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 Christmas Surprise

31 December 2011

A holiday short story wrapped in an old photograph.

The fragrance of fir tree and rosemary swirled through the room as Anja cleared the table, skillfully balancing the tray in one hand while collecting cutlery and plates. The girls had finished their supper early and brought their new dolls to the table.

"Careful, Katharina," she admonished. "You don't want to soil her frock. Uncle Eduard will be very displeased if you treat his gift so mean."

"Have you given your dolly a name, little Kathi?" asked Eduard. "She must have a name for a proper introduction to your other friends." He gave his guitar a quick strum for emphasis.

"Her name is ... is ..." The child paused. "Lena!"

He bowed his head and shook the small porcelain hand. "How do you do, Miss Lena?  So nice to make your acquaintance."

"Oh, Uncle Eddie, please play some dance music for my doll too," cried Isabell. "You and Papa and Uncle Josef know so many good ones." She lifted onto her toes and spun her doll through the air.

"Brother, have you met Lena, my dearest friend?" He plucked out a slow waltz beat. "She is the most beautiful dancer at the New Year's ball. And Felix, you will be most charmed by her artful footwork."

Josef took up his horn and began a slow four note arpeggio. Felix raised his bow and the violin slid in with the soft counter melody. Isabell's eyes widened. "Yes, yes, the Blue Danube. My favorite!" 

The sound of horn, violin and guitar now filled the house with a different perfume, thought Anja. As she bent over the table, Marie gave her a kiss. "That was a wonderful dinner, Anja. So delicious. Don't you think so, mother?"

The old woman cupped her ear and nodded. "Ja, sehr sehr gut. Ein vorzügliches Abendessen." Her eyelids slowly closed as she rocked to the music.

"Thank you, Mother Sophie." she smiled. "I was so lucky to get the best cuts at Schroeder's. Though I'm sure it was still not as tender as those in Dresden"

"Nonsense," said Marie. "It is the cook who makes the meal. Josef is so lucky to have such a talented wife. I'm afraid my Felix must suffer through too many of my poor suppers. Sometime you must show me how you did that sauce." She stroked the little girl's hair. "What do you say Frieda? Shall we learn to make Zwiebelkuchen for Papa and Isabell?"

Anja finished with the remaining dishes and brought out the platter of special Christmas cakes and chocolate treats. The girls squealed in delight and abandoned all thoughts of dancing dolls. The musicians now segued into Oh, Tannenbaum. The horn and violin alternated the high and low phrases and Eduard sang in falsetto making the children laugh.

As they paused to take refreshment, Josef set his horn down and reached behind the tree. He turned toward Anja and placed a parcel wrapped in brown paper before her. "This is for you, my sweet. Father Christmas has left you a gift because you have been so good and kind this year."

She gave him a playful frown and began to untie the string. "What have you done, Josef? You know we must not spend more money right now." She removed the paper and held up a cardboard box. This time the frown was more serious.

"Open it," he said, giving the box a nudge. She unfolded the lid and pulled out a smaller box covered in black leatherette.

"What is it, Mama?" said Kathi.

"It's a camera!" she gasped. "Oh, thank you, Josef. It is just like the one in Herr Schneider's shop window. I saw him put up the display last week, and he showed me how it works."

From the Duke University Digital Collection
Josef smiled. "Yes, I know. He has always spoken highly of your photography skills when you worked for him in his studio. His son plays viola alongside Eduard in the orchestra. He thought this new camera would be perfect for a lady to take on a holiday. I thought so too." Her face changed to a mixture of joy and puzzlement. "Yesterday after the concert, Mr. Muller announced that the orchestra will go on tour this spring to finish the season. We perform in Boston and Philadelphia too."

"But Josef, what did you mean by holiday? Kathi and I can not travel with you and the orchestra on the train." 

"No, not on the train. But on a ship you can. Tell her, Felix"

"My cousin Otto leads a small salon orchestra on the SS Kronprinz Wilhelm. He needs substitute musicians in May for the the return voyage to Bremen." Felix selected another chocolate.  "I wrote to him about my wife's very musical brothers, and he agreed  to engage Josef and Eduard to play in his band."

"Would you like that?" asked Josef. "You and Kathi may travel for a discounted ticket. And with the extra money I make on this tour, I thought we could take a summer holiday back to Germany. A real adventure." He picked up his horn again and blew a loud fanfare. "I knew you wanted to send some photographs to your father in Berlin. But now we can take Katharina in person to visit him.  And with the camera, you can take photographs of all the wonderful things we see on the trip to save for the family here. What do you think?"

She laughed and stepped back with the camera. "Yes, I would like that very much," she said. Twisting the box, she squinted into the viewfinder.  "But I do not need to travel across the ocean to see wonderful things." She clicked the shutter.

My holiday contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link to find more enthusiasts of vintage photographs. 

Charles Reynolds Williams, Esq.

16 December 2011

This post is my 100th photo essay since I began this website two years ago. As most projects will do, my original intent has evolved since The First Post, and now that the internet provides so many new ways to integrate multi-media material with text commentary, I feel I've become more a curator of a virtual museum. But since it is my museum, I can bend the rules if I like, and I will mark the occasion of this post with a different kind of non-musical photo story. There is a musician, but not in any of the vintage photographs.

