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 }

More Ladies in White

31 December 2010

Here is a special photo for the close of  2010 - Seven ladies in matching white dresses, awaiting an audience for their chamber music.

Once again, an anonymous photograph that offers no clues for place or date except their smiles. This is a very large studio print from an American photographer who had a very good camera to capture all the detail of such wonderful gowns. My guess for a time frame, based on their hairstyles, is the 1890's. Note the wooden flute on the left.  The string bass is also an unusual instrument for such a small chamber ensemble. Perhaps they are a school "orchestra".

What kind of music repertoire did they play?

Werner Fuetterer

19 December 2010

What makes a successful soundtrack for a Hollywood blockbuster? The sound of the horn. Film music draws from operatic traditions, and no instrument conveys more  dramatic emotions than the horn.

But how many movies actually have a character who plays the horn?  This trivia question has no easy answer. But if you knew German film history, you'd say, "Der Sohn der Hagar - with Werner Fuetterer of course."

This photo is a promotional postcard published by the Ross Verlag company of Berlin. They produced thousands of cards depicting the many celebrities of the early German film industry of the 1920's and 30's. The last production of Ross Verlag cards ended, perhaps understandably, in 1944, but people still try to collect them all! History of Ross Verlag Cards
Werner Fuetterer was number 1925/1 on this card from the 1927 silent movie, Der Sohn Der Hagar - The Son of Hagar, directed by Fritz Wendhausen. It was Werner's 13th film appearance and one of 11 movies he made in that year! And he was only 20 years old. Werner Fuetterer (come on, let's say it 3 times fast!) was born in 1907 and successfully capitalized on his handsome looks to negotiate the transition of silent films to sound. Until his death in 1991, he made over 97 movies, the last in 1976.  Wikipedia - Werner Fuetterer

In this photo, Werner portrays Robert Winter, a traveling musician in Der Sohn  der Hagar (1907) a novel written by Paul Keller. The title refers to the Bible story of Hagar, the Egyptian servant girl given to Abraham by his barren wife Sarah, so that she might give him a son. That boy is named Ishmael, and years later when Sarah finally bears a son, Isaac,  Abraham casts off Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness. You can look it up.  It's complicated.

Keller's tale is set in 1900 Silesia, a region of central Europe that was once part of Prussia and is now part of Poland and the Czech Republic. The story revolves around Robert, a horn player, who with three fellow musicians, wanders the countryside in search of work. But Robert carries the burden of a tragic past. His unwed mother died at his birth, and he does not know his father. 

His small band arrives in Teichau, where a kindly doctor tries to find them work. Robert is placed in the household of a man who is actually his father. And just like in the movies, there is a beautiful girl - Lore. She is the man's niece, and of course Robert falls in love with her. But it is not to be. 

Denied his love, Robert leaves for the big city; works in a toxic factory; catches a terminal lung disease; discovers his true parentage; tries to start up the band again; learns that Lore, now married, still loves only him; makes a vain effort to see her one last time; and dies.  Maybe I paraphrase a bit. Find more about it here: Der Sohn der Hagar

Here are two pages taken from the December 1931 issue of Filmwelt that give a retrospective on Werner Fuetterer's body of work up to that year, around 37 films. It shows the same photo but reversed for the aesthetic layout.

Not too shabby for an actor. Perhaps playing the horn gave him that sophisticated, classy air. Portraying a musician in the days of silent film should  have been easy, but what about the cinema orchestras? Did they have an accompaniment score for the movie that called for a real horn player?  Even finding a piano score would be a wonderful find. I'll keep looking.

You can find the original Paul Keller novel on Goggle Books. Der Sohn der Hagar was only published in German but  I ran parts of it through Google Translate. After the band splits up, Robert's three companions realize than they really need him.

A melody on the trumpet is "hard,"said the conductor. "By smashing pieces she is good, but for the love songs they attack (tättert) too much. Since the horn is better. We might find in a city hostel more horn blowers. Meanwhile, we manage with the trumpet."

For anyone interested in German Film history,
I found the FilmWelt magazine at

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday.
where the theme this weekend is a picture of Claude Raines from 1912.

My other contribution is a current February 2012 post on The Verdi Sextette
which is about a group of vaudeville musicians.

A Picnic Band

11 December 2010

Many years ago, my wife and I visited Beaufort, SC for a summer festival that celebrated the Gullah culture of the South Carolina and Georgia sea islands. The afternoon highlight was a concert by a traditional African-American brass band, what they called a Picnic Band. The band was not local but came from somewhere in the region, perhaps Orangeburg, SC if I recall correctly. They had about 10 brass players on cornets, trombones, and sousaphone along with a snare and bass drum. The group was of various ages but included two very elderly musicians who described their vanishing southern tradition that provided music for outdoor events like dances and church socials. Hence the term "Picnic Band".   More on Gullah

Years later, I came across this photo post card with a nearly identical band posing with their cornets, tenor horns, "trom" horns, and "bass" horns (as termed by the leader of the SC band),  along with two drums. Standing at the back right is the preacher too. The card was never posted and there is no writing on it, so it could be anywhere in the US but most likely is in the South. The stamp box is an AZO with corner triangles up and down so that gives an approximate date of 1910 to 1930. My guess is 1920 or so. The card is very faded, cracked and marked with tape residue, so I have corrected the image.

This lost musical form has a connection to the roots of jazz, but the band I heard did not play or improvise in a jazz manner. They played tunes more related to songs and dance styles of southern black churches. It was all memorized and mostly followed a formula of call and refrain, using unvarying tempos with solid march-like percussion. I remember the sousaphone was missing two button caps on the 2nd and 3rd valves, but since the player only used first valve the whole concert anyway, key changes were not important. It was definitely not dixieland but had more elements of ragtime and gospel styles. They made a wonderful kind of authentic folk music that seemed uncorrupted by any modern influences of jazz and pop music.

