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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Don't This Dazzle Your Eyes!

23 May 2014

There's something very odd about this band's photo. Despite their proper posture the 49 musicians of the Ladies' Concert Band, Iowa State Normal, of Cedar Falls, Iowa appear to be sliding off the stage. There's also something peculiar about the big bone girls of the low brass section at the back who must tower over their petite companions in the woodwinds.

It's another early Photoshop fail, but say don't this dazzle your eyes?

That's what C.C. wrote to his/her friend A. M. Perry in Waterloo, Iowa on August 29, 1907. The band was one of the musical ensembles of the Iowa State Normal School which was the first name of the institution now known as the University of Northern Iowa. It was established in Cedar Falls in 1876 as a training school for public school teachers. Iowa was very progressive in offering equal education opportunities for both men and women, when in 1855 it became the first state to establish a coeducational public college system.

This second postcard view shows the Iowa State Normal School Ladies Band playing on a more level platform. The band is smaller with only 31 musicians and beneath the conductor's feet is a caption. I.S.N.S. 1906 and a message, perhaps for the spring break: Easter Greetings from Abbie.

An alternate photo was made into another postcard in 1906. This time the young ladies have their instruments down in their laps and the conductor stands in the shadows at the back of the band. The message reads:

Mar. 21 - 06 Cedar Falls Ia.
I arrived safely, didn't play "snap" but
tried to satisfy myself thinking it
would be a nice day tomorrow
I'll write soon. Your true friend Anna

Was Anna a member of the band? If so she did not provide her friend, Miss Mella Long of Kalona, Iowa with an X over her position in the photo. 

The band has the full assortment of brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments that would be typical of a concert band. The one man standing at the back is Professor Frank A. FitzGerald who was the director of an orchestra and two bands at the Iowa State Normal School – one for men and the other for young ladies. FitzGerald introduced a ladies band shortly after joining the Normal School as a music instructor in 1896 but his credentials, despite his title of Professor, were not like the other academics at the college. This short bio comes from Illustrated Iowa (page 81) published in 1898 by the Iowa State Teachers College.

Mr. Fitzgerald's education was obtained in the old school of musical study or that of experience under various masters from whom he took private lessons before the day of well-equipped conservatories. He was four years with Gilmore's Band, six years in charge of the Illinois Watch Company's Band at Rockford, Illinois, and for sometime was assistant director of the Apollo Club, of Chicago. Mr. Fitzgerald, besides his work at the Normal, instructs and leads the famous Cedar Falls A. O. U. W. Band, the organization that had the honor of accompanying the Iowa G.A.R. to both the Louisville and Buffalo National Encampments as official band, and also lead the Methodist church choir and gives lessons in vocal and instrumental music to many private pupils in the city.

Covina CA Argus
May 25, 1907

In 1907, F. A. FitzGerald retired from his teaching position in Iowa and moved to Covina, California where he owned an orange orchard. The Covina Argus which was clearly proud to have this talented musician move to the area, published a very flattering report on him and his distinguished musical career. He was described as teaching both band and string instruments at the Iowa State Normal School and giving the school a wide reputation for meritorious musical production and ... the Normal Ladies' Band, the largest band equipped wholly with women. 

The hyperbole, if not the unfortunate phrasing, was understandable in this era when female musicians were restricted from performing with traditional all-male bands and orchestras. Surely Professor FitzGerald was very proud of his talented young women, and maybe he even considered them better musicians than those in the boy's student band. 

Certainly one of his students in the cornet/trumpet section was a special source of pride. When she graduated from the Iowa State Normal School she was offered a music teaching position in Correctionville, Iowa as the new high school band director. Her name was Miss Edna B. Straw and the news of a female band leader merited a picture in the paper.

Sioux Valley News (Correctionville, Iowa)
August 13 and October 15, 1908

The first report in August 1908 tells how the superintendent of  Correctionville schools went to Cedar Falls to inquire about suitable teachers and Miss Edna Straw was given an enthusiastic endorsement by the faculty. By October, she had organized a band of 24 musicians for the high school – all boys.

The newspaper states that Edna had played first cornet for three years in Cedar Falls, but in the second article on the Correctionville band she is singled out as the solo trumpet with seven boys listed as playing cornets. Looking at the three images of the Ladies Concert Band, I believe she is the woman seated far right in the second rank, and that she is playing a trumpet and not a cornet. The difference is very subtle and not completely clear, but her instrument has a long slender shape compared to the short round cornet seen in the first ranks. If Edna's instrument was in fact a trumpet and not a cornet, she was on the cutting edge of how brass bands were evolving in the new 20th century. For decades prior, the cornet had been the principal solo band instrument but it lacked the brilliant tone color of the trumpet. By the 1940s the trumpet would takeover the lead position in bands of all kinds and today the cornet is played only rarely in wind ensembles, the one exception being the British Brass Band tradition. 

In 1908 Edna Straw was no doubt paid much less than a male teacher. And there was probably a clause in her contract that terminated her employment if she were to marry. Yet in the 1909 Alumni Registry for the Iowa State Normal School, Edna B. Straw was listed as Third Assistant Principal and Music Teacher for Correctionville.

That kind of success would dazzle the eyes too.

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Wendy said...

Well, I hope Edna wasn't the last Straw. Correctionville must have been a tough place to live -- a lot of implied pressure in that name.

La Nightingail said...

Quite an inspiring tale and great pictures. And look at high school & college bands now - totally coed with gals happily playing tubas along with the guys & everything else in between under both male & female band directors. School bands have come a long way, baby! Military bands as well.

Bob Scotney said...

Just for a moment I thought the school was a correction establishment. I wonder why school bands have not taken off in the UK as they have in America.

Postcardy said...

The oddest thing in the first photo is the row of thumb-sized women stuck between two other rows on the left.

Kristin said...

The more I looked at the first photograph, the weirder it was. Tiny little people overshadowed by giants, the band sliding off of the platform, a fix-up fail for sure.

jimcint said...

I'm with you until the comment about woman playing the trumpet. Likely, what she's playing is a so-called "long model" cornet. This was a new development at the time (made by Conn) and although it looks much like a trumpet, the bore profile, and sound are those of a cornet.

Karen S. said...

It sure does dazzle my eyes. School bands are a major thing over here, and some of our own local high school bands have made it to Washington D.C. to welcome in another four years for the winning president!

Mike Brubaker said...

You may be right, jimcint. Ordinarily I would assume all the high brass were cornets as there were several different designs for cornets and these are not ideal photos to see the details. I would also expect Professor FitzGerald made a deal with one of the big band instrument companies like Conn to purchase a full set of instruments for his college. But the report of Edna's high school band clearly labels her as playing Trumpet, which in this era was not the common term used. It is the earliest newspaper reference to Trumpet that I've seen that also used Cornet only one line down. So that is the context that sparked my speculation. I wish we could ask Edna.

Boobook said...

What on earth is a Normal School?

ScotSue said...

Wonderful photographs - and dresses.

Jo Featherston said...

A fine series of photos of the Iowa Normal School Ladies' Band.I don't know why they were called Normal Schools, but they had them in New Zealand too, and referred to schools used for teacher training.

anyjazz said...

That first photograph is really odd. It must be a cut and paste arranged to fit in the space of a post card. And it's still strange to think of a time when co-ed schools were unheard of.

Jackie van Bergen said...

The first image is a bit like looking through those 'distortion' glasses or mirror.
Well done Edna - quite an achievement in those times.

Little Nell said...

I love that the line on the postcard gave you the title of the post-and so apt too.


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