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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The Prairie du Sac Ladies Brass & Reed Band

15 July 2010

A summer day in June and Mr. Eberhart, the town photographer and jeweler, has set up his camera in Prairie du Sac's village park. The girls from the Ladies Brass & Reed Band are all assembled and ready. Today they will play a concert too and maybe march into town. They have worked hard this spring making their uniforms and hats, no doubt with some assistance from their mothers who made sure they had tucked a handkerchief into their pockets. 

Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin has about 600 residents in the village and another 650 in the surrounding rural township. With 19 young ladies in the band, this is a popular musical group. The instruments look new, perhaps silver plated too. In the front rank there is a fine double bell euphonium. That always makes a great showpiece for a good soloist, as everyone marvels at the oddity of one person being able to sound two horns at once. Of course the unique plumbing really just lets the player alternate between the longer and lower baritone sound to a shorter and higher pitch tenor sound.

Just behind the tuba stands a mellophone player, who holds her instrument with the left hand outside and on top of the bell, unlike a French horn where the left hand plays the valves and the right hand is always placed inside the bell for proper tuning.  

They call themselves a Ladies Brass & Reed band, perhaps to distinguish from the town's brass band. Men and women rarely played in the same wind ensemble, and many towns in America boasted two bands. Here there are only Bb clarinets and no flutes or even a piccolo. Sometimes even brass bands added the high pitch Eb clarinet for the solo lines. Though clarinets had always been  popular, by 1913 more bands were beginning to use the saxophone too. But always the lead instrument was the cornet. It was most unusual to find a trumpet in any band before 1915.

These photo postcards left no clue as to names, other than Mr. Eberhart. A thorough search of the census records of Prairie du Sac turned up the typical occupations, including two women, Ema Ragatz and Minta B. Foy, who worked as music teachers. Ema was 23 and single. Minta, age 33, was married to Clarence Foy who ran his own barbershop. The woman seated in the back, second on the left, seems older than the others. Could she be connected to the band leader? Perhaps Clarence Foy played cornet? Another unsolved mystery.

But perhaps the intriguing bit of trivia is that only a few miles up the road from Prairie du Sac is Baraboo, the largest city in Sauk County, Wisconsin. It is the hometown of the seven famous circus impresarios - the Ringling Brothers, and Baraboo was the winter quarters of their circus troupe from 1884 until 1919. Is there a possible connection between the Ladies Brass & Reed Band and the circus life?


Jodi Anderson said...

Hi. I'm an archivist with the Sauk Prairie Area Historical Society. The woman kneeling in the back is Rose Koch. Christ Ragatz's daughter, Gertrude, can be seen standing to the left of Mr. Ragatz in the bottom picture. She is seated in the far right of the front row in the top photo. The brass and read band was organized in 1912, and lasted until 1916.

It was so nice to stumble upon this while doing research.

Jodi Anderson said...

P.S. I can scan a page with photos and names of all the ladies, if you wish to identify them further.


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