Did the band in this photo sound like that? Perhaps, but here they have music folios on their instruments. Were they playing a concert for a church social or perhaps it was a funeral or a wedding? Black musicians had a very restricted musical path in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. There was some work in circus and carnival bands, but for the most part they were excluded from theater and concert halls, and certainly so in the southern states.

The term "picnic band" is not a standard musical phrase. It's not in Wikipedia. But I think it accurately describes this kind of brass band tradition in African-American cultural life, and ought to be recognized. But finding photos and records like this are pretty rare.

Springfield (Mass) Boys

05 December 2010

The post this week is another duo. A studio photo of two young boys, undoubtedly brothers, dressed in short pants and high top shoes with violin and alto saxophone. It came in a nice presentation card folder marked Belkin's Studio, Springfield, MA. No other identification attached but it offers an exploration of another branch of photo history - the emigrant photographer.

Belkin turns out to be Mitchell Belkin, born in 1888 in Odessa, Russian. He emigrated to America in 1908 and the 1910 census shows his name as Mitchel Belkens. He set himself up as a photographer in Springfield, Massachusetts. His wife Sophia joins him in 1909, and by 1912 they are both listed as photographers in the city directory. And within a decade he has three locations in Springfield as shown in this clipping from the 1921 directory.

By the 1930 US census he and his family are no longer in Springfield but are found in Brooklyn, NY. His business in Springfield seems to have been sold but it still retained his name. His death in 1955 is recorded for Los Angeles, CA.

In the Brooklyn census, both Mitchell and Sophia are curiously listed as photographers, Jewish, and their "mother tongue" as Yiddish. A great example of the interesting details one can find in census records. They succeeded in the classic way of emigrants from Eastern Europe, finding a specialty market and providing a desirable service, in this case family photographs.

I think these two brothers are from a family of recent emigrants too. Maybe even Jewish. Though I like the fun mixture of the short stout violinist with his taller brother, I like even more the look of confidence that shows a very assured musician. It's how I imagine a young Issac Stern might have appeared, though I have no idea if Isaac Stern was such a cupcake when he was this age!

Recently I read a really great book - Violin Dreams by Arnold Steinhardt, who is the principal violin of the Guarneri String Quartet. It is a terrific autobiography of a concert violinist's education and musical development, describing his mentors and his lifelong quest for an instrument with just the right sound. It also includes a beautiful essay on Steinhardt's study and performance of Bach's Chaconne from the Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor.

A section early in the book describes his family's love of music and in particular the Jewish heritage of being a violinist. When I was reading it, I immediately remembered this photo. This is the same kind of boy, coming from the same tradition of music. OK, perhaps he is not Jewish , maybe Italian instead. But I still think there is a visible passion for music in this photo, and one that comes from an emigrant experience that put a very high value on music education.

Stoelzer & Blodeck - The Mozart Symphony Club

01 December 2010

Two musicians pose for a promotional photograph, but their instruments are not the typical violin and cello but something very different - a Viola d'Amore and a Viola da Gamba -  two antiquated string instruments that went out of fashion in the late 17th century. The players are Richard Stoelzer and Mario Blodeck from New York City, who were founding members of a chamber music group called the Mozart Symphony Club. This photo, by Geo. Schmitt of Cincinnati, OH was taken sometime around 1891-92, and probably used as a concert advertisement or souvenir.

Richard Stoelzer (1864 - 1947) was from Leipzig, Germany and came to the United States on tour in 1885 with the Royal Saxon Orchestra playing viola and clarinet. Unfortunately the orchestra tour failed and musicians were given a choice of returning to Germany or remaining in the US. Stoelzer stayed and found work in theaters and then with the Boston Symphony Orchestra Club. In 1891, he and Blodeck, who was also a German emigrant, formed the Mozart Symphony Club which played concerts programed around their novel instruments. Much more on Stoelzer and photos of his instruments can be found at this website. Richard Stoelzer Collection

The viola d'amore has 14 strings of which only 7 are played with the bow, while the others run below the finger board for sympathetic vibration. It has a flat back and no frets on the fingerboard. It was one of many varieties of early bowed string instruments that were popular during the renaissance and baroque periods.

The viola da gamba, or bass viol, goes back to medieval times and has 6 strings and a flat back. It was typically played in a consort of viols that came in different sizes from treble to bass. A  renaissance viol would have frets made of gut twine, tied around the fingerboard, but Mr. Blodeck's fingerboard is more like a cello without frets. Also both bows are not the style used during the baroque period and Blodeck holds his in the modern overhand position. These instruments, while suitable for music of their time, could not compete with the violin and cello for range of expression and dynamics and they were discarded by the early 19th century.

These two musicians are unique not so much for their instruments, but as  important pioneers in the development of chamber music in America. For 15 years they played theaters and halls in countless small towns and big cities. Concert announcements for the Mozart Symphony Club show up in hundreds of newspapers across North America:  Richmond, VA; Paducah, KY; Yakima, WA; Fort Worth, TX; Omaha, NE; Bismark, ND; as well as San Fransisco, Atlanta, Winnipeg, Boston and many others.

They traveled with an ensemble of about 10 players including vocal, violin, harp, flute and cornet soloists from 1891 to 1906. The musicians and programs seem to remain constant over the years, doing a medley of popular opera and light classics. Other instruments included in some programs were the Roman triumphal trumpet alpine echo horn, and saxophone. Given the hundreds of performances, I would bet they played from memory.

Occasionally they played with others, such as the famous violin soloist Maude Powell in Washington DC in 1891.  This clipping is from an 1891 Washington Sunday Herald.

