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 }

Stand Partners, A Postcard Romance

20 October 2017

A micro story contrived from two postcards.

It's the great mystery. Who will it be? When will you meet? Where will it happen? Questions endlessly replayed but never answered. You just don't know. So you dream. You hope. You go back to practicing your violin. Scales are so boring.

You think you know what it will feel like. It will be a kind of kinship in sound. An affinity for music that mirror's your own sensibility, your passion, even your very breath. Or maybe just in tune. With most of the right rhythms.

So you wait. There's no worry. Time passes slowly. Perhaps in a couple of months. Maybe a few years. Surely not forever?

Then one day you notice something. There's a hint of shy rapport from a name and face you've known for a while, yet somehow never sensed before. A new familiarity that's comfortable and fun. The violins dance. The upbows and downbows cavort across the strings. Cellos and violas blend together and pick up the tune. The orchestra sings with wonderful fervor. Notes fit together like dovetails on a wooden box. 

So one day, February 23, 1912 to be exact, you take a chance. A postcard photo with just a simple wish. “Many happy returns of the day. Jerrie.”  That's wouldn't seem too forward, too presumptive, would it?

And quickly, without effort, a tiny spark kindles a glow that builds from flicker to flame. Your mystery dissolves in the bright light of companionship. The Who becomes a him. The When flips tense from future to past. And the Where turns out to be closer than you'd ever imagine. 

Unlocking the mystery brings a treasure. Another photo card and a handsome one too, with an unmistakable inscription. “To the Harmony Girlie - From the Melody Boy - Q_ Young

So that's how it happens. The perfect stand partner doesn't just appear. They've always been there. The strangeness is that you can't remember if there ever was a before. It's as if the two were always one. Harmony and melody intertwined. As it was always meant to be.

* * *

These two violinists, girl and boy,
to my knowledge never actually met.

But they could have.

The only clues to their identity
are what you see here.
So now, sweethearts or not,
my imagined postcard romance
will have them play as stand partners forever.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone waits for that special someone.

Xylophon Kinder part 2

13 October 2017

I think it's the tilt of her head
that makes the photo's composition so charming.
Her name is Gret'l Bode,
age 8, maybe 10,
and she sits beside her instrument, a xylophone
atop a beautifully carved end table.
Her second instrument, a violin,
which appears to have frets like a guitar,
rests on the floor between the table legs.
She's dressed in a dirndl frock,
a traditional Tyrolean folk costume.

The postcard caption reads:
Grüß Gott! :-: Zum Andenken an Gret'l Bode :-: Grüß Gott!
Xylophon-, Tubaphon- und Schoßgeigen- Künstlerin
überall Zügkraft! ::-:: Diplom von der direktion
des Grand Zillerthal, Brüssel

Good Day! :-:  For souvenirs of Gret'l Bode :-: Good Day!
Xylophone, Tubaphone (with metal tubes) and Castle violin artist
Attractive everywhere! ::-::

Diploma from the Directorate
of Grand Zillerthal, Brussels

Gret'l is one of the many Xylophon Kinder
who were popular child entertainers
in Germany and Austria
at the beginning of the 20th century.
The xylophone children in Part 1 were
dated around 1913-1915 by postmarks on the cards.
Gret'l Bode's was never mailed
but based on the cheap paper
it probably dates to the war years 1914-1918.


Her instrument was called a Xylophon,
but the arrangement of the tuned wooden bars
is very different from the modern xylophone and marimba
which follow a standard keyboard system
with bass notes on the left and treble on the right.

With this percussion instrument the bars are turned 90°
and the bass notes are closest to the player
with the treble farthest away.
This detail shows how the bars are closely woven together.
In the background are a set of handbells.
They belong to the Geschwister Stehle
i.e. the Stehle sister and brother.

The two Stehle children are about age 8 and 12
and they hold little mallets
poised above two xylophones.
A third one is on another table in between.

There is no date on this postcard but there is on the next.

A penciled message gives a date of 17 Oct 1920,
while the postcard caption says this boy's  name is Otto Stehle.
He may be the missing brother for the third table
or he might be the same boy but in a younger photo.


This next brother and sister Xylophon Virtuosen act
are named Harry (?) and Vera Gläsner.
They appear about ages 13 and 16.
and are dressed in white tie and tails.
Their xylophones rest on trapezoidal tables
that look like they might double
as folding cases for the instruments.
There is no postmark, but the back does have
an agent's address in Berlin.
The style of photo postcard likely dates
Gläsner siblings to the 1920s.

