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 }

Sticks with Music

08 January 2016

"He better get on the stick!" is an odd American expression used to strongly suggest "get back to work!" However these three men take the meaning of work to a new height by literally getting on a stick. Seeming to fly through the air with arms outstretched, they defy gravity by balancing their torsos on the point of a very long pole. We can assume by their turbans and the ornate Taj Mahal like palace backdrop behind them that they are from India.

Such a feat of equilibrium could only be improved with music. Indian music.
And maybe an elephant too.

Below the three flying men on sticks are three more men holding the sticks. They are accompanied by three turbaned musicians. One has slung over his shoulder a Dhol, a double-headed drum common throughout India. It produces a deep thrumming tone on one end and a high metallic tone on the other. The sticks are both different too, with a heavy J-shaped bass stick and a slender treble stick for more rapid whip like rhythms. 

Quadruple Reed of a Shehnai

The other two musicians have Shehnai, a woodwind instrument with a shawm type reed that sounds a bit like an oboe. However the vibrations are produced not from a double reed like the oboe, but a quadruple reed. This allows the player to bend the pitch over a two octave range into the distinctive scales used in Indian music. Consequently the quadruple reed takes a lot of abuse and must be frequently changed. Shehnai players usually keep a string of fresh reeds hanging from the instrument to replace the ones that wear out in performance.   


The fool full effect of the pole balancers, pole holders, and musicians is even more breathtaking if not surreal in the whole street view of this postcard. Though shadows show that they are outdoors, the background is clearly a painted flat stage set. The white elephant is a sculpture and looks very lifelike. This group is Indian, but they are not in India. They are actually in Germany as performers in a German circus, advertised on the back of the card as:
Gustav Hagenbeck's größte indische Völkerschau der Welte -
Gustav Hagenbeck's largest Indian folk show in the world. 

The card was posted from Berlin on 29 September 1913 by Ernst to his Aunt Veronika Becker


One hundred years ago, exotic music and fantastic stunts were the specialties of circuses. You would never believe it unless you saw it with your own eyes. Today it is at our fingertips on YouTube, which is where I found this video of  a Northern India folk music group performing traditional Indian music on Shehnai and Dhol.

Stick balancing must have cost extra.



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is on the ball this weekend.


Jo Featherston said...

Balancing on those sticks looks like it could be extremely painful, whether accompanied by music or not! I've never heard of that expression, 'get on the stick'.

Wendy said...

Now that's a different kind of pole dancing! It looks like an act by Cirque du Soleil.

Terri @ Coloring Outside the Lines said...

That's very interesting, but looks painful! I have heard the expression, and thought it meant get busy doing what you are supposed to be doing- or quit lollygagging around.

Karen S. said...

Wow, this is just amazing, thanks for sharing it with us.

Kristin said...

The dancer/musician group look to be enjoying themselves. Looks like a dance even I could learn to do.

L. D. said...

I can not imagine what device those guys were wearing under their shorts. They had to have some metal plate to prevent the poles from damaging internal organs. A very interesting array of photos with great stories.

Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

I enjoyed your reveal of a piece of the card at a time. I share the others interest in how you balance your weight like that on a stick.
Looks uncomfortable to say the least.

La Nightingail said...

An interesting, informative, and fun post as always. And I actually saw a ball in the one picture - a very small one underneath the quadruple reed on the instrument. :)

geeviclady said...

Music or no music I don't think I'll be applying for balance-on-a-stick school :-) - boundforoz

Titania Staeheli said...

How extraordinary and exotic the music, the performance of then and now.

Little Nell said...

One shudders to thnk what might have happened if the stick slipped! What great photos.

Sharon said...

We don't use this expression in Australia. Your posts are always very interesting and informative.


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