The Mozart Symphony Club was promoted similar to the Chautauqua and Lyceum lecture concert series that were part of a growing educational and intellectual movement in 19th century America. Every group tried to distinguish itself from other traveling groups by using novelty and a great deal of hyperbole in press releases. But the two viol players represent the beginning interest in virtuoso Chamber music rather than "Early music", which came later in the 20th century. None of the programs include renaissance music or even much baroque music. No music of Purcell, Handel or Bach and really not much Mozart either. The goal of Stoelzer and Blodeck was entertainment, not historic performance practice. This clipping is from Daily Courier, Waterloo, Iowa in 1894.

This newspaper clipping comes from a Richmond VA Times of  1893 and includes brief bios of the performers and a description of  their instruments.

Herr Theodor Hoch, was the cornet soloist of the Mozart Symphony Club and continued with the group until it disbanded in 1906. The excerpt below  from a 1905 Paducah KY newspaper offers a glimpse of the personality and flair of these musicians. It describes how Hoch played at the 1896 Berlin exposition:

"Mr. Theodor Hoch has just returned from Berlin where he had been engaged at the exposition. Besides he gave other concerts in his native city, and everywhere he met with the warmest reception. The last day he went up 6,000 feet in a balloon, playing a cornet solo, starting with the "Star Spangled Banner", "Dixie Land" , etc. While descending he played the German national airs, but when he reached the ground he again played "Home Sweet Home". The applause which greeted him was deafening, people from far and near having gathered to hear him. His object in going into the balloon was to be able to judge the distance his instrument might be heard. Musicians who had come to hear him said every note could be heard distinctly, the effect being wonderful at times.

The Horn Section of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

20 November 2010

Of the many kinds of musician photographs, it is the action shot that is most rare. And photos of musicians as they perform in a symphony orchestra are even more unusual. So this photo naturally caught my attention as it shows an orchestra horn section at work. But there is another more interesting aspect of this photo. Each player holds a horn that is dramatically different, and represents an unusual variety of brass plumbing that would never be seen in an orchestra today.

The photo is a large press photo of the horn section of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra on their first US tour in 1951. The horn players from left to right, with their respective instruments:
  • Wolf  Sprecher - Czech (F/Bb Lidl)
  • Zvi Wegman - American/German (F/Bb Kruspe/Conn)
  • Georges Durand (principal) - French (F/Bb ascending Selmer)
  • Wolfgang Levy - German (F/Bb Alexander)
  • Horst Salomon - British/German (Single Bb/A Paxman/Alexander)
Each instrument design is characteristic of horns that were popular in the major European and American orchestra traditions of the 1950's. The Czech horn on the left, with a 4th valve oddly placed in the center of the valve cluster, was played mainly in Eastern Europe. The next horn is a German Kruspe horn, that was popularized by the Philadelphia Orchestra and became the design for America's Conn 8D horns. The center horn uses piston valves instead of rotary valves, and also has an unusual ascending third valve that goes contrary to most brass instruments by raising the pitch instead of lowering it. It was popular in France for most of the early 20th century. The next horn is an Alexander double horn which has been an iconic German design for over 150 years. And the last horn on the right is a single Bb horn, which though it might be an Alexander, was the smaller instrument used by British horn players like Dennis Brain and Alan Civil.

This is not to say that these players necessarily came from these national traditions, but they play a mixture of horns that would be extremely unusual today. Each horn has a distinctive timbre that must have made an unusual collective horn sound. Some horns like the Selmer piston valve and Czech Lidl are almost never used anymore, and the single Bb is used mainly for solo and chamber music.

The photo has a clipping and annotations from the Denver Post dated February 11, 1951. Only Georges Durand name was listed. 
Finding a list of the IPO musicians from this tour proved to be a challenge and I must thank Diane Ota, the Curator of Music at the Music Department of the Boston Public Library for providing me a copy of the musicians roster from the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra's 1951 tour program. I attach it here in case one day, someone else does a similar internet search. 

But what made this really special were three additional pages from the same program that showed photographs and names of every musician. They might even be their passport photos too.

The orchestra arrived in New York at the end of December 1950 and traveled for 3 months of concerts. This was their first tour of North America and they went from one coast to another and back, playing under Serge Koussevitzky (who would die in June 1951), and his protegee, Leonard Bernstein. The program included Prokofiev's 5th Sym. and Tchaikovsky's 4th Sym. At one point there was a personnel crisis when several musicians came down with flu, but the concerts managed to continue. This photo was printed in a Denver newspaper.

According to news sources, Wolfgang Levy, and Horst Salomon immigrated to Palestine from Germany in 1936 and become members of the Palestine Orchestra, the precursor to the IPO. Georges Durand, the principal horn, was French and according to the flight manifest only 25 years old at the time of the tour.

Put this orchestra tour into the context of the time and it becomes an extraordinary set of concerts. 1951 was only two years after Israel had achieved statehood following the first Arab-Israeli war. It was only 6 years after the horrors of WWII had ended, but the world was still coming to terms with the enormity of the Holocaust. The Korean War was rapidly escalating and the mission of the new United Nations was being threatened by Cold War politics for the first time. These musicians of the Israel Philharmonic were ambassadors in every sense of the word. Perhaps they were a mixed-up horn section but they were introducing the world to a unique musical diplomacy.

