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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Hark! The Herald Trombones Sing!

22 December 2012

'Tis the season for wonder and delight, and what better way to celebrate the Yuletide than to have four trombones wish us -
        A Merry Xmas and         
    a Happy New Year -    


These are no ordinary bandsmen of low brass, but a full complete trombone quartet with soprano, alto, tenor and bass slide trombones. The small trombone is a soprano in B-flat that is essentially the length of a B-flat trumpet, albeit adjustable. The bass trombone on the right is not as large as a modern bass and lacks the thumb valve that is now a standard plumbing extension. Both the soprano and alto trombones are rarely played today, and only a dedicated trombonist would bother to acquire one, mostly for the novelty of playing in the high register.

At first glance this might seem a trick photograph as these four lanky young men are so alike. They have such a similarity, especially the center two who must be twins, that I believe they are all brothers. The signature style of Dalmaer is too fanciful to know if it's a first name or last. and of course we can't know if the writer is even one of the musicians. Alas, like so many hatted bandsmen photos, their cap badges are not quite in focus to read. Perhaps Crawford or Granford ?

But I do know that this musical quartet hails from Texas where everything is just big.

The postcard was sent from Sherman, Texas on December 26 to Mrs. Kate Woods of Adrian, Missouri.  The two postmarks are missing the year, but someone penciled in 1915 at the top. However, the Benjamin Franklin one-cent stamp dates from the previous decade, as it was first issued in 1902 and comes from a postal series appropriately nicknamed the Gingerbread Definitives for the ornate border. By 1908 the one-cent stamp has a different design. So I would date this quartet to 1904-08.

Sackbuts in Syntagma Musicum (1614-20)
by Michael Praetorius.

The trombone has an ancient heritage that goes back to the early Renaissance. The first brass instruments to use a variable length slide were called sackbuts and were played in a consort of different sizes that mimicked soprano. alto, tenor and bass voices. The sackbut quartet made a formidable noise when playing ceremonial music in the town square but it was in sacred music where they became most useful as a supporting accompaniment to church choirs.

Youtube provides dozens of splendid videos for trombone quartets, but not so many for sackbuts. Here the Slokar Trombone Quartet plays some typical music for the Renaissance sackbut using a consort of instruments much like those shown above in the 1614 illustration by Praetorius.

The modern trombone choir uses principally the tenor and the bass, and only very occasionally the alto. To best hear the vocal quality of the trombone, I chose a performance by the Wiener Posaunenquartett (Vienna Trombone Quartet) playing the beautiful motet Locus Iste by Anton Bruckner (1824-1896).

I suspect that the trombone quartet of Sherman, Texas didn't play much Bruckner, but I would bet they played a lot of church hymns and vocal quartets. And I'm sure that Mrs. Woods smiled when she got her cheery holiday postcard.

Have a Merry Christmas everyone!

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the
joyful sound of accordions
accompany F
ather Christmas on his rounds.  

The Nobel Horn

13 December 2012

This week the 2012 Nobel Prizes were awarded at a ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden. So  it seemed fitting to feature a photograph of the only horn player to receive such an honor. It's also his birthday. His name was Dr. Edward Lawrie Tatum and in 1958 he shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine  with George Beadle, and Joshua Lederberg. The Associated Press ran a photo of Dr. Tatum and this 8"x10" print was released to newspapers around the country with this caption:

Dr. Edward Lawrie Tatum, 1958 Nobel prize winner
in medicine and physiology, engages in
one of his favorite pastimes,
playing the French horn,
tonight at his Manhattan apartment.
His wife, Viola, registers approval.

Edward L. Tatum (14 December 1909 - 1975) shared the award for medicine with his colleague George Beadle (1903-1989)  "for their discovery that genes act by regulating definite chemical events". The two men worked together at Stanford University developing experiments with the bread mold Neurospora crassa. Their research proposed links between the bread mold's genes and enzymatic reactions and led to an understanding about how specific enzymes were involved in making metabolic pathways.  In other words they made a great contribution to science.

