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.  


21 Wits said...

Yes, I got in, finally. I think there are gremlins in blogger as the moment. I even got an error message trying to leave a commont for someone at our Sepia blog. Strange, but at least it's not the end of the world! I am so glad I got to view your post- just the festive kind of magic I really needed today! God bless you and all your family! Merry Christmas to all!

Wendy said...

I would like to offer "Talmage" as the name of the sender of the card. The trombone quartet was really quite entertaining. The variety of sound surprised me. Merry Christmas Mr. Mike!

Unknown said...

Wow! That bass trombone is really something. I've never seen a trombone with such a long extension; that "outrigger" handle is clever.

Bob Scotney said...

Another very enjoyable post topped off by the sound of the trombones. A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your loved ones.

Teresa Wilson Rogers said...

It is interesting how all 4 of those young men are so similar. I enjoyed both of those trombone pieces - I needed a little holiday music this morning. Happy Holidays Mike!

Peter said...

I have never seen someone using a "handle" such as the one on the large trombone of the Slokar Quartet. Is that to improve ones reach?
Besides here a trombone is also called a "schuiftrompet", a slider trumpet.
Having stripped myself of all my musical knowledge, I wish you a Merry Christmas, Mike!

Boobook said...

Loved this blog. My son plays trombone and has recently joined a village band near Zurich to play in end-of-winter festivals.
Happy Christmas

Lavender and Vanilla Friends of the Gardens said...

I learned about the trombone which was a bit a mystery music instrument to me. Enjoyed the Bruckner. In Switzerland when I grew up, every village had a brass band with trombone players.
Mike, enjoy a happy festive season and a wonderful 2013.

Bruno Laliberté said...

A delightful post, especially with that first video. That Renaissance music is truly inspiring. I like Bruckner's music but at the moment, that first one captured my attention.

Wishing you all the best and hoping to find you in 2013 full of enthusiasm and new ideas!!
Season's Greetings!!

Postcardy said...

The four trombones on a Christmas card made me think of the Twelve Days of Christmas song.

tony said...

Have A Real Fine Christmas! Regards From Tony.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the (much needed) trombone lesson, I learned a lot. Happy Holidays!

AMD said...

Catching up on Sepia Saturday, thanks for sharing information on trombones. Cheers!

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Some nice looking guys there! I really enjoyed the videos. The music was lovely.

Hope that you had a great Christmas, Mike, and that your new year is wonderful. Thanks so much for stopping by to visit me.

Kathy M.

Brett Payne said...

Marion and Catherine Woods of Grand River (later Adrian), Bates, Missouri had at least three sons: Crayton (b. 1875), Lafayette (b. 1876) and William C. (b. 1878) and a daughter Lora (b. 1888). The eldest was a schoolteacher in Grand River in 1900.

I think the two in the centre look like brothers, and the two outer ones look like brothers or twins, but the two sets are not that similar to each other.


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