1951 IPO Principal Musicians

1951 IPO Section Wind Musicians


Since I posted this story about the Israel Philharmonic Horn Section of 1951, a wonderful documentary about the history of the orchestra has been released. It is called Orchestra of Exiles and tells the inspiring story of how Bronislaw Huberman (1882-1947) started the Palestine Symphony Orchestra in 1936 as a response to the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party by creating an orchestra in Palestine for refugee Jewish musicians to escape German fascism. Two of the horn players were original members of that first orchestra. Horst Salomon was previously first horn of the Berlin Orchestra Jüdische Kulturbund. and Wolf Sprecher played horn with the Saarbrücken Opera and Municipal Orchestra. Salomon became the first principal horn of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra and according to this report, the sound of his horn began the orchestra's inaugural concert in 1936 under Arturo Toscanini with Carl Maria von Weber's magical horn call from the overture to "Oberon".

The film has many remarkable photos and film footage and even mentions the horn players too. Huberman was a leader of remarkable heroism to take a stand against such an unimaginable evil, but it is the courage and determination shown by all the musicians, even at the cost of great personal sacrifice that makes this orchestra's history a true inspiration. The film is available on 

   NOTE: Google or Blogspot (or both) have made it very hard to embed PDF files onto a blog.  
Anyone interested in the Israel Philharmonic's musicians roster from their 1951 US tour
may download the PDF file by clicking the link below.
 There are 4 pages with full names and individual photos of the musicians.  

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Musical Instrument or Deadly Weapon?

15 November 2010

There are two musical instruments used in wind bands that can also double as weapons of war. One is  the piccolo and the other is the E-flat clarinet as shown here. It was the favored soprano woodwind instrument of the early military bands. A talented clarionetist can easily trim, comb, and part hair with the penetrating squeal of the E-flat while a less skilled player might slice off an ear.

From a postcard photo without markings, this young musician is identified only by the KB embroidered on his collar. So he is a member of the "K" City band which could be in almost any state in the US.

Note his high top shoes and his pince-nez glasses which were also worn by Presidents Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) and Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921). Therefore based on the fashion for those spectacles, I would date him from 1906 to 1915. But why did photographers of this era use a fur rug in so many studio portraits?

A Young Lady of Lakefield, MN

02 November 2010

A young lady poses in profile wearing a splendid band uniform and holding a cornet. This fine photo postcard from around 1912-15 was never posted and has no identification but the photographer, J.A. Bellinger has added his embossed logo on the front, so we know it came from Lakefield, Minnesota.

Born in New York 1859, Mr. Bellinger was active as a photographer in Lakefield from before 1900 to after 1920. His town in 1910 had a population around 924 and was typical of many places in the midwest, but I suspect that in 1910 Lakefield would not be a "small town" but a real center of community activity.

Judging by the uniform, the band must have had some class. It is unusual to see a woman dressed in a man's style jacket, but women  did turn up occasionally in more progressive bands of this period. Certainly she is wearing a skirt and not trousers.

The farming community around Lakefield, which is near the border of Iowa and just east of Sioux Falls. SD, was made up of immigrants and first generation people from places like Bohemia, Germany, Sweden, all with a rich tradition of music making. Lakefield had the usual occupations of this time - blacksmith, milliner, druggist, etc. but one entry caught my attention. In 1910 a Charley Rorebeck, age 28, was listed as Laborer, Frogcatcher. No doubt this was a specialist job for the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Junction City Musicians

24 October 2010

Seven young kids look into the camera for a snapshot of their school orchestra. A photo postcard not all that different from similar photos posted today on the internet or sent as email attachments. But this one was saved from deletion and ended up on an antique dealer's stocklist. And what makes it unique is on the back.

Meet Theodore Hogan -that's him on clarinet. His sister Emily Hogan, holding the rolled music, is the pianist. His buddies Dwight Aultman and Jack McBlain play violin; John Montgomery is on drums; Roy Moore [sic] on trombone; and Robert King on cornet.

Theodore sent his note and souvenir in an envelope, so with no postmark or address we will never learn who "Everybody" is. But one clue added by the antique dealer does help identify everyone else. Ks ? Junction City translates as Junction City, Kansas a place where I too once lived from ages 6 to 9.

 A search through the internet archives available on provides all the background (and more) on these 7 children.

Theodore was born in Junction City, Kansas, on 18 January 1903 and his sister Emily in 1902. Their father Thomas Hogan was an immigrant from Ireland and owned a flour mill in Junction City. Their mother J. Abbie Hogan was a music teacher on violin according to the 1910 US Census and later in 1920 was listed as a public school music teacher. This photo may be her small group of private music students.

Dwight Aultman Jr.was born in 1902 and his father Dwight Aultman was a captain in the US Army at Ft. Leavenworth KS in 1910 . His dad later reached the rank of general and Dwight Jr. went into the US military academy.

John or Jack McBlain born in 1901 lived in Ft. Riley KS in 1910 where his mother was the postmistress. Ft. Riley is a very large army post outside of Junction City and I too once called it  home. John F. McBlain Jr. is now buried in Arlington National Cemetery somewhere near his father who died in 1902 and was a captain in the 9th US Cavalry.

John Montgomery was born in 1901 and his father was editor of the Junction City newspaper. Roy C. More (not Moore) was born in 1902, the son of a store clerk. And Robert King was born in 1901, the son of a physician.

The older quarters provided to officer's families in Ft. Riley were made of great limestone blocks, not dissimilar to the stone work on this porch. It may be a school but it has the look of a home to me.  Given the birth dates of everybody, I would estimate this photograph was taken around 1913-14.

In 1920 Theodore and Emily were was still living at home in Junction City, and Theodore listed his occupation as Engineer, Roadwork.

In 1922 he applied for a passport to go abroad with the wave of young Americans who wanted to tour Europe after the war. The first page of the application describes him as a student wanting to visit BI (British Isles) England, Switzerland, Italy for the purpose of pleasure. Belgium, Holland also for pleasure; and France, Germany for  pleasure Novel. Perhaps there was an ambition to be be a writer? Here is the second page of the application with the 19 year old Theodore.