Actually Tatum and Beadle only received 1/4 of the prize, as the other half went to Joshua Lederberg (1925-2008) "for his discoveries concerning genetic recombination and the organization of the genetic material of bacteria". In 1946 Lederberg's specialty took him to Yale where he studied under Edward Tatum while Tatum was a professor there. In 1957 with the launch of Sputnik and the first spaceflights, Lederberg become concerned about the possible contamination of the Earth by extraterrestrial microbes. He was an important advocate for having NASA sterilize all equipment prior to launch and put the returning astronauts into quarantine.  So we have him to thank that little green space bugs have not taken over the world — yet.

But all that science can make for a dull life sometimes, so who wouldn't want to relax with a musical instrument. Tatum's horn is a single horn in F, which was then more common with students and amateurs. Today most horn players would have a double horn in F/B-flat. So I'd be willing to bet that this was the instrument he had in high school. Perhaps with his prize money he bought a new one.

Just for fun I tried to find orchestras in which Tatum might have performed. In California, he could have played in the Stanford Symphony Orchestra which was established in 1891 and is open to all members of the Stanford University community. In New York City, Tatum could have joined other physicians interested in performing symphonic music in the Doctors Orchestral Society of New York which is celebrating its 75th season next year. At a concert this past January their program included the very beautiful Horn Concerto of Reinhold Glière.

I'm not sure I would know a microbe from a virus unless it bit me. But I do know that the inside of a brass instrument is a veritable Petri dish for germs. Periodically I wash my horn's plumbing with soap and warm water using a long flexible brush called a snake. If proper hygiene is neglected, the molds and mystery substances can become quite colorful. I wonder if Dr. Tatum once had an Ahaa! moment whilst cleaning his horn.

The Nobel Prize is probably Stockholm's biggest world event. They put on grand concerts, They bring out their King. And they serve really good food. I'm sure Viola Tatum registered her approval. Here are two short videos of the Nobel Prize banquets of 2011 and 2012.

Skoal  Dr. Tatum!


   UPDATE: 11 April 2017   

This week I had the distinct pleasure
of playing Dr. Edward L. Tatum's horn
and meeting his nephew, Art Tatum,
who is the owner of this instrument.

Art contacted me last year after finding my blog story on his uncle, Dr. Edward Lawrie Tatum.
He writes:

I am the nephew of Ed Tatum, and I have inherited "The Nobel Horn", shown in the press photograph. The horn is a single F horn of unknown age marked Lorenzo SansoneNew York on the bell, but curiously with “Made in Czechoslovakia” engraved on the lead pipe brace. I am also a horn player, as was my grandfather Arthur Lawrie Tatum, and my father Howard J. Tatum, who was Edward L. Tatum's brother. I have been using my father's King double horn and years ago lent Ed's horn to my niece, who is quite an accomplished horn player. She played it until she was about 10.

She quickly outgrew Ed's single horn, and now has her own Conn, and recently returned Ed's horn to me. It was for this reason that I searched on the internet for "E. L. Tatum and French Horn", looking for a link to send her, as I have clippings of Ed with the horn in his papers. I also seem to be the default family genealogist and archivist.

My grandfather Arthur Lawrie Tatum, who was chairman of Pharmacology at University of Wisconsin, did not have the money for music lessons for his children Ed, Howard, and Bessie. Yet he somehow learned to play horn and flute, likely with help from his friends on the music faculty, and taught Ed and Howard the horn, and Bessie the flute. My father's horn is a curious King double with a piston valve for the B flat horn, circa 1930 acquired when my father was about 14.

Both Ed and Howard were accomplished horn players, and I will attempt to find orchestras or concert bands that Ed played in.  There is a note in the Rockefeller University, E.L. Tatum archives, noting that he was trying to get a woodwind quintet, or some chamber group together, and indicated that there was some interest from other faculty. But I don't know if it ever happened.