* * *

My last example of  Xylophon Kinder
is Rita Lenz, 8 years old.
Her eyes were poorly retouched by the photographer
which gives her a rather alarming look.
Her short dress is a more conventional than folk style
and she wears high top white shoes
that resemble ice or roller skating shoes.

Her postcard was sent to Berlin on 26 July 1921.

The Xylophon, also known under its folk name,
Strohfiedel or Straw Fiddle
was a favorite instrument by many young entertainers.
There are still more to come
in Xylophon Kinder part 3.

Meanwhile here's a delightful video
of Josef Ost,
85 years young,
performing Souvenir de Cirque Renz,
aka Zirkus Renz,
by Gustave Peter (
1833 – 1919),
a xylophone performer and composer
remembered only for his one big hit.
This is the music that I'm certain
every Strohfiedel Kinder knew by heart.

(click the full screen icon for a better view)



And for an even more impressive virtuoso
here is Xylophon soloist Bena Havlu
playing an arrangement of the familiar
Capriccio XXIV of



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where some kids study while other play.


06 October 2017

Do you ever have one of those days
that leaves you dumbfounded for words?

When terrible news
hits you in the face
with such force
that you are stunned
for something to say?

There must be a word for that feeling.


In 1904 affection, love, and maybe consolation
led Germaine Perriolat to send a thousand caresses
to Gaston Perriotlat, an electrician
who lived in Espelette,
a commune in southwest France
in the department of the Basses-Pyrénées.

* * *

Sometimes the bad news is enough
to give you a stomachache
trying to understand
the reasons why.

Hermann Funke,
das bergische Unikum
the Rarity from Bergisches Land
(North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany)
knew what that felt like in 1908.

* * *

The pain becomes
almost unbearable agony.
A complaint that gripped
Emil Reimer
der Urkomische
the Hilarious
with great discomfort.

But there was a lot
to complain about
in October 1917.

* * *

No matter the reason
it feels so unfair, so unjust,
that you just want to cry.

A sentiment shared with Fräulein Marie Krist
who lived in Wien, Austria in 1902.

Since ancient times
comedy mirrors the twin face of tragedy.
Suffering brings grief
but laughter gives us balance
to endure the never-ending cycle of life.

We live in difficult times.
Try to be of good cheer.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where maybe someone else has more to say.

Music for Monks

29 September 2017

It's called
the King of Musical Instruments.
And like a king,
it is all powerful.
From ethereal flutes of angels
to thundering blasts of great winds,
it c
ommands our attention
with majestic authority.
It is the pipe organ,
the most complex musical instrument
ever devised by man.

This example has four manuals or keyboards
each with 5 octaves of 60 pitches.
Dozens of smaller buttons
control the mixtures and stops.

On the right side are 80 large tabs called stops
which control which rank of pipes will be
activated by the four keyboards.
In between are 280 smaller buttons
that determine different combinations
for the organ sound colors.
Which goes better with the Rohrflöte?
Klein-Spitzflöte, the Fernflöte,
or the Hohlflöte

The left side has another 80 stops
with 260 smaller buttons.
A piano is a percussive keyboard instrument
that uses felt hammers to strike metal wire strings.
The pipe organ however is a wind keyboard instrument
because all the sounds are made by air
vibrating through a collection
of tubes, pipes, reeds, and flutes.
That air is triggered
by thousands of switch mechanisms,
each activated by the organist
for every pitch.

Beneath the main keyboard is the pedalboard
with 36 levers played by the organist's feet.
This three octave chromatic range
covers the bass notes in organ music
which are written on a third music staff
below the two staves used for the right and left hand.
Above the pedalboard are
27 more organ stops triggered 
by levers instead of buttons.
On the right are seven foot pedals
that operate swells and shades
that open and shut
the enclosure around the organ pipes
giving the organist
more musical expression and dynamics
for the various organ timbres.

The intricate construction
necessary to manage
such a complicated machine,
using carefully calculated systems
for acoustic, pneumatic, and mechanical engineering,
made organ building
the supreme technology
of earlier centuries.