He left Galveston, TX on 15 July 1922 on the Elkhorn and returned on the Maurtania from Southampton on 2 Sept 1922. A short trip but no doubt a memorable one. Perhaps he finally got to see everybody.

Jersey City Musicians

19 October 2010

These anonymous musicians appear dressed for a high society concert. Perhaps they are members of a hotel or theater orchestra. The gentleman standing in the center holds a roll of music which is photographer's code for the leader and piano player. The instrumentation of  5 string players, clarinet, flute, and piano would be suitable for musical arrangements of light classics and popular tunes.

Again the same musicians but a different pose. Both photos are very large format prints and on the cardboard back is the photographer's name - George L. Wilms of Jersey City, NJ. He was born in Germany in 1857 and immigrated to the United States in 1863. He became a successful pharmacist and was listed in a kind of "Who's Who" of New Jersey in 1883.

George L. Wilms, Pharmacist, No. 142 Monticello Avenue, Jersey City Heights, — 
One of the most enterprising, thorough-going business men engaged in business as a pharmacist on Jersey City Heights is Mr. George L. Wilms, who is located at No. 142 Monticello Avenue. Mr. Wilms is a German by birth, but has been a citizen of the United States many years. He has had a long experience as a pharmacist, having graduated from the New York College of Pharmacy in 1865. He has been in his present location since 1878 and has become popular and won the confidence and esteem of the whole community by his courtesy and gentlemanly manner toward all. As a pharmacist he is thoroughly skilled in its every department and has a full and comprehensive knowledge of drugs and their properties and makes a specialty of compounding physicians' prescriptions and difficult formulas, which he prepares in the most accurate and skillful manner. Mr. Wilms' store is one of the attractive features of Monticello Avenue and is handsomely fitted up with elaborate show-cases and counters. A full and general assortment of pure drugs of every description, also chemicals and all the various pharmaceutical preparations and all articles required by physicians in their practice, together with articles for the toilet, are always to be found there. Mr. Wilms enjoys a large patronage and is regarded by all the community as one of the most reliable pharmacists on the Heights.

In the 19th century, a pharmacist, or "Druggist" in the US and "Chemist" in the UK, often took up the trade of a photographer. Processing early negatives and prints used chemicals that were quite complicated (and dangerous) and it required skills that came naturally to someone trained as a pharmacist. And the early drug stores probably provided a suitable rooms for setting up the large studio cameras for portraits.

George Wilms  first listed himself as a photographer in the 1897-98 Hoboken & Jersey City directory. His address changed to 48 Harrison Ave. and the building still stands today in Jersey City. He took pride in his art and entered some of his landscape photographs in photography magazine contests of the late 1890's. He also was secretary of the New Jersey Kennel Club.  His name still appeared in the 1920 census listing his occupation as photographer..

There are no clues to the identity of this group of musicians. The Hoboken & Jersey City directory lists perhaps a dozen musicians but no orchestras. (However there are over a dozen dealers in Oysters and even two for Ostrich Feathers!)  Mr. Wilms' address would put the date after 1896 but probably are not much after 1900. They could also be members of a musical club or fraternal society. Undoubtedly Mr. Wilms would know the many German groups in his community, and music was an important part of German heritage. But these men look more like a hotel orchestra to me. Perhaps they are from across the river and perform in New York City.

They certainly had very fine tailors.

A Bandsman from Harrisburg, PA

14 October 2010

This photo postcard of a bandsman has no date, no identification, and no clues in the image. But it shows a trombonist dressed in one of the fanciest uniforms I've found in my collecting.

He wears a tall shako complete with medallion, sash, and two color plume. The jacket includes cords, embroidered sleeves, and a cape in contrasting color. The trousers are equestrian style jodhpurs with a side stripe of course. His boots are actually shoes but are covered by a kind of full length spat with tassels. And his music is carried in a matching side pouch. Nothing seems left out. If only we could see the color. I'd guess a dark green, with maybe a lemon fawn cape.


This might have been another dead-end mystery photo, until I chanced upon something that answered the where and when questions.

NOW this is a Band!  (click on the photo for full impact).

The Municipal Band of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania pose on Sunday, April 29, 1917 outside a civic building for their formal band photograph. The photographer is Gerhardt Studios and they printed this giant photo over 18 inches wide. The young trombonist, minus his wire-rim spectacles, is standing I believe on the back row, center right, just next to the tuba.  Unfortunately my usual online source of archives produced no names to go with this group. Perhaps later.

On April 2, 1917 President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany. How many of these young men would trade their splendid uniforms for a more practical one and serve in the U.S. army bands of WWI ?

A U.S. Army Horn Trio

02 October 2010

Three horn players, members of a U.S. Army field band, stand in front of what looks like the barracks or the bandroom. This photo is a very small format snapshot, perhaps taken by a fellow bandsman with a simple box camera. No writing on the back so no clues as to where or when. Judging by the instruments and uniform style, I would estimate 1917-1922. But there are probably more subtle clues to the date by identifying the types of leggings they wear.

The horns are single rotary valve horns in F. The bandsman in the center has the odd horn out, with the rotary valves placed on the underside of the horn, typical of German horns I've seen from this period.

Other than that, the identities and location will remain another mystery. On a different note, I recently performed an outdoor concert where the rehearsal was on stage in the late afternoon. The placement of the stage shell afforded no protection to some sections of the orchestra against the direct rays of the sun, and towards the end of rehearsal my horn had reached a temperature that made holding it extremely uncomfortable. The yellow brass bell was nearly too hot to handle! My colleague next to me was suffering from the heat too, but his silver nickle-plated horn was decidedly lower in temperature. It's an interesting attribute that I've never seen noted by band instrument companies.