I know my father played in the University of Wisconsin orchestra and concert band, and I have images of Howard and Bessie, but not Ed, who was a bit older, in images from the Interlochen Arts Camp. Ironically, at least to horn players, the guest conductor for the final summer camp concert, was none other than the bane of horn players everywhere who loathe endless afterbeats, yes, John Philip Sousa himself!  I still have the fingering for On Wisconsin in my muscle memory bank. Wisconsin was so bad at football in my tenure in the marching band, that we played On Wisconsin even when we just got a first down. Nonetheless we had the best sounding marching band in the big 10, as music majors were not allowed to play in the concert band or orchestra, unless they served time every year in the marching band.

Art also sent me a wonderful photo
of himself and his wife Peggy
posed in a reenactment
of Edward and Viola Tatum's
newspaper photo.

But as any horn player knows
there are times
when our noble instrument
becomes the Ignoble Horn!

Art provided the accompanying caption.

Edward’s nephew, Art Tatum, no relation or musical comparison to the famous Jazz Pianist,
enjoys playing Ed's Sansone single F horn.
His wife, Peggy, registers “approval”.
(horror really, as some awful cracked notes were played to elicit the appropriate faces)

Thanks, Art.

Fort Lauderdale FL News
31 October 1958

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you will find other photos of relaxing couples. 

Max Schmidt's Band White & Gold

07 December 2012

Of all the photos in my collection, few exemplify the golden age of band music better than this postcard of Max Schmidt's Band White and Gold. This concert band of 24 musicians dressed in splendid white and gold embroidered uniforms was typical of the many professional bands in America before World War One, and in 1909 it was a feature of the summer entertainment at the Ocean Park of Long Branch, New Jersey.  It's leader, Max Frederick Schmidt (1870 - 1951), was a German musician who came to the US in 1886, with the great wave of German and Austrian immigrants who brought the Germanic musical heritage to American music.

Max was a violinist, though I suspect he played a wind instrument too, and his home was in New York City. Some newspaper reports referred to him as a former director of the Metropolitan Opera, but more likely he was just a member of the orchestra, as I found no references of his name in the Met Opera archives. His music programming though did include many opera excerpts on the Band White & Gold's concerts. During the fall and winter seasons he conducted Broadway shows and his credits include a 1908 musical called The Soul Kiss with music composed by Maurice Levi, another bandleader of this ragtime age whose orchestra at Churchill's restaurant in New York was a story I told in 2010.  In 1910 Max directed a musical by George M. Cohan - Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford - which ran for 424 performances.

The Band White and Gold stands on the steps of the Ocean Park Casino bandstand as seen from across Ocean Avenue in this postcard by the same photographer, Underwood. During the second half of the 19th century, Long Branch was a favorite summer retreat for the elite of New York and the other major cities of the East Coast as it was conveniently located on a rail line from New York City. Several presidents were regular visitors including President James Garfield, who died there in 1881 after being wounded by an assassin's bullet in Washington, D.C.

The park was built on 10 acres along the Atlantic coast and in 1907 the casino added a convention center with seating for 3,000.  In 1909 the town undertook a major $1,000,000 development project to attract more tourist dollars. Hotels were refurbished, a boardwalk was constructed, and many new cottages, i.e. mansions, were added along the bluff overlooking the ocean. 

This next postcard shows the band stand from a different perspective and includes a mark for good old Fred too. {* see footnote}  The casino was obviously an important center of summer activity but there was also horse racing, auto racing, dog shows, flower shows, and of course, music to keep people occupied at the resort. Max Schmidt's celebrated Band White & Gold played two free shows daily in the bandstand and had regular evening performances that sometimes included a chorus of 250 voices in the casino's convention center.

The Staten Island historical society has Max Schmidt's uniform and some other photos on display at their online museum. (They seem sensitive about protecting images of items in their museum so I can't show the wonderful embroidery here. Just click the link for a look and we'll wait right here.) 

