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 }

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.


Howard said...

Amazing. I'd never heard of anvils being used as musical instruments before. I wonder how you'd tune it? Seeing the last youtube clip I guess the guy has been bashing that that thing for so long he knows every nuance and sweet spot on it down to the millimeter.

Boobook said...

Excellent video. What fun.

Kat Mortensen said...

That photo of the band with the anvil players is quite something! I knew of the operatic, "anvil chorus", but hadn't considered that the anvil might be used in other musical situations. (Actually, I had mistakenly thought the "Anvil Chorus" was from "Aida".

Sweet photo of your little guy in the OshKosh overalls. You must be very proud.

Mike Brubaker said...

I forgot to add that the little guy is now 6'3" and doesn't need overalls anymore as it's all virtual dirt now. A bib - maybe.

North County Film Club said...

What a great post, as usual. So full of fun information. I too, had only heard of the anvil chorus. Who knew there were other pieces for the anvil and actually, why? What an odd thing to use as an instrument.
Your son's photo is adorable and so perfect for the theme.

Kristin said...

I never heard of anvils being used as musical instruments either. The blacksmith is playing all over that anvil!

My kids had those oshKosh overalls too. I wish him the best as he graduates.

Alan Burnett said...

Congratulations to Samuel Nathan, you must be proud. And congratulations to you for week after week producing what are stunning pieces of work for Sepia Saturday. Occasionally people ask me about blogging in such a way as to suggest that it is some kind of self-obsessed, neo-diary keeping. I have a collection of blogs that I send them off to look at, blogs that illustrate the full range and creativity of blogging as a form. TempoSenzaTempo is high on that list.

Bob Scotney said...

Mike, your posts never cease to amaze me. Having used hammers on steel castings to see whether they were cracked,I was amazed by the last anvil video.
The story of the Schmidts is interesting and thos postcards are quite a find.
Good luck to Samuel Nathan.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Hi Mike,

I loved the color postcards in the first part of you post. Your boy is so cute; that picture reminded me of my son in his similar overalls (he is 22 now). Congrats on his graduation!

That is very amazingly cosmic about how you came across those other two postcards.

Kathy M.

Unknown said...

Was impressed by the size of the crowds at the band concerts; I tend to forget that