You can see the sun's reflection on these three horns too. Are they yellow brass or silver horns?      And now I can appreciate their practical broad brimmed hats too.

The Lehr Family Orchestra

25 September 2010

This is one of the first photographs in my collection - Lehr's Family Orchestra, found in an antique shop in Union Bridge, Maryland. This was several years ago, and I had no real interest in collecting then, but this photo postcard caught my attention for its quaint good fun. And for $2, I couldn't resist buying it, so it ended up on the bulletin board of my music studio. Some years later the collecting sickness took over and I began to find other vintage photographs of musicians. This happened at the same time as my interest in genealogy and history research became  more developed. So this photo was became my first exploration into the vast archives available on the world wide web. What could I learn with the little information available in this photo? Quite a lot, actually.

The photo is from the early 1930's and the Lehr's are rehearsing at home for their traveling show. Family bands had always been a popular entertainment in the 19th century and good business for the families that had talent and numerous progeny. But by the 1920's and 30's the opportunities for success in these kinds of concerts was rapidly declining. Vaudeville had left the big city theaters and begun a decline into a cheaper tawdry entertainment we now associate with burlesque. The traveling circuit was growing smaller and the season shorter, and the competition from Hollywood and radio, meant a diminishing audience. The Great Depression did not help either.

Here the Lehr family is on stage, showing mom and dad with 8 children. This second photo came from a York, Pennsylvania source which suggested a location in Maryland or Pennsylvania. With so many different newspapers and state archives to chose from, location can really determine success in research. So this led to a discovery in the August 13, 1938 edition of the Daily News of Frederick, MD.
Amazingly, it is the same photograph and it describes the family and the program, which features the two youngest brothers - John Philip Sousa Lehr and Victor Herbert Lehr. This wonderful article gave the final clues to find the full family history.  

John A. Jr and Mabel Meisenhelder Lehr lived in North York, PA with 8 children. On the 1930 census John scratched out his occupation as machinist and listed musician/orchestra instead. He played saxophone and Mabel played the piano. This musical family band played churches and civic gathering around the Gettysburg and York County, PA, and Frederick, MD area from 1926 to 1941. The Lehr siblings are in order:

  • Hazel M. - b. 1910  - trombone
  • Standford I.M. Lehr- b.1912 - violin
  • David Samuel Lehr - 1914- clarinet
  • Catherine Mabel Lehr - 1916- saxophone
  • Theodore John Lehr - 1919 - drums
  • Virginia June Lehr - 1921- saxophone
  • John Philip Sousa Lehr - 1929 - drums and conductor
  • Victor Herbert Lehr - 1932 drums and vocal

_ _

A review of the 1938 concert appeared a few days later and described Victor Herbert as only just past his third year. A common exaggeration used by family musicians since musical bands began. In the Frederick Times of July 6, 1936 we find a photograph of young Victor at the drums. Judging by the age of the girls the first photo is clearly earlier, perhaps 1920's, and I think it shows John Philip at the drums instead of Victor.

One can only imagine the noise of the Lehr household. And such aspiration to name the youngest children after the two most popular American composers of the early 20th century. The report that John Philip Sousa Lehr won a prize at the Chicago Fair in 1933 and that Victor Herbert Lehr was taking instruction from the great band leader Frank Goldman in New York suggests the family did some traveling beyond York. Ambition for the youngest talent was also a common family band tradition.

But after 1941 the trail goes cold, and I find no clues to suggest that any member of the Lehr family orchestra ever went on to great musical fame. But I feel certain that they each found a passion for music that ultimately became the real reward.

6 July 2020

Here are two photo postcards of the Lehr Family Orchestra
that I acquired since I wrote this story in 2010.
The first shows the eight Lehr children
with their musical instruments
with Mrs. Lehr seated center.
The location looks like a church or school stage.
The date is around 1934.


 The second postcard is the photo
of Victor Herbert Lehr at his drum set
as used in the Frederick Times of July 6, 1936.
The piano and wallpaper behind him
match the Lehr family home parlor
where the first photo was taken.

The Gypsy Barons of Detroit

14 September 2010

Continuing the exotic theme, while these are not exactly turbans, they are still pretty flashy. Meet the Gypsy Barons from Detroit. This is a large press photograph from the Detroit News archives. It is dated with an ink stamp 5 July, 1929.

In 1922 the Detroit News expanded into commercial radio with the station WWJ , originally at 580 kHz and later in 1927 at 920 kHz. These were powerful stations that broadcast an AM signal a considerable distance across the midwest. The first radio stations started in 1920 but within a year  there were hundreds around the country. Radio was a fast growing communication medium but it really had no connection to the conventions of the theater or the concert hall. This was new technology and everything had to be invented and tried, at least once. Gypsy music was a popular style in the 1920's.

I found only one citation for the Gypsy Barons. Not surprisingly it comes from the Detroit News dated   6 March 1928. There on To-day's Radio Programs is a listing for WWJ Detroit and at 7:30 you could have heard the Gypsy Barons.

These guys (and maybe gal - the trombonist at the back looks curiously feminine) seem more swarthy than your average polka band. Several could be related. There is only the group's name written on the back of the photo, but could they be a genuine Romani band?

During the early 20th century, Detroit was considered to have America's largest concentration of Romani (i.e. Gypsy) people. Mostly from Romania and eastern Europe, they settled in Michigan and established numerous Romanian Orthodox churches. More here - History of Detroit Romanian Community

This band was playing to a local crowd and probably worked the various clubs and social events of the Romani community. This photo was likely used by the newspaper for radio promotion but as a studio portrait it captures the character of an early pop band. Note there are two horns seated on the left. The horn is not typically associated with gypsy brass bands. There are three trumpets too, not cornets as might be expected if this was a decade earlier. Despite the low fidelity of early radio, one imagines that this band could really pump out the sound.