The gentleman at the reins is Charles Reynolds Williams, Esq. with his grandson Charles R. Williams and Cross, his groomsman. The photo was taken near Dolgellau, Wales and dates from around 1896. It was a photograph included in an auction lot of a 1900's scrapbook that I purchased many years ago. It is a very large albumen photo mounted on cardstock with the names written in pencil. It may have been the work of a professional photographer, but there are no other markings.

Charles Reynolds Williams is about 80 here, to judge by his grandson who was born in 1886. Williams made his career as a solicitor in London, and after retirement moved to Plas Dolmelynllyn, an estate he acquired in western Wales in what is now the Coed y Brenin Forest Park.

In this next photo, Williams stands on the steps of "Dolly", showing off the landscaped garden of the main house, which dates from the 17th century. He purchased the grounds of this manor house and also, as I recently discovered, another larger estate nearby, Penmaenuchaf Hall in about 1865.

Though of Welsh decent, Williams was born in India in 1816 and at the age of 6 returned to England with his parents. In the days before the Suez Canal, this was a 5 month long voyage around Africa. On December 31, 1846 he married Margaret Marshall Romer at St. Pancras Church in London and they had three children, Eleanor, Minnie, and Romer.

Their home was No. 48 Gloucester Square, just above Hyde Park, which one can still see today in Google Street View. It was a typical upscale London row house on a garden square, probably with a mews behind. In the 1861 census, the Williams family household included a mother-in-law, a younger cousin, and a butler, footman, lady's maid, cook, housemaid and under-housemaid.


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Charles kept a respectable law partnership at No. 62, Lincoln's Inn Fields, an address appropriate for an upper level lawyer, and seems to have specialized in estate law, that Dickensian subject that was always complicating the lives of various plucky young men and women in the 19th century. He published a book on his career in 1883, called Some Professional Recollections, which Google has deemed worthy of including in its library. It is a light memoir which includes several arcane stories that would no doubt entertain other lawyers familiar with the personages and the legal devices. The best part is the last chapter which he devotes to a tour of India he took with with his brother, a noted Oriental scholar, after retirement in 1878. This time using the new Suez Canal.

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He also wrote another book called The Defence of Kahun: a forgotten episode from the first Afghan war: being a narrative compiled from a journal kept during the siege, and from original letters. A book about the British/Afghan conflict of 1840, and one in which we in the 21st century can unfortunately appreciate the irony of this tragic place. 

My impression is that Charles was both a skilled writer and a talented raconteur of good stories. And certainly a good attorney to represent one's interests. He died on November 20, 1905, at age 89 and left an estate valued at £85,078 7s. to his son Romer Williams. In today's terms that could be valued at between £6 and £27 million. A different Charles Williams, a vinegar-maker of Cardiff, who died in August 1905 left an estate of only £34 3s. 11d.  Romer, who was also a London solicitor, sold Dolmelynllyn in 1907.

If you have read this far, you might ask, how or more particularly why do I know so much about this gentleman of the 19th century? The answer is a story about me and explains why I so enjoy history and especially photographs.


Many years ago, I lived in London in a house very like Mr. Williams' in Paddington, but located below Hyde Park in Earl's Court. But though the household population may have been the same, it had long ago been divided up into cheap bedsit rooms for the assortment of foreigners and young frugal music students like myself. My room had a balcony overlooking a beautiful residential park, and was probably once the breakfast room or study.

One of my favorite free entertainments was a stop at Christie's auction house to check out the latest sales. The South Kensington branch specialized in the middle level of fine art and historic items including furniture, musical instruments, and ephemera - a word I did not know then, but have since used many times to describe the photographs and paper I now collect. What made these auction previews so much fun was the chance to examine and handle antiques that otherwise would be beyond my ability to own or hidden behind glass in a museum.

One day an auction of autographs, stamps, and ephemera attracted my attention, and there I discovered a box containing a Victorian era scrapbook. This large simple binder was filled with countless letters, photographs, sketches, cards, and news clippings all coming from the life of one man - Charles Reynolds Williams. There was no order to the material, but I was fascinated by the quantity of different things and how it described the golden age of Victorian/Edwardian London.

After I left at closing, I could not stop thinking about it. Now I should explain that my knowledge of Britain was largely shaped by the many British television series that I had watched on PBS like Upstairs Downstairs, or The Duchess of Duke Street. This scrapbook was like a talisman to actually touch someone from that period. I could not resist and the next day went back to the auction.

There were hundreds of lots, and fortuitously this one was one of the last as the antique dealers seemed to have reached their limits. I raised my hand a few times and suddenly I was the winning bidder! I could hardly contain my excitement in the rush to take it back to my flat and open up this treasure chest that was now mine.

In hindsight, I'm not sure which cliche applies here, "One man's treasure is another man's trash." or "A fool and his money are soon parted." At the time, I did not care. This was real history unlike anything I had read about in books. Williams put no real organization to this material, there were some annotations but no chronological system. It more resembled my own hodge-podge method for filing letters and receipts.

Now for the twist in my story. The following Monday, my landlady called me to the house payphone, which was unusual as I never received phone calls. It was the sales manager from Christie's. He explained that they wanted to buy the scrapbook back. Regrettably he could offer no reason, but he could offer twice what I had paid for it.

I was dumbfounded, but said I would consider it. What did this mean? How could this jumble of paper now be more valuable? Could there a real treasure hidden inside? I would never know unless I did some research. So I began to make a list. Several lists.