This organ keyboard resides
in a country well known
for manufacturing precision devices,


One the back of the postcard is a caption:
Spieltisch der grossen Orgel
in der Stiftskirche Engelberg erbaut 1926

Keydesk of the great organ
in the church of St. Engelberg built in 1926

The organ occupies one wall of the chapel of the Engelberg Abbey (German: Kloster Engelberg), a Benedictine monastery in Engelberg, Switzerland. It is the largest pipe organ in Switzerland with 137 registers and 9,097 pipes. The first version of the great organ was completed in 1877 by Friedrich Goll, and had only 50 registers and three manuals (keyboards). In 1926 the console shown on this photograph was installed when the organ underwent a major modification that expanded the organ stops to 134 registers. A restoration in 1993 added three more sets of registers. The longest organ pipe is 9.06 meters (29' 8") while the smallest measures only 5 mm (3/16").

The organ pipes are arranged in a balcony above the western doorway of the chapel nave, with the organ console hidden behind a screen.

Engelberg Abbey grosse Orgel
Source: Wikimedia

The Engelberg Abbey was founded in 1120 by Blessed Konrad von Sellenbüren. The interior of the abbey's church is decorated in a brilliant white Rococo style. 

Engelberg Abbey
Source: Wikimedia

The Engelberg Abbey is still maintained as a Benedictine monastery and a boarding school. Though pillaged by the French in 1798, the abbey's library ironically contains a complete set of the writings of Martin Luther.

In recent times it also the base of the Academia Engelberg Foundation, a Swiss foundation in the Canton of Obwalden that promotes international dialogue on how scientific, technological and ecological knowledge influence the values of society.

Engelberg Abbey
Source: Wikimedia

Google Maps provides a 360° interior view
of the Engelberg Abbey Chapel
so that we can see the altar
and splendid ceiling.



Situated nearly in the center of Switzerland, the town's name translates directly as Angel Mountain. The principal industry of Engelberg's 4,134 citizens is tourism, as the elevation of the Engelberg Abbey chapel is 1,013 m (3,323 ft) while to the south is Mount Titlis at 3,238 m (10,623 ft). However the better vista is northeast with the snow covered Lauchernstock in center, the Ruchstock to the left, and the Gross Gemsispil to the right.

Engelberg, Switzerland
Source: Wikimedia

Once again Google Maps provides
a spectacular 360° exterior view
of Engelberg during a colder season.
The abbey is across the river to the right.



My instrument, the horn, requires only good lips, three fingers and a thumb, and a decent ear to make music, one note at a time. Unfortunately hornists have perpetuated a myth that our instrument is the "most difficult" to play, which is patently false. Every musical instrument can be both hard or easy to play well, as it all depends on what kind of sound you want to make.

But the pipe organ belongs to a special class of difficulty. The technology of organ building is really not much different than it was in the time of Johann Sebastian Bach. It's just that now there are more choices of sound timbres and better electrical actions to replace the old wooden and metal mechanisms. But to play organ music properly, an organist must be as familiar with the organ console as a pilot of a jet airliner. They must be able to juggle musical rhythms and notes across multiple keyboards using 10 fingers and both feet. They can only practice their instrument in one specific acoustical space and then only when it is not being used as a place of worship. And they do this usually while seated with their back to the choir and the audience. What other instrument requires rear view mirrors!

Truly, the pipe organ is the King of Instruments.


As a coda to this story of a postcard,
let's listen to a short piece
played on the grossen Orgel
of the Kloster Engelberg.
It is the Choral Prelude
Christ lag in Todesbanden BWV 625
by Johann Sebastian Bach
played by Timur Deininger



This next video of the great organ of the Engelberg Abbey
demonstrates a very different kind of organ music.
It is called Volumina
by the Hungarian avant-garde composer
György Ligeti (1923-2006)
and is performed by Père Patrick Ledergerber.
The music has no melody or counterpoint
but instead is an atonal work
about the soundscape that a pipe organ creates.
The performer is at liberty to improvise
based on the composer's instructions
and diagrammed shapes of effects.
Think of it as a great abstract art form
describing the primal nature of sound.



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you never know who is at the controls.

The Lake Park Cornet Band

22 September 2017

It's the first thing you notice.
His tall bearskin hat
nearly as fuzzy
as his whiskers.
He's the drum major,
and even without his hat
he is still a hand taller
than the other bandsmen.

They're outdoors in a typical brass band formation
lined up with low brass on one side
and high brass including
a little treble E-flat clarinet
on the other.