This photo postcard of the Band White and Gold shows a formal interior, perhaps on the casino stage, with 40 musicians. In addition to the usual band instruments there are three horns, a bassoon, an oboe, and a harp which always signifies a first class concert band. But just next to the band leader are some very unusual musicians. Three blacksmiths in leather aprons stand with hammers and anvils, and a young African- American boy dressed in the white and gold uniform, sits cross legged at Max's side.

The boy was also centered in the band's first photo. He was undoubtedly the band mascot and may have even been a novelty performer. His familiar presence on the stage with white musicians makes him a very intriguing mystery person. Unfortunately I have been unable to establish any history for him. Given the era and the location, he was probably used as a novel way of promoting the band.

The blacksmiths however are exceptionally unusual and I'll get to them in a minute. Did you spot the four (count them!) anvils at the back of the band in first photo?

The postcard is marked C. Schaidner, NY copyright 1909, but the card was postmarked in January 7, 1930. That seemed a very late date to reprint a photo even for a popular band, and the back has the old fashioned mark of Private Mailing Card.

Why would someone post such a card in 1930?

The answer is, you would if your husband had a whole box of them left over from his days as a bandleader. The postcard was mailed by Anna Schmidt, Max's wife. She sent it to an old neighbor, Mrs. Ida Maurer in the Bronx or Bronxville as she calls it, and notes her new address in Staten Island saying she has asked her son Freddie to pay a call.

So what about the anvils?

The first photo of the Band White & Gold shows a bass drum, tympani, and racks of tubular chimes and tuned jingle bells. But anvils are not a typical percussion instrument. One anvil would be odd enough in a band, but four?

An anvil of the size pictured with the band might weight as much as 400 pounds, not counting the stump, so it was definitely not an instrument for a marching band, but surprisingly it was sometimes used in concert music. Here are two recordings of the most familiar tunes for anvils as provided by the Internet Archives.

These recordings were made by the Victor Talking Machine Company out of Camden, NJ. The first piece is Forge in the Forest by Theodore Michaelis and was recorded by Arthur Pryor's Band in 1904. Arthur Pryor was a trombone virtuoso who began his career with John Philip Sousa's Band and later set up his own touring group. He settled in Asbury Park, NJ, which is just 6 miles south of Long Branch, and led a band making recordings for the Victor label. I would bet that some of the musicians on the recording played in Max Schmidt's band too.

The anvils start about half way, just after the birdsongs.

The second recording is The Anvil Chorus from Verdi's opera Il Trovatore and it was issued first in 1907, played by the Victor Orchestra. You can just make out the sound of violins. The anvils begin about a third of the way in. Note that they are tuned to two or three pitches.

But I think the best piece for anvil and one that I'm certain was often programed by the Band White & Gold, was the Feuerfest! ('Fire-Proof!') polka op. 269 by Josef Strauss (1827 - 1870). He was the younger brother of the more famous Austrian composer Johann Strauss II, and he wrote this dance tune for the Wertheim safe company, which commissioned it to celebrate the 20,000th sale of their fireproof safe. The title was their company slogan. It might have been Max Schmidt's theme song too.

This performance by the Salinenmusikkapelle of Bad Ischl, Austria is my favorite of the many versions I found on YouTube because the band is dressed in fancy uniforms complete with shakos and plumes. The anvil is a bit pocket-sized compared to the ones in the Band White & Gold, but the effect is still there.

But YouTube provides an even better illustration of the percussive quality of forged steel with a maestro of the anvil from right here in my home town of Asheville, North Carolina. His name is  Doc Cudd, a master blacksmith at the Biltmore Estate. I've not had the pleasure of hearing his live performance but I would bet that the blacksmiths in Max Schmidt's band played with a similar musical skill. It's not beyond possibility too that George Vanderbilt II, who called the magnificent Biltmore house his home, might have visited the Long Branch casino and heard Max and his anvil band.

Turn down your speaker volume before you play this video.