For the next four days I wrote down every person, place, and event that I could find amongst the many letters, autographs, and photos of this scrapbook. Names of barons with long titles and generals with polysyllabic surnames; obscure colonial battles and remote foreign places. And did I mention stamps? I became very familiar with the reference stacks at the Chelsea library.

All of this was far beyond anything I had learned from Masterpiece Theater. Who were these people? Charles conveniently had drawn up his family genealogy which made it easier to decipher some of the many letters, telegrams, and photos. But there were many other names too. Maybe the young Winston Churchill was a client? Was Charles Reynolds Williams on King Edward's private telegram list? Did Charles like to have a pint with Gilbert and/or Sullivan? Williams had obviously met a vast number of people that were important to him and he saved everything.

After an exhaustive search I came to only one conclusion. There was really only one important value in this scrapbook. Family.

I returned the scrapbook to Christie's and doubled my investment. The sales manager did say that the scrapbook would go back to a Williams descendant, but he could not elaborate on how it came to be in the auction. 


I stayed in London for another year, but eventually ran out of money and returned to America. But I kept in touch. After securing a position with a small orchestra, I asked a lovely young English woman to marry me, and we made our home in Georgia. But by coincidence, my father-in-law was also a London solicitor, and whose specialty was estate law. I think he and Charles would have made a great pair, as they shared a deep love of close friends and good stories.

On a trip back to London several years later, while looking through a National Trust Guidebook, I was startled to discover that Dolly was still standing! Plas Dolmelynllyn was now a fine private hotel withing a national forest. We had to go see it.

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Alas, I was still a frugal musician, and now with a toddler in tow, so we could not afford to stay at the hotel. But the grounds were open, and I knew the photo I wanted to take. The spire is gone, as is the redwood on the right, lightning perhaps, but the dolphin fountain is still there and so are the fine terraced steps. Here is a side view of the main house, the terrace is below on the left.


In that box, there were a few large photos that were loose, unattached to the scrapbook, and Christie's had never cataloged any of the contents. If they only requested the scrapbook, and didn't actually ask for the photos too, what would you do?

So now Charles Reynolds Williams, Esq. has a place in my virtual museum. His history is not especially remarkable and resembles the lives of many London professional gentlemen. But his collection introduced me to a kind of personal history, rich in the details of people and events, that continues to intrigue my eye, whenever I find a good photograph. What's the real story we see?

A final photo that was on the back of the photo mount of Dolmelynllyn. I think it looks up the river Rhaeadr Dhu which is near Dolly. Someday I hope to find it and take a photo like one this too.

My contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you will find more enthusiasts of vintage photos and their stories.

12/31/11 UPDATE:
In a wonder of the internet age that would surely astonish Charles Reynolds Williams, his  great great grandson contacted me within hours soon after I posted this story. He has generously provided some photos of Charles and Dolmelynllyn Hall which I add as a fitting postscript to his history. 

Charles Reynolds Williams and family c.1904


Plas Dolmelynllyn c.2010

Dolmelynllyn Hall detail showing East Indian carved filigree.

Upper monument on gravestone of Charles Reynolds and Margaret Marshall Williams

Gravestone of Charles Reynolds and Margaret Marshall Williams

Three Boy Violinists

09 December 2011

Once a long time ago, a proud mother and father stood behind a photographer as he positioned his camera in front of a young boy holding a violin. The boy stands at the ready, violin under his chin and  bow arm relaxed. The music on his wire stand is just slightly out of focus so we can not read the notes, but we can see enough to know that it is not the simple exercises of a beginning student. His  eyes have an assured quality that expectantly asks us a question. Would we like to hear him play?

There is no identification for this young violinist, so his name is unknown. I would estimate his age as 7 maybe 8. His short pants, high button shoes, and jacket's sailor collar look to be from around 1900. But it was a popular fashion, so it could be 1890 or 1910 too.

But we do know the place: Berlin.

The photographer's mark is actually the name of a department store, A. Jandorf & Co, once a major chain in Berlin with several locations. These giant retail emporiums were founded in the 1890's by Adolf Jandorf (1870-1932) with the initial idea of offering inexpensive goods to Berlin's growing population.

Jandorf became a very successful businessman and in the 1900s saw an opportunity for starting something even larger. The Kaufhaus des Westensor, or KaDeWe which opened in 1907 and is still the premier shopping house in Berlin. A bit more upscale than its predecessors, the store continues a tradition of beautiful presentation of quality merchandise from around the world.


Two addresses are on the back of the photo, Belle-Alliance Str. 1/2 and Spittel-Markt 16/17. 
I do not know if the other stores continued beyond 1907, but this photo, taken from the German Wikipedia entry for Jandorf, shows the Belle-Alliance storefront from 1898 as illustrated on the photo's back.

Since German optics at the time of the Kaiser were considered to be the highest in quality, one would imagine that photographers in a store like this would be very skilled and have the best equipment. I would think they were also kept very busy in such a fashionable city with so many layers of class and society.

This second photograph comes from Halberstadt a town in the central German state of Saxony-Anhalt. There is no identification other than the Halberstadt photographer's name, Paul Rehe on Roonstrasse 2.

This young violinist wears another type of boy's sailor suit and has his violin tucked confidently under his right arm. He is older than the first boy, maybe 9 or 10. Again the boy's clothing suggest 1900 but it might be earlier or later. His shoes are high but with laces. Note the fur or sheepskin rug, a common 19th century furnishing for photographer's studios.