A Regimental Band of the Bengal Infantry

05 September 2010

Music is a commodity. It gets exported and imported around the world just like any raw material. And in past times Britain probably contributed more to exporting culture than any other country before or since. As an example we have a regimental band of the British Indian Army, specifically a regiment of the Bengal Infantry, c. 1880s.

The British Empire covered a vast part of the world in the late 19th century and India was the so called "crown jewel". To protect such a large and valuable colony required a large organization of military units. This large studio format photo has a lot of fading and damage, and unfortunately no identification. But there are always clues.

On the snare drum are some letters that at first caused confusion. NGALINFAN was not a recognized word. But after some scrabble playing with additional letters, it became two words - BENGAL INFANTRY.

The bass drum also has letters that I interpret as the unit's campaigns, and the lower one is possibly AFGHANISTAN 187_. The Second Anglo- Afghan War was 1878-1880 and included several units of the Bengal Infantry. More history here: 2nd Anglo-Afghan War

The Native Indian Army units were formed around the three major provinces at that time -  Bengal, Bombay, and Madras. In 1895 the army was reorganized and those designations were eliminated. So this photograph was taken between 1878 and 1895.

Each unit undoubtedly had a band  that was trained by a British bandsman. My guess is that the one European gentleman with the bowler hat is the leader. Possibly that is his cornet in front of the bass drum. And of course that must be his son next to him. Recently I learned that overseas work in India recruited many more men from Scotland and Ireland than England.

The band has typical military instruments of the time, no doubt made in Britain. It includes one bassoon which I find a curious instrument for a band, but probably one very suited to a player familiar with traditional Indian double reed instruments. There is also a mellophone in the front. The younger boys dressed in white are likely cadets - apprentice musicians. It seems probable that some of them are sons of the regular members of the band too.

The Serpent and the Ophicleide

22 August 2010

Perhaps the most evocative name for a musical instrument is the Serpent. In the family tree of musical instruments, it is but a side twig of  labrosones - musical instruments whose sound is produced by vibrations of the lips. So it is a bit like a brass instrument in that it has a tuba-sized mouthpiece to buzz the lips, but it is actually made of wood and has finger holes like a recorder to play different pitches. This is a souvenir postcard of a trip to Normandie, France in 1909.

It shows the typical use of this odd instrument, with a member of the church band playing from a book of plain chants. He is not especially tall but is actually seated on a high chair which has a foot rest for his wooden sabot or clog. The Serpent is a bass sounding instrument and had a musical utility in rural Catholic churches accompanying choirs, long after it had been abandoned in orchestras and bands.

Though often mistakenly called a renaissance instrument, it really only shows up in music books from the 1740's. It was used for a time in military bands, but it was never a popular horn. It is not very loud, it plays chromatic notes with difficulty, and being made of leather-covered wood it came unglued far too easily. Playing a Serpent whilst marching or even on horseback, boggles the mind, but bandsmen did just that. No doubt wishing they had a different instrument.

So in the 1820's it was replaced by this, the Ophicleide. Patented by a French instrument maker named Jean Hilaire Asté (who is also known by his trade names of Halary or Haleri), it belongs to the keyed bugle branch of brass instruments. Using woodwind type keys, the Ophicleide spreads the tone holes further apart than the serpent and gives a more even scale. And it is made of brass so it sounds louder and stays together better. It proved more popular and was the designated bass instrument in the brass section for several composers including Mendelssohn, Berlioz, and Verdi.

Unfortunately it could not compete with the new brass instruments that used the plumbing technology of valves, both piston and rotary, to make a  horn instantly change length. The Saxhorns of Adolph Sax quickly supplanted the keyed bugle line of brass and by the 1850's, the poor Ophicleide was no longer accepted in bands and orchestras. Like the serpent it must have been challenging to play one on horseback.

Nonetheless, in France it seems to have survived as a church instrument. This novelty postcard, with no postmark, celebrates the French musical instrument company of Couesnon. It was one of the largest band and orchestra instrument companies in the world in 1900. Before WWI it had 11 factories and over 1000 employees, but like so many music instument brands, it was bought out and now survives as something very different that the great company it once was.

But a search for the name brought up a nice website in France run by a luthier named Roland Terrier:   Their website included many old reprints of instrument companies including this one from the 1912 Couesnon Catalog. 

There on page 86 we find the same choir boy promoting the wonders of the Ophicleide. Perhaps like the serpent they were used to support the tunes in church music. Note that the boy has music attached to a lyre on the bell. Can't see if he is wearing clogs.

Who could believe that in 1912 there was still a market for these odd instruments. They came in different sizes with 9, 10 or 11 keys, and for a small extra charge you could have it nickle plated!

How many ophicleides were recycled into shell casings in 1914-18?

The Music at "Churchill's" Broadway and 49th Street

15 August 2010

The sound of music is everywhere today. Recorded music of every flavor permeates the air of hotels, supermarkets, and shopping malls. Multi-speaker sound systems in cafes drown the gaps in conversations. Classic Rock assaults the ears while pumping gas. And holiday tunes subliminally steer the mind to shop and buy. But long ago it was different, and the joy of music could only be experienced if you actually saw and heard the musicians. That was real entertainment and in 1911 New York, if you wanted the best in food and music, you went to Churchill's Restaurant at Broadway and Forty-ninth St. to hear Maurice Levi and his orchestra.

