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 Lofty Piccolo

19 April 2018

It's simple.
Take a very short wooden tube,
stopper one end, cut a few holes,
and blow.

It makes a delightful whistle,
a charming bird song,
or a banshee shriek from Hades.
(At least it does when one is played into your ear)

It's called a piccolo.

This piccolo belonged to a musician from Livermore, California,
a city just east of San Francisco  and Oakland.
A slender man with a dapper mustache,
he is dressed in a fine uniform
decorated with knotted braid toggle buttons.
His cap has a  badge with the initials L.C.B.
which likely stand for Livermore Cornet Band.
The cabinet card photo was taken by
G. F. Madison
of Livermore, CA.

Sacramento CA Record-Union
04 May 1888

In May 1888, the Livermore Cornet Band
played a special evening concert
when the town's streets were lit up for the first time
with ten Waterhouse electric lights.

The band was established sometime around 1884
and continued to perform until 1908.
The scalloped edges of the piccolo player's cabinet card
were a fashion from 1889 into the 1890s.

* * *

The modern piccolo is 12 inches long
making it in the key of C,
one octave higher than the flute.
But 19th century bands
used slightly shorter piccolos in D-flat,
which are no longer found in wind ensembles.
This may be because it is very strange key with 5 flats,
which could just as easily be in C-sharp with 7 sharps.
Who wants that kind of
transposition headache?

Like the first example, this piccolo has a similar ivory head-joint
with the keyed body in Black Granadilla wood.

It was the instrument of a bandsman
from Bristol, Rhode Island
who sports a splendid soup-strainer mustache.
His military style uniform
has three rows of brass buttons,
a Sam Brown belt, and a plumed shako.
The belt buckle may have an embossed eagle
which would be the sign of a US Army regimental band,
but unfortunately the camera's focus was on the piccolo.

The photographer of this cabinet card was
E. V. Dailey
36 State St.
Bristol, R.I.

* * *

This last piccolo is made entirely in blackwood
with a silver lip plate and very simple keywork.
This piccoloist is not dressed in a band uniform
but instead wears a formal tailcoat.
His mustache, like his oiled hair,
is carefully groomed.
His name was George.

He appears to be a professional musician
of a theater orchestra, or maybe even a symphonic orchestra.
as he has chosen to sit with his music stand next to him.
Regrettably the camera did not capture his sheet music clearly.

The cabinet card was produced at the studio of
No. 4 Greene St.
Trenton, N. J.

There is no date but it's likely made in the early 1890s.

Cousin Sallie

Please send yours back.

Whether in a band marching in a parade, or in an orchestra playing a Tchaikovsky symphony, the piccolo, the highest of trebles, is capable of playing thrilling melodies that easily carry over the sound of a hundred other instruments. Perhaps the piccolo tune best known by people around the world was composed by John Philip Sousa for his famous march, The Stars and Stripes. However Sousa's march was not performed until May 1897 which was likely several years after my three piccolo players had their pictures taken. Nonetheless I feel certain that all three eventually learned to love that moment when the piccoloist got to stand up for a solo. 

Let's hear a stirring rendition by a band
with best uniforms ever,
as the 1st Marine Division Band
plays "Stars and Stripes Forever"
at an evening colors ceremony
at Camp Pendleton, SC.on September 29, 2011

Cpl Philips plays the piccolo solo,
though evidently he needs to play it a few more times
before he has it memorized.

* * *

* * *

Usually a band or an orchestra only needs one piccolo player
to balance the sound of a full ensemble.

But in Austintown, Ohio, which celebrates the 4th of July early,
the Canfield Community Concert Band
played a concert on June 27, 2017
with dozens of piccolo players
from eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and West Virginia
joining in on the famous piccolo solo.

* * *

* * *

I can't help imagining
a gigantic flock of patriotic starlings
swooping down over the concert audience.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where Queens Gambit doesn't always lead to checkmate.


Alan Burnett said...

An encyclopaedic walk around the humble piccolo - as entertaining and uplifting as always.

Barbara Rogers said...

Oh my, there were startling starlings tweeting on all those piccolos definitely! I have always enjoyed hearing the little one in any orchestral pieces...they aren't lost.

La Nightingail said...

My youngest daughter played the flute in her high school band. At one point she mentioned she might like to try playing the tuba (the BIG mamas!). We winced, but left the decision up to her. Thank heaven she opted for the piccolo instead! Loved the videos - especially the one with the piccolo chorus of kids. What a kick (and they were all so right on the money with their playing. Amazaing! I love bands. I love orchestras and choruses too, but bands just have that extra 'something' that gets me right in the heart. :)

Avid Reader said...

When I was a child I was fascinated by the piccolo.

Postcardy said...

I was thinking of a big flock of birds when listening to the Piccolo Palooza.

Molly's Canopy said...

That's some Piccolo Palooza! I also found myself scanning the sky for birds :-) A fascinating history of this small instrument. Particularly enjoyed that the band was called out to celebrate the turning on of the town lights. Today a band would more likely be called on to celebrate the dimming of those lights overnight to save energy :-)

Kathy said...

I always look forward to the piccolo solo! Although dozens may be a few too many?

tony said...

size isn't everything ! And I bet the piccolo is easier to march with on a hot day!
Plus (most important) a lovely sound.


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