I see in his pose a mature and experienced musician. Is he a prodigy too?
I don't think we can ever know about either boy. One bit of trivia for Halberstadt was the information that in the 17th century, it had the largest Jewish community in Germany. Perhaps this boy is a link to the many German-Jewish musicians that came from this great artistic period.

The third photo is a postcard of  a violinist who, though technically not German, has a caption that is written in German. Unlike the other two, we know this boy's name. 

Der kleine ungarische Violin-Virtuos Karl Gara-Guly ~ The small Hungarian violin virtuoso Karl Gara-Guly.

Karl appears to be 6 or 7, about the same age as another Hungarian violin prodigy that I wrote about earlier this fall, Kun Arpad. Karl, like Kun is dressed in a sailor-suit style but with soft leather slippers instead of shoes.

His name, like many Hungarians, is spelled in several variations and it took some hunting until I found him as Carl von Garaguly, born 1900 in Budapest, died 1984.

Garaguly studied violin under Henri Marteau (1874-1934), who was also a child prodigy, performing in 1884 in Vienna at the age of 10. In 1907, Marteau joined the Berlin Hochschule für Musik as head professor of violin. The Berlin Hochschule trained many famous musicians, so he might have known the first boy too, or even Kun Arpad. Though his mother was German, his father was French, so he was expelled from Germany during WWI and went to Sweden to make a new career. Obviously a gifted teacher, his influence continues with the Marteau International Violin Competition.

Garaguly seems to have followed Marteau, and made his career in Sweden also. As happened to so many concert musicians, the Great War disrupted the network of concert stages, which were only to be shattered again with WWII. Garaguly became the principal conductor of the Stockholm Concert Society, the precursor to the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra from 1942 to 1953, and then led the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra from 1952 to 1958.

You can see a picture of an older Carl von Garyguly at this website devoted to Famous Hungarian Musicians. It's at the very top of the page.

The card was postmarked from Amberg, Bayern or Bavaria on 13 May 1910. The handwriting is in in pencil and I have increased the contrast for readability should anyone out on the web wish to decipher this card. Just figuring out the addressee is a big challenge.

I'd like to know if the two young Hungarian violinists, Karl Garyguly and Kun Arpad ever met. Did they trade stories of favorite performances and bad concert halls? What languages did they speak? Did they try out each others instrument or trade bows?
And just maybe, they tried to remember the names of those other two boys.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday whose theme photo is the thumbnail image below. Click the link to find more enthusiasts of vintage photographs.

The Imperial Girls Band of Reading, Michigan

01 December 2011

This may be my favorite photo in all of my collection. It's a postcard of a ladies band, or actually a girls band, from the first decade of the 20th century. The symmetrical composition, clear focus, side lighting, and especially the young ladies themselves, I think transform this simple group portrait into an extraordinarily beautiful photograph. It's also a great example of a Ladies Band, a musical fad now forgotten, but once very popular in hundreds of small mid-west towns in America.

But like many of my finds, the back of the card is blank and has no postmark. There are no clues except the letter R embroidered onto their fez style hats.

Who were they? When were they? Where were they?

Patience has brought some answers though, and during a typical internet search for more photographs, I discovered more postcards of this same ladies band that were slightly different. This second one is identical but includes a caption written on the front, Girls Band, Reading, Mich. The clarity is a bit less than the first card and that is perhaps explained by the logo on the back showing it was printed by the Bryan Postcard Co,. of Bryan, OH.

The card was sent from Reading on March 10, 1910 to Mrs. Geo. Bateman of Lansing, MI.

Reading, Michigan is a small township in south central Michigan, about 75 miles west of Toledo, Ohio.  In 1910 the population was only 2104 citizens and yet they supported a very attractive band of 13 girls. Most playing brass instruments with one clarinet.

The gentleman at the back would likely be the band leader / music teacher, though he doesn't hold an instrument. Typically a leader would play a cornet. But even though there is now a place associated with the letter R, a date, and a town, it is not enough to identify him. But then I went delving into the thousands of photos that people post on of their family genealogy. What might be connected to Reading, Michigan?

There I found this same photocard attached to the name Simeon Jerome Whaley (1853 - 1936), along with a family portrait of the same man and his wife. Simeon was a brick mason, and with his wife Anna Davis Whaley had one son, Delevan (possibly aka: Robert), and four daughters, Winnifred, Margaret, Rae, and Jessie. According to his descendants, Simeon was the band leader and Rae Whaley, age 18, was also in the band. My first guess as to which one was her was incorrect. Can you find her?

This band and its leader closely resembles another photo I have from the same period: Gierks Ladies Band of Richmond, Michigan. There William Gierk, like Simeon, a father with several daughters, used his musical talents to establish a brass band for girls. Unlike Gierk's girls in their homemade dresses, Mr. Whaley invested in some fancier uniforms and hats. Perhaps all the the way from Detroit.

The following year, the photographer in Reading who had no doubt taken the earlier photo, posed the band again and this time added Copyright 1911. D. S. Kelly (p.240), full name Daniel S. Kelly, born 1870 in Michigan. Perhaps this was an indication he wanted to protect this photo from being pirated by the Bryan Postcard Co. Or maybe he just wanted to establish some artistic control and publish the photo in a magazine.

