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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Men with Hats — A Reprise

28 June 2018

Top hats. Where have they gone?
Today's modern orchestra musicians,
that is the gentlemen in the symphony,
still dress
for concerts
in a formal suit of white tie and tailcoat
that has changed little since the early 19th century.

Yet we got rid of the hat.

Sometimes called a stove pipe hat, a topper,
or a zylinder in German, a top hat must have been
a lot of bother to keep clean.
As its shape does not easily balance on a coat hook,
was there a special wardrobe shelf
backstage for musicians to store them?
Did men write their names inside the hats
so as to keep them from getting mixed up?

Inquiring minds want to know.

And what were the rules?
Surely top hats were worn
only for outdoor performances.
But even for morning concerts?
Was it bowler hats until 4:55
and top hats after 5?

And what about top hat styles?
Shiny silk or matte finish?
Wide band or narrow?
Gray for spring/summer
and black for autumn/winter?
Could a section player's hat
be taller than the leader's?
Did players keep their sheet music
rolled up in the hat?

And did the tradition of musical top hats
stop altogether at one time,
or did some musicians
hold out longer for the old manly fashion?

This dapper bunch of 24 top hatted gentlemen
were called the

West Riding Imperial Orchestra,
Military Section.
Garratt, Phot.

They were musicians
from West Riding County in Yorkshire, England,
most likely the city of Leeds,
which is where their postcard was printed.
Though captioned an "orchestra", there is
just one string player, a double bassist,
so this ensemble is actually a concert band instrumentation
with flute, oboe, five clarinets, alto saxophone,
two bassoons (a mark of a military band),
two horns (the second one hidden behind the first),
two cornets, three trombones, euphonium, two tubas,
string bass, and two percussionists.
(The second drummer is the musician without instrument,
third row right. Perhaps he played the bell chimes on the left.)

This post is a slight improvement
on a post originally published

on 18 December 2009 as Men with Hats

With their high class chapeaus
this band bears a strong resemblance to
The Band at Scarborough Spa
which I wrote about in May 2012.

Though I've been unable to find anything specific
on the West Riding Imperial Orchestra,
I believe their photo dates from around 1905-1914.
At first I assumed they were standing at a band stand,
but I now
think the West Riding Imperial Orchestra's photo

was taken in the Canal Gardens of Roundhay Park in Leeds,
on the steps to John Barran's Drinking Fountain.

Canal Gardens, Roundhay Park, Leeds
Source: The Internets

A tiny bit of curved dentil molding appears in between
the tuba and trombone on the top row right.
I think it matches the arched drinking fountains
at Roundhay Park in Leeds.

And speaking of drinking,
did the Military Section of
the West Riding Imperial Orchestra
have a favorite pub?
Were top hats allowed?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone loves a brass band.


Barbara Rogers said...

Great take off on the meme! I was waiting with baited breath to see what you came up with! You did not let me down!

Mollys Canopy said...

Nice post and teriffic top hats. Women used hat boxes back in the day...I wonder if me did as well? In old movies, top-hatted gentleman arriving at clubs/restaurants usually invert the hat, drop in their gloves and hand it to the hat check staff. Perhaps these hats were stored upside down at home? Or on the road? So many questions to ponder from your single post card!

Susan Kelly said...

Dapper, indeed. Great style, which is now lost.

La Nightingail said...

Ah yes. They were putting on their top hats, tying up their white ties, brushing off their tails, duding up their shirt fronts, putting in shirt studs, polishing up their nails. :) Neat post. Men do look glamorous wearing top hats!

Kathy Morales said...

I think I hesitated to begin this week because who can cover a band better that you? And I realized that if I had paid better attention, I would have learned from you that a cornet band was not a band comprised exclusively of cornets!

Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

Great sleuthing as always. Such a tiny bit of molding gives away the location. Did they
write their names in their hats?


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