I come up here though, there not many black folk around to remember with."

"I never took you for a Texas cowboy, Franklin." Hal pulled out his watch and checked the time. "Now I recollect my paw used to talk about Emancipation Day being in January. He served with the 36th Illinois Volunteers."

"Well down in Washington D of C they take their day in April, and others got January or September. But daddy always said that to hear those words was to hear a rainbow, so I always liked Juneteenth."

Hal watched his friend sigh and thought back to the stories his own father had told. All along the campaign, from the mountains in Tennessee to the ocean in Georgia, he had seen countless black people rejoice at liberation. That wondrous joy had made the terrible great burden of war easier to bear.

Hal saw the umpire was waving the players onto the field. "Come on boys, let's form the circle," he said picking up his tuba.  He motioned to Franklin. "Get your self in the center and lead us through the anthem, Mr. Franklin. I 'spect this town needs a Juneteenth jubilee song."

There was no need for the folios as the boys knew this tune from heart. George and Francis struck up the drum roll. Franklin turned to the flag now waving in a light breeze, and his strong baritone soared above the ball field noise. 

       My country, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
       Of thee I sing;
       Land where my fathers died,
       Land of the pilgrims' pride,
       From ev'ry mountainside
       Let freedom ring!
       My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
       Thy name I love;
       I love thy rocks and rills,
       Thy woods and templed hills;
       My heart with rapture thrills,
       Like that above.
       Let music swell the breeze,
       And ring from all the trees
       Sweet freedom's song;
       Let mortal tongues awake;
       Let all that breathe partake;
       Let rocks their silence break,
       The sound prolong.
       Our fathers' God to Thee,
       Author of liberty,
       To Thee we sing.
       Long may our land be bright,
       With freedom's holy light,
       Protect us by Thy might,
       Great God our King.
< >

Lost in time and space, this photograph of an unknown band was never meant to be anything but a memento of a day. But it had one element that made it different from the thousands of similar photos of bands from the 1900s - a black face. We can't know if this man played an instrument or just drove the wagon, but since he wears the same simple uniform cap, there is a small sense of inclusion, perhaps even acceptance of this man in an era when African-Americans were not afforded an equal place in society.

On this week where we commemorate the dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. and inaugurate President Barack Obama to a second term as leader of our nation, it seemed fitting to use the Sepia Saturday theme photo to inspire a small story about how far our country has moved. Juneteenth is a real holiday that deserves to be celebrated by all Americans. And despite today's over production performances of the Star Spangled Banner, in 1900 it was not the usual national anthem performed in most small towns and America, perhaps because it is easier to sing, was the better known patriotic song.

** **

As a special treat, here is a 1917 recording of the song with baritone Arthur Middleton
accompanied by unnamed singers and band, produced by Edison records,
and restored by the Library of Congress Archives.

** **

This was my favorite contribution to Sepia Saturday
for both No. 161 and No. 200.
Click the link for more popular stories from the past 200.


Gail Perlee said...

Fiction or not, what an absolutely wonderful story full of meaning! Love it!

Boobook said...

Thanks for adding the musical link that played as a background to a lovely story. And it's a great theme photo too. Good choice.

tony said...

The crowd in the grandstand cheer another fine post!

Wendy said...

yeah -- good choice!! I hope Alan includes your preface in the book because you have captured the essence of Sepia Saturday expressing so well what it has meant to probably all of us.

Kat Mortensen said...

Mike, you absolutely bring this photo to LIFE! It's as if someone were secreted behind one of the trees, taking notes.

Such a warm and witty post, yet with a perfect sync to the reality of the days both past and present.

An ideal selection for the Sepia Saturday record-book.

I shall never forget, "Juneteenth" now.


Sean Bentley said...

Excellent post, and what a great subject for a blog!

Bob Scotney said...

An excellent story, Mike capped off my a recording that always takes me by surprise because the tune is that for the British national anthem.

Little Nell said...

I can see why this was your favourite post; I always enjoy your fiction and I’m glad that this will appear in the book.

Doug Peabody said...

I can remember always singing "America" rather than "The Star Spangled Banner," before school functions. Great post for Sepia Saturday 200!

Peter said...

Great choice, Mike. And I support Wendy's suggestion.

Karen S. said...

Hail you again, a great selection indeed. How you do it each week, is absolutely genius! Perfect photos that are more than remarkable too.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this post both for the musical stories and the references to the anthems. Growing up in Australia I learned the words of the American National Anthem and those of some other countries. But personally I prefer My country tis of thee as an Anthem as it is much simpler to sing. I wonder how many Americans know the first verse of the Australian National Anthem ????

Jackie van Bergen said...

SS has been great for this 'sheltered' Aussie - helping me learn so much about other countries. A lovely piece of fiction interwoven with fascinating facts.
Shame the music can't be in the book!

Sharon said...

Your opening comments said it all and reflected my feelings too. Well Done.

A wonderful story also.

L. D. said...

It is a great presentation. The photo is so great to give you inspiration.

The Silver Fox said...

Very imaginative!

Nancy said...

Such a touching post, Mike. Creating a story to accompany it really brings it to life.

North County Film Club said...

BRAVO! Wonderful from start to finish. Finish, being- singing the national anthem along with the recording. You have to have been there to be able to write that rings so true. Perfect for the Sepia Saturday Book.

North County Film Club said...

I love this Juneteenth story. It sounds so real that I think it really did happen. If those men in the photo could talk now, they would say that you got the story just right.
A wonderful post.
Ladies of the Grove

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

I remember this post, Mike. You put so much into writing the story, and it is so wonderful. I am so glad that it will be included in the book.

Hope that all is going well with you!

Kathy M.


Indeed a beautiful tribute to the evolution of a society.


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