The bandsmen wear a simple uniform jacket
with Civil War type forage caps.
About half have mustaches
while the rest are clean-shaven.
Only the drum major has a beard.

One musician is too young
to be thinking of tonsorial fashions.
A few steps in front of the drum major
stands a boy dressed
in velveteen short pants and cadet cap.

He is perhaps age five or six.
Tucked under his left arm is, I believe, a cornet.

Just behind him is the bass drum
turned to show the band's name
stenciled on the drum head.

Lake Park Cornet Band

Befitting their name
the band of 15 men and 1 boy
are posed against a body of water
seen in the misty background.
The town lake perhaps?

It's an early cabinet card with a faded albumen print.
Like all the scanned images on my blog,
I've improved the contrast and enriched the sepia tone
through the magic of photo software.

The photographer's backstamp shows
a flying cherub holding
an artist's palette and brushes in one hand
and a wooden bellows camera in the other.

W. O. Bergerson
Albert Lea

The town of Albert Lea, Minnesota, is near Minnesota's southern border with Iowa and situated at the crossroads of Interstates 35 and 90. Settled in 1858, it was named after Albert Miller Lea, a US Army engineer and topographer who in 1835 surveyed southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. But after the Civil War, the town flourished because it became the intersection of the S. M. and M. & St. L. railroads (Southern Minnesota and Minneapolis and St. Louis Railways). In the 1878 Minnesota Gazetteer Albert Lea was described as having a population of 2,300 inhabitants. It boasted of a flour mill, planing mill, foundry, 3 steam-powered grain elevators, 7 churches, a graded school with four teachers, two banks, 5 hotels, an opera house, three different telegraph agencies, and two newspapers. It claimed to export considerable wheat, cattle, and hogs. Mail was delivered 6 times a day.

It also had a photographer, William O. Bergerson, who paid extra to get his name printed in bold.

1878 Minnesota Gazetteer
Source: Google Books

Even though Bergerson's photo shows the location of his studio, it's always nice to get corroboration with a full name. Clearly in 1878 Albert Lea, MN had good connections to the Midwest's larger urban centers which made it a fairly prosperous place to live. Certainly an ideal community for an ambitious photographer and a brass band.

By good fortune one of Albert Lea's two newspapers has been digitized on with hundreds of searchable copies from 1870 through 1900. A search for "cornet band " produced a number of references to its own town bands, but none of them were named the "Lake Park Cornet Band." But more concerning was that Wm. O. Bergerson, photographer, also did not appear in the Albert Lea newspapers.

* *

In fact there is a Lake Park, Minnesota, but it's up near Fargo, North Dakota, over 300 miles to the north northwest of Albert Lea. Though some town brass bands did occasionally travel to nearby towns,  it seems very unlikely that this small band would venture so far south. Perhaps there was another reason.

Perhaps the band did not move, but the photographer did.

In the 1880s the publishing houses of Chicago made a lot of money putting out regional gazettes and biographical encyclopedias. One such compendium printed in 1889 came with a title so long it wouldn't fit on the book spine.

Illustrated Album of Biography of the Famous Valley of the Red River
of the North and the Park Regions of Minnesota and North Dakota
published by Alden, Ogle, & Co. Chicago 1889
Source: Google Books

The Illustrated Album
of the Famous Valley of the Red River
of the North and the Park Regions
including the most Fertile and Widely Known Portions
of Minnesota and North Dakota.
Containing Biographical Sketches
of Hundreds
of Prominent Old Settlers
and Representative
with a Review of their Life Work
their Identity with the Growth and Development
of these Famous Regions
Reminiscences of Personal History and Pioneer Life
and other Interesting and Valuable Matter
which should be Preserved in History

published by Alden, Ogle, & Co. Chicago 1889

* *

On page 590 of the 845 page book was a biographical sketch of William O. Bergerson, a resident of the village of Lake Park, Becker County, Minnesota where he is engaged in the photographer's art. It continues with a detailed summary of his Norwegian parents and grandfather who emigrated to America in 1845, settling first in Decorah, Iowa before moving north in 1865 to Albert Lea, MN. In 1875, at about the age of 20, William O. Bergerson went to Chicago for a year.where he trained as photographer. On his return he opened a studio in Albert Lea, but in 1879 moved to Lake Park. There he opened the first permanent gallery in the village with all the modern improvements in apparatus and fixtures. He has a large class of customers and turns out some of the best work to be secured in that part of the State. 