In any case the band has acquired a bass drum emblazoned with their full name, the Imperial Girls Band, Reading, Mich. Its interesting how close this second photo imitates the first and yet there is something missing that makes it not the equal. There are now 15 girls, adding two more clarinetists. The uniforms and hats are are the same, note the hat pins, but they look more serious. And Rae Whaley is still in the band. She is the tuba player seated on the right in both photos. But I believe, Simeon is not in the photo.

The photo card was sent June 22, 1911 by Lulu to Mrs. Jay Crandall of Adrain (sic Adrian), Michigan.

What a marvelous invention was the postcard. The simplest of messages sent practically instantaneously. What did people do before the postcard, when they needed to nag someone?

Two years later, Mr. Kelly posed the Imperial Girls Band once again. They now number 16 musicians, adding a third tuba, but I don't see Rae. The band leader has changed hats, moving to a white summertime cap. But he is not Simeon.

This man has a mustache too but his facial features seem too different from Simeon's three years earlier.

But Mr. Kelly has cleverly arranged the girls the same way as in the 1910 photo, and by super-imposing the two images using the same girls in the center as the focus, you can see that the man with the white hat is clearly taller.

What do you think? Am I wrong? Is it the same man?
Who is he? I don't know. Simeon Whaley may have found more work as a brick mason that took away time with the girls band. There may have been a more accomplished musician in Reading, who was a better music instructor. Perhaps one day I can solve this mystery when a descendant of these young ladies finds this post and has an answer

On August 18, 1913, The Evening Statesman of Marshall, Michigan in the adjacent county published a list of events for the opening of their county fair. There were four bands providing music, and the Imperial Girls Band of Reading was one of them, performing 4 times throughout the day.

Tuesday —
1 P. M. —  Grand blowing of factory whistles for fifteen minutes.
1:30 P. M. — No.2 Platform band concert by Ladies' Imperial band of Reading.
1:30 P. M. — Opposite No. 1 Fire station, the St. Clair Sisters in balloon ascension and releasing 100 small balloons, as an announcement to the outside cities that the homecoming celebration is opened.
2 P. M. — Main and Jefferson "Do Bell" unit on high wire. Grand Trunk band.
2:30 P. M. — No. 2 platform Jackson street, Major Westerman. clever baton swinging act. 4 Iskikawa Japs Acrobatic feats. Rennello and Sister, sensational bicycle act. Elks band.
3:15 P. M. — Main and McCamly streets, Prince, the diving dog, a thrilling high dive. Sanitarium band.
4:14 P. M. — State street between Jefferson and McCamly, sensational Smithson, leap the gap, Sanitarium band.
4:30 P. M. — In front of the Ellis Publishing company. The Flying Hubers, aerial act. Sanitarium band.
5 P. M. — No. 1 Stand, new city hall. The Reynolds Four foot jugglers and acrobats, Wilson and Aubery, some comedy. The Bluchers, trampoplain act. Girls' Imperial band.
7 P. M.—No. 2 Platform. Elks band concert.
7 P. M. — Opposite No. 1 Fire station, St. Clair sisters in balloon ascension, double parachute drop.
7:30 P. M. — No. 1 platform, the Reynolds four foot jugglers and acrobates. Wilson and Aubery, some comedy, the Bluchers, trampoplian act. Grand Trunk band.
8 P. M. — In front Ellis Publishing company, the Flying Hubers, great aerial act. Ladies Imperial band.
8:40 P. M. — Corner Main and Jefferson, "Do Bell" the limit on high wire. Ladies Imperial band.
9 P. M. — No. 2 platform, new city hall. Major Westerman, clever baton swinging act. Four Iskikawa Japs, acrobatic feats. Rennello and Sister, sensational bicycle act. Elks band.
9:30 P. M. — State street between Jefferson and McCamly. sensational Smithson leap the gap. Grand Trunk band.
10 P. M. — Main and MCamly street. Prince, the diving dog.

My contribution to Sepia Saturday

A thumbnail of this week's photo theme is in the logo below.
Click the link above to find more enthusiasts of vintage photographs.

The Snare Drum and Cornet

22 November 2011

A short fiction seen through the lens of an old camera.

"That's you?", asked the boy.

"Yes, that was me. It was a very long time ago," he said. "I played in the band at school." It did seem like another world. After two wars and so much change, it seemed like a picture of someone else.

"G... G... Gosh, I never thought of you as a ... a ... you look shorter than me," stammered the boy. "Who's the other fella?"

He looked at the photo again. "That would be Louis. He and I were best friends. We both lived on the same street, just a couple of flats apart. We made quite a noise practicing." He could hear the sound of the cornet and the drum now, mixing into the calls and shouts from the tenements and the rumble and rattle from the street.

The boy handed the photo back. "Where'd you get the instruments?"

"Oh, these were brand new. Father McDonnell got a special deal from a music store over on 48th St. Everyone got to pick out one and then we started lessons everyday at school. Father Mac led the band himself." He could remember little of the music they first played. But he could recall the concerts. Playing for the rest of the school; parades for the special saint days and church pageants; once even for the governor and the mayor. Music for almost every purpose, and he and Louie played it all.

He saw that the boy was still watching him closely. "So what happened to him?" 

"Louis? He almost finished out at Our Lady's School, but times got hard for him. His dad had a bad accident down at the docks and lost his job, and with a big family, Louis had to go out and get work. But the work he found was with some pretty rough people. Before long he was involved with some gang running whiskey and rum. It didn't end well". That day he read the newspaper report on the murder, and Louie's name jumped from the page, was a moment that still stopped his heart. 