With the start of World War One in 1914, public opinion on German/Austrian culture began to change rapidly. By 1917 when America entered the war, German Americans became a target for discrimination and worse. Though the Germanic influence was still a part of American music, German musicians like Max Schmidt probably found it difficult to continue the same relationship with their audience. I could find no references to the Band White & Gold after 1915. The war brought changes to musical styles and fashions, and popular taste moved on.

Besides conducting Broadway shows, Max led summer band concerts in Midland Beach on Staten Island where he moved from the Bronx in the late 1920s. His house provides a beautiful overlook of the Hudson river. 

When they perfect the time machine, I'm going back to the summer of 1909. I'm going sit on the lawn outside the Long Branch casino and listen to Max Schmidt and his band play. And I'm going to hear the anvils ring.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where they cover all topics Sepia.

The Sepia Saturday theme photo is about OshKosh overalls, and it happens that I have a perfect photo to mark not just this theme but a special day. Next weekend this bright-eyed Georgia boy from 20 some years ago will receive his final certificate of achievement and march off into the glittering light of a new day. Cuteness was only a brief phase for Samuel Nathan and now he gets to do whatever he pleases. I know he will go far.

Note the drool. That's on his permanent record. We should have named him Bubba.

* When I started this post on Monday, I went searching for some supporting images, and found the two casino postcards on eBay available for purchase. It was not until they arrived on Thursday that I was able to see the back sides, and to my amazement both were posted in 1909 to the same Mrs. Ida Maurer of the Bronx by Anna Schmidt, Max's wife!

X marked the spot for Fred Schmidt, their eldest son at age 11 in 1909. The babies are  daughters Isolde and Margareta, along with younger son Max. The 1930 postcard was purchased last year from a dealer in Illinois. These older ones came this week from a dealer in Georgia. How does a coincidence like this happen?

A very simple explanation. The second dealer is the daughter of the first.  Nonetheless there were mysterious forces of cosmic magnetism at work here. How cool is that?

UPDATE 08 January 2013:
Here are two more photo postcards to add to this story, courtesy of Mr. George Bentzen who recently contacted me. George is the grand nephew of Max Schmidt. 

Band White and Gold, Midland Beach, NY
courtesy of G. Bentzen collection

In this souvenir postcard of Midland Beach, NY on Staten Island, Max Schmidt stands with his Band White and Gold on what looks to be the steps of a hotel porch. His ensemble is smaller than the Long Branch band with only 18 musicians and no anvilists.

George offers these memories of his great-uncle.
Max and Anna had 4 children. Fred, Max, Isolde and Marguerite. My mother used to visit with them quite often,especially in the summertime when Uncle Max was playing at Midland Beach. He gave concerts in the afternoon beachside over the Pineapple Stand and in the evenings at the hotel over the Taffy Pull place. These bandstands were beautiful and right at the beach. The crowds loved the band. Mom remembered going to Midland Beach during the first World War to hear the band and saw the harbor filled with camouflaged ships.

Max Schmidt
courtesy of G. Bentzen collection

And to conclude, Mr. Bentzen generously provided this wonderful portrait of Max Schmidt wearing a bandleader's uniform more reserved than the decorative White & Gold uniform that is now at the museum of the Staten Island historical society.

George writes:
I went back and checked some old letters I have from his daughters. He played at Midland Beach until the end of summer 1930. She says he was Assistant Music Director of the Met.1900-1904. Not first violinist. I know he taught all instruments at each of his homes in the Bronx and in Staten Island. We used to go on the ferry then go across the street and climb up this very long set of stairs that went to the top of the hill where his home is. Sitting on that front porch was great watching all the water traffic from great ships to little local rowboats. When he had time between his other music obligations, he would go to the New York Turner Club on Clarence Ave in the BRONX  on the waterfront in Throggs Neck where his brother George (my grandfather) was president and give concerts. This being a German-American club would clear the floor of the big dining room and dance the evening away.
I am very grateful that you contacted me, George, and added to this history of Max Schmidt. He was such a great example of the many German American musicians whose talent and leadership created this golden age of American band music. Thank you.


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