Mr Bergerson was married in 1881 to Miss Nettie Clawson, a native of Albert Lea Minnesota and the daughter of Peter Anna Clawson, Mr and Mrs Bergerson have been blessed with two children Amelia and Jessie. Mr Bergerson is independent in political matters reserving the right to vote for the best man regardless of party lines He has held the offices of justice of the peace, town clerk, and has been a member of the village council. Mr Bergerson is a man of the strictest honor and integrity, and is highly esteemed by all who know him. He is one of the substantial business men of the village and is actively interested in all local matters 

In June 1880 the village of Lake Park had a population of 529, not even a quarter the size of Albert Lea. Yet they were a pretty healthy lot as the 1880 census asked the enumerator to record the general health of each individual. Out of 529 residents, only 2 were listed as sick, and the station agent had a broken leg.

The twelve pages of its census records are filled with people of Norwegian and Swedish decent, either first or second generation, with a smaller number of people from Canada, Ireland, and Germany along with a few from Eastern and Midwestern states. On page 3 is W. O. Bergerson, age 27, boarding at a farmer's house, single, occupation: Potographer. (sic). Given the population, it's not difficult to imagine that young Mr. Bergerson eventually took portrait photos of every man, woman, and child in the entire village.

1880 US Census - Lake Park, MN

So if in 1880, William O. Bergerson was still settling in at Lake Park, he probably was using up his old stock of cabinet cards imprinted for Albert Lea clients. With the dates from his biography, which he surely wrote up himself and paid the Alden, Ogle, & Co. a fee for its entry, it seems reasonable that the photo of the Lake Park Cornet Band was taken around 1879-1881.

Brass bands like the Lake Park Cornet Band played an important part in American small town culture, especially in the vast plains of the Midwest. It could be achingly lonely out on the prairie where farms were typically miles apart and it was a day's wagon ride into the local village. Music became an important link for developing a social bond of neighbors, either as a players or as listeners. Every community event required a concert of live music. Church socials, school dances, and patriotic celebrations needed music. I think this photo was taken on one of those occasions, on a summer day when the whole village of Lake Park turned out to hear their Cornet Band perform. A day of remembrance like  the 4th of July or Memorial Day.

There's a very small clue pinned to the coat of the hirsute drum major, a small medal with an upturned 5 pointed star. The symbol for the Grand Army of the Republic, the fraternal organization for Union Army veterans of the Civil War.

Grand Army of the Republic Medal
Source: Wikipedia

In 1880 the end of the war was only 15 years in the past. The centennial of the United States was only 4 years earlier, as was the Battle of Little Big Horn, where General Custer and Chief Sitting Bull became symbols for the struggle of the American Native Peoples. And Lake Park is actually only a short distance from the White Earth Indian Reservation, the largest Indian reservation in Minnesota established in 1867 for the Ojibwe native people. It was a time when even small villages out on the prairie paid close attention to the affairs of the world, and commemorated the memory of difficult times. The music of the Lake Park Cornet Band made those celebration days special.

* * *

The state of Minnesota proudly promotes its many lakes, 10,000 by the state nickname. The official number is 11,842 for lakes 10 acres or more. But if smaller lakes 2.5 acres or more are included the count reaches 21,871. Around Lake Park my simplistic estimate using Google Maps is over a hundred bodies of water within a roughly 5 mile radius. This Google Street View shows Becker County Hwy 9 which runs northeast between Lake Park's two principal lakes, Duck Lake and LaBelle Lake. The gentle grassy slopes in the near distance look like a good place to hold a band concert.

* *

* *

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone can play I Spy.

Woodwinds at the Lake

16 September 2017

What can be more relaxing
on an afternoon by the lake
than listening to the mellifluous sound
of a bassoon?

Why listening to two bassoons!

This anonymous double reed duo
and their charming assistant
sit on a weedy lawn
by some unknown body of water.

The date is unknown
but to judge by the two gentlemen's
wool trousers, waistcoats,
and pocket watch
they are lost in time somewhere
between 1910 and 1930.

They have the look of professional bassoonists
who might be practicing any number
of orchestral duets for bassoons.
But I'm sure they would recognize
the familiar music performed in this video.



Georgie Powell & Thomas Dulfer perform Largo al factorum from The Barber of Seville
composed by Gioachino Rossini and arranged for two bassoons by Bram van Sambeek.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where if the fish aren't biting,
there's always a good story to tell.


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