"Father Mark?" The boy hesitated. "Do you think I could play an instrument?"  

"Sure you could. I bet you'd make a great drummer or cornet player. I'll have a word tomorrow with Sister Rose" He patted the boy on the back. "Run down and tell Sister Mary that I'll be down in a moment."

"Gee, you mean I get to choose?" The boy's eyes were wide with excitement.

"Yes, you get a choice. The snare drum or the cornet."

My contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link to find other enthusiasts of vintage photographs.  

A Detroit Contrabassoon

18 November 2011

Detroit - a name attached to teams like the Red Wings, the Pistons, and the Tigers; to  brands like Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors; and to one of America's great musical institutions, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. In 1946 a Detroit News photographer went to a rehearsal of the Detroit Symphony and focused on the imposing features of the Contrabassoon to take this picture of musicians at work.

The lowest of all orchestral instruments, the contrabassoon or kontrafagott is approximately 18 feet long. The modern instrument is folded into a more compact form with the bell nearly touching the floor, but this contrabassoon is from an earlier design and places the bell at about the same height as the regular bassoon. It uses a double reed that is larger than the bassoon reed and gives it a unique sonority that supports not only the woodwind instruments but the entire bass sound of an orchestra. It can make a pretty overpowering honk and I believe the fuzzy pineapple thing at the bottom of the photo is a mute for the contrabassoon. 

Perhaps the easiest way to understand this special sound of the orchestra, is to watch this YouTube video of a duet for bassoon and contrabassoon.  The music is by P.D.Q. Bach, a.k. Peter Schickele, and is performed by students at Western Washington University. Part 2 is also worth a listen.

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The back of the photograph has two dates stamped: NOV 10, 1946 and 1946 OCT 21 3PM.  In 1939 the Detroit Symphony succumbed to the financial challenges of the depression and gave up using their original Orchestra Hall. After trying other concert venues, in 1946 they took over the Wilson Theatre and renamed it the Detroit Music Hall.  The first subscription concert was on October 24, 1946 with Karl Krueger, conductor.

The program was:
Beethoven ~ Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72A
Brahms ~  Sym. No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98
Barber ~ Adagio for Strings
Liadov ~ Kikimora, Op. 63
Delius ~ On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring
Ravel ~ Suite No. 2 from Daphnis et Chloé

Though there is a contrabassoon in the Brahms, only the Ravel has 3 bassoons and contra. So the sound you can almost hear in this photo is from Ravel's 2nd Suite from Daphnis and Chloe.


The musician is labeled on the photo as Gerold A. Schon. The 1930 US Census, the most recent available to the public, recorded a Gerold A. Schon, living in Detroit, born 1893 Chicago, wife's name Gertrude Schon, who listed his profession as Musician, Music Professor. But in my search of the internet, there was also a Gerold Schon listed as a cellist who played with the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1918-20. The same name also turned up as a cello soloist in concert programs for the US Marine Band from the 1920's.

As luck would have it, offered up a US passport application from 1923, complete with a small photo of Gerold and Gertrude. He even signed it too. Could this be the same man, 23 years younger? The 6 ft+ height, the glasses, and the receding hairline would seem a close match, but the applicant asks for the passport to be sent to a Mancini U.S.M.B. - the United States Marine Band in Washington D.C.

The Reading PA Eagle from NOV 16, 1922 has a concert review of the Marine Band and mentions cellists Fritz Mueller and Gerold Schon. So I think the photographer got the wrong name and this man is not the bassoonist, but is instead Gerold Schon - the cellist who played with the Marine Band, and probably with the Detroit Symphony. It seems very unlikely that a cellist would abandon that instrument to pursue a career as a bassoonist.

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This past year, the musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra were engaged in a lengthy labor action with its board and management, which shut down concerts from October 2010 to April 2011. They have now resumed performances for this season but their struggle is shared by many musicians around the country, whose orchestras are also threatened by debt and even bankruptcy.

So far I have been unable to get a musician roster from the archives of the Detroit Symphony which would give me a definitive answer, but if you lift enough stones on the internet you can sometimes uncover some interesting clues. In the Fall, 2006 issue of Michigan Jewish History (p4 -16), there was a story on the Little Symphony of Detroit, a chamber orchestra started in 1948 by Bernard Rosen, bass clarinetist of the DSO. His idea was to create a small orchestra performing without a conductor to add to the concerts of the Detroit Symphony.

But in 1949, the DSO faced difficult contract negotiations, with harsh concessions demanded that would reduce the season from 20 weeks to 16, cut the $100 a week salary, and even terminate all 90 musicians for the 1949-50 season. In the end that is what happened, and the DSO folded, leaving the musician-run Little Symphony as the only orchestral concert group in Detroit. It's a great story about commitment to music, labor, and the city of Detroit. And on the last page of the article is a photo of a wind octet of the Little Symphony of Detroit, giving all the musician's names including a Gerald Schoen, bassoon.

The bassoonist in both photos is clearly the same man. Though there is a possibility that the man in the passport could have changed his instrument and the spelling of his name, it seems very unlikely. So I believe the gentleman with the contrabassoon is Gerald Schoen, though  when I get confirmation I will update this. And if indeed Gerold Schon was a cellist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the personal manager must have struggled to keep the names right on the paychecks.