This card was sent in August 1911 to Mr Stuart W. Smyth with an inside joke, "Could Mr. Blackstone beat this? E.L.H." Mr. Smyth was an editor of the Owego Times newspaper and presumably Blackstone refers to a local bandleader. Maurice Levi was one of New York's more successful performers at the turn of the 19th century and a popular composer in the growing music industry of Tin Pan Alley. His orchestra shows a typical ensemble of 15 musicians - strings mixed with solo cornet, clarinet, flute, trombone and percussion. Maurice also played solo violin too. 

But his stage is unusual, a kind of balcony band shell. Just what kind of place was Churchill's?

In 1909, Jim Churchill, a former NYC Police captain and ambitious restaurateur made a deal to buy the southwest corner of Broadway and 49th St.  More here: Jim Churchill  
There he established one of the largest and best restaurants in the expanding Broadway theater district. It soon became the place where every celebrity in the city and theater district could dine and be seen. Note the rooftop garden and the lineup of taxi cabs on the right. These postcards were printed in Germany as were most souvenir postcards at this time in America until the start of WWI. A German artist has added small cars and people into the foreground of the original photograph in order to exaggerate the size of the building. But it was still a very grand place.

In this postcard of the restaurant's interior you can see the band shell in the back left. The orchestra here is not Levi's and seem to be men dressed in Scottish kilts. (Two horns are on the very back row. But no bagpipes.) This was no ordinary dining hall. It could seat 1,200 and employed 300 staff. What was on the menu?

In a typical New York newspaper ad from 1911, we find Churchill's special dinner price of $1.25. It was higher than others but one can imagine the menu by seeing what 65¢ bought at Colaizzi's. And that included wine too! On the advert it says that Churchill's music was provided by Maurice Levi and orchestra with vocalist Elizabeth Spencer. 

Elizabeth Spencer was a famous soprano who was one of the first popular artists to make recordings for Thomas Edison. Here she is on a card postmarked 1912, and here is her voice from a 1911 Edison Cylinder recording singing My Southern Rose. 

The recording comes from the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project at the Donald C. Davidson Library, University of California, Santa Barbara. Cylinder Preservation Collection UCSB  The instrumental accompaniment sounds like an orchestra very similar to Maurice Levi's. And he  recorded for Edison too.

Photographs and postcards help recreate the high times of the Big Apple, but what kind of music did Maurice play? Here is Happy Days March performed and written by Maurice Levi in 1909. It is also from the Special Cylinder Collection of UCSB.

In a most unlikely newspaper from Kansas, The Hutchinson Times I found a report on the current popular music of New York City. The date was November 12, 1910.


Not since the days of Patrick Gilmore has any band master or orchestra lead­er created such a sensation in New York as has Maurice Levi, the Maestro of the excellent orchestra at Churchill's, New York's elite restau­rant. Levi begins where Gilmore left off, and Is the idol of the after theater patrons of this notable Broadway re­sort.

When he steps upon the platform and raises his baton, a hypnotic spell seems to hold every man In the orchestra for the few seconds that elapse before its descent, and once started he seems seems to sway both his orchestra and his audience at will, and the music seems to centralize  and emanate from him personally, just as the music of a phonograph comes from its horn. All eyes are centered on him and every little movement is watched as closely he if he was the star of an operatic performance.

He is constantly introducing novelties that create enthusiasm and his "by play", to use a theatrical term, is wonderful. The compositions of American composers receive his especial attention and many an unknown composer has risen to fame through the attention given his work by Mr. Levi.

His own and latest composition, "Happy Nights", is played by request only, but as this seems to be the favorite of the public, he is compelled to render it every evening.  His rendition of "The Music of the States" and the "Songs of the College" are wonderful, realistic, and from a musical standpoint artistic creations. His latest and probably most novel creation is a      musical mosaic which he has named "Our Presidents." It opens with a patriotic musical tribute to the illustrious men, including Roosevelt and Taft, and ends with a grand finale that arouses intense enthusiasm - for it is Washington, who at last carries off the honors of the musical masterpiece.

Mr. Levi Is not a fanatic on the sub­ject of classical music, and intersperses his program here and there with the popular. Thus you may hear a rhapsody or an operatic: selection followed with a potpourri from the "Chocolate Soldier" or by the latest ballad, "Love Dreams," or an aria by Verdi sand­wiched in between the "Hono-Lulu Rag" and "Silver Bell".

Mr. Levi is the highest salaried leader in New York, and the royalties from his "Happy Nights" march, and other compositions, amounts to a small fortune yearly. It Is the latest fad to go to Churchill's to dine and hear Maurice Levi and his orchestra, which by the way, is composed of the best musicians in the metropolis, every man being a virtuoso on his own instrument. 

Both Maurice and Elizabeth made numerous recordings for the Edison Phonograph Company. I found this amazing ad from a Cedar Rapids, Iowa newspaper with another image of Elizabeth Spencer. It is from 1915 and the fine food at Churchill's seems to have stretched her waistline a bit. Like the flowery prose used in the Kansas report on Maurice Levi, this advertisement is also a model of the kind of show business promotion and hyperbole that started in the 1900's. Little did our performers know that the recording industry would soon make restaurant concerts a forgotten entertainment of the past.

Jim Churchill sold his restaurant in 1921. Competition must have been fierce in the years leading up to WWI and then there was the inevitable change in public tastes in the post-war period. This postcard is from a later period and you can see that dancing and cabaret were the new fancy of New Yorkers. 

Churchill's remains a kind of antique icon in the explosion of cultural life in early 20th century New York City. Today the gigantic Crowne Plaza is on this Broadway site, but how long might that last? In 1964, David Merrick produced Jerry Herman's musical Hello Dolly! with tunes that everyone should know, in part because of the constant repetition of recordings. But the principal character is called Dolly Gallagher Levi and the main action of the second act takes place at the Harmonia Gardens restaurant. Did the stories of Churchill's musicians inspire this wonderful story?  Hello!    


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