UPDATE: 30 NOV 2011
I've received some information from the archivist of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra that confirms that Gerald Schon was indeed the contra-bassoonist in the photo. The other bassoonists were: Leonard Sharrow, principal bassoon, William Kruse, and Hugh Cooper. Mr. Schon seems to have spelled his name Schon and not Schoen. He was also listed in the DSO musician roster for the 1927-28 season as G. Schon. But what makes for more confusion is that in that season there was also a G. Schon in the cello section, undoubtedly the Gerold Schon who played with the Marine Band, and a J. Schon also in the bassoon section.  Now who was HE related to? Gerold or Gerald?

My contribution to Sepia Saturday
whose theme this weekend was a 1930's Chevrolet.
Click the link for more enthusiast of vintage photographs and good stories.

The USS Florida and USS Arkansas Navy Bands

11 November 2011

Today, 11 November, 2011 is Veterans Day, once known as Armistice Day in commemoration of the end of the Great War of 1914-18.  So it seems appropriate to honor veterans with a couple of vintage photo postcards of military musicians. This photo of a U.S. Navy band from the battleship USS Florida (BB-30) dates from the relatively peaceful period between WWI and WWII. Standing in front of one of the great 12-inch guns, the 16 bandsmen, to judge by the bright white uniforms, are in very warm sunshine.

The card was sent to Miss Mary Kobinsky of Middletown, Conn. in March, 1921 with a note that would still be current for a sailor today.

Dear Mary
Droping you a few lines to let you know that I am well and happy, hoping you're the same. I was thinking of droping you a letter sometime ago, but it's so hot down here in Guantanabo (sic) Bay that a feller looses all his Ambition, will get leave soon. Chas.
P.S. Remember me to all.

But what makes this band photo a unique historical image is the complexion of the navy bandsman standing on the left holding a clarinet. Despite some efforts to end discrimination and improve civil rights, America remained a very segregated society after the First World War, and the Navy during this period had very few black servicemen. This came from a policy of exclusion of black personnel based on a reasoning that segregation on board a ship was impractical. According to one history of the Integration of the Armed Forces, by 1940 the Navy had only 4,007 black personnel, or  2.3 percent of its nearly 170,000-man total, and almost all were employed as stewards. So it is exceptional to see this dark skinned clarinetist as a member of the band.

The USS Florida was one of two 21,825-ton battleships commissioned before WWI in 1911. She served mostly in the western Atlantic and Caribbean, but was decommissioned and scrapped at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1931. The sender of this postcard, postmarked 1913, remarks on the compliment of 200 sailors aboard her.

The first postcard came with a companion card showing another navy band, this time from the battleship USS Arkansas (BB-33). This larger band of 22 bandsmen, who seem to be out in bright sunlight again, has three men of color in the center: one clarinet, one euphonium, and one whose instrument is hidden. It is very difficult to judge ethnicity in sepia photographs, and it's possible that some of the bandsmen are of Asian origin, perhaps of Filipino heritage. But the euphonium player looks distinctly dark and of very African descent. Again this is a very unusual mixture for a navy band of this period.

In 1948 President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 integrating the military, though the end of discrimination and segregation of all units throughout the US Armed Forces still took many more years. Of course today's navy bands do not discriminate on race or for that matter, on gender either. For a photo of a black bandsman from before WWI look at my post on US Navy bandsmen 1914.

The USS Arkansas was a 26,000 ton Wyoming class battleship and like the Florida was commisioned before WWI in 1912. She was part of the Atlantic fleet and after the war was a training ship for navy midshipmen.  After being refitted she saw service in WWII, participating in the Normandy invasion and later after joining the Pacific fleet,  helping in the assaults on Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. This postcard is from the 1920's era.

The second band card was postmarked February 1922 and addressed to Mr. Edward Svihovec of Deep River, Conn. The message is short like a cell phone text message.

Dear Folks,
Few lines to let let you know that I've read your letter and to cut this story short will say good night and write later. 
Your son, Chas
Just a bit longer than the emails I get from my own son.

The handwriting of the name - Svihovec - created a real puzzle, as the letters did not immediately make sense. But eventually I found the service record for Charles F. Svihovec (1903-1976) who served in the Navy from 1921 to 1925. Charles was the second son of Edward Svihovec who immigrated from Bohemia with his family in 1911. Charles returned to Connecticut after his tour and married not Mary but Helen, making a career in the State Highway Department.

I have no way to determine if Charles was a musician in these bands, as his service record did not include his rating. The cards may have been just souvenir cards available through the ship's post office. But in the 1920 census for Deep River, CN,  Charles is living with his parents and two siblings. His father Edward Svihovec's occupation was listed as polisher, Piano Factory, and Charles and his older brother Edward also worked for the Piano Factory. 

This was likely the Pratt-Read Player Action Co. which had a factory making piano keyboard actions and player pianos in Deep River. The adjacent town of Ivoryton, Conn. also had a long industrial history making combs, buttons, toothpicks, billiard balls, and other items out of ivory, including piano keyboards. Here is the Wikepedia image showing the Ivoryton keyboard factory.

My guess is that in 1911, any Bohemian immigrant with machine skills would likely have had musical skills too. And if Edward played a brass instrument in the factory band, certainly his son, Charles would learn a musical instrument too. And what 18 year old wouldn't pass up an opportunity to see the world and play music on the deck of two battleships. If only he had thought to make an X over his sailor cap in the photos.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday 
which is a weekly meme which encourages bloggers to publish and share old images and photographs. This weekend it is celebrates its 100th post anniversary. 

Stoelzer & Blodeck, the Mozart Symphony Club Part 2

05 November 2011

We have met these two musicians before. They were introduced here last December as Stoelzer and Blodeck or more properly Richard Stoelzer and Mario Blodeck of New York City.  They toured the country as performers on two unusual string instruments of the baroque and renaissance, the Viola d'amore and the Viol da gamba in a group called the Mozart Symphony Club.

Stoelzer (1864 - 1947) was the leader of this small chamber music ensemble of 4 to 8 musicians which played all over America and Canada from around 1891 to 1905. The Richard Stoelzer Collection at the Adelphi University Library in Garden City, New York has more on his biography, but he and Blodeck serve as two examples of the many immigrant German musicians who helped to develop classical and orchestral music in late 19th century America.

This cabinet card photograph is a recent discovery which I acquired after the first photo, which is its obvious companion. The photographer was George Schmitt of Cincinnati, Ohio who is cited in Artists in Ohio working from 1893-1895.

His use of the German word Fotografer is no surprise when you go through a 1888 Cincinnati city directory and find page after page of Schmid, Schmidt, Schmit, and Schmitt in what was arguably the most Germanic of American cities. In 1888, the only photographer listed for 56/58 West 5th St. was named E.B. Core, so perhaps  George Schmitt worked there and then took it over, but he had a lot of competition as there were over 11 photographers on 5th St. alone and 6 more on 4th St.

The Mozart Symphony Club played from New York to Toronto to Seattle to Jacksonville, FL to Charleston, SC and seemingly everywhere in between. The University of Iowa has an online exhibit of Traveling Culture - the Circuit Chautauqua which describes the hundreds of different artistic and musical  groups that toured America from the late 1800's through the 1920's.

In this collection I found a promotional brochure of the Mozart Symphony Club from their 11th season, 1901-02 which describes Stoelzer, Blodeck and two other musicians, Miss Marie Stori a violinist and soprano; and Theodore Hoch, a virtuoso on the cornet and alpine echo horn.

This image from the back of that brochure shows how the group emphasized novelty but no doubt in a serious and educational manner. In addition to the viola d'amore and viol da gamba, the quartet displays the alpine echo horn with its two bells, a herald trumpet, a lute type instrument, and a violin, viola and cello. Though Stoelzer and Blodeck were demonstrating instruments that came from previous centuries, their repertoire was arrangements of 19th century opera tunes and light classics and not at all representative of the music originally played on these instruments. Nonetheless they brought a very unique and unusual ensemble to many cities and towns that had very limited exposure to quality chamber music performances.

The modern Early Music movement is usually credited to the British instrument maker Arnold Dolmetsch (1858 - 1940) who popularized music from the 18th, 17th and earlier centuries by setting up his own workshop to make harpsichords, lutes, and recorders. But his efforts were in the first decades of the 20th century, so it's possible that Stoelzer and Blodeck were the first musicians to reproduce early string instruments that had otherwise been left out of the modern orchestra. Despite their non-historical repertoire, they still deserve to be recognized for promoting the distinctive sounds of these forgotten instruments.

Here are some media examples of the instruments Stoelzer and Blodeck played. First is the sound of the viola d'amore as played on this YouTube video by the group PRATTICA TERZA with Maria Krestinskaya - Viola d'amore, Omay Bayramov - violoncello, and Georgy Blagodatov - harpsichord. At the beginning you can see the viola's upper playing strings and lower sympathetic strings that are under the fingerboard.
The viol da gamba was made in different sizes from treble to bass, similar to the violin string family but it was played da gamba - between the legs. A consort of viols was the precursor to the string quartet and from the Renaissance to the Baroque period it was the standard bowed string instrument of musical ensembles. Mario Blodeck had a wonderfully decorated viol with inlay and carved figurehead on the pegbox, but his instrument left off the most important feature of viols - the frets. These were made of gut tied around the fingerboard. Presumably Blodeck, as a cellist, preferred using modern cello technique and kept his viol like Stoelzer's viola without frets. I found a great video on YouTube which explains the difference between the cello and viol da gamba. The musician is Craig Trompeter from the Chicago early music ensemble The Baroque Band.


This week on Sepia Saturday the theme is an antique photo of the Lighthouse Workers' String Band from Måholmen, Sweden. You'll have to click the link to see the full photo and links to other enthusiasts of vintage photographs, but here is a clip of one of the musicians. His instrument is not an ordinary violin but a Norwegian instrument called a Hardanger Fiddle . Norway was actually part of Sweden for much of the 19th century until it gained independance in 1905. The Hardanger fiddle is similar to the viola d'amore in having extra sympathetic strings that run under the finger board. Like the viol, it is also ornately decorated in a Scandinavian style with inlay and sometimes carved figureheads, as seen in this image from the Wikipedia entry.

It continues to be played in folk ensembles and can be played at a virtuoso level. I found this stylish video on YouTube of a solo Hardanger Fiddle or Hardingfele played by Sindre Vatnehol. With the same concept of tuned sympathetic strings that resonate to the melodies and chords played on the upper strings, the sound is very similar to the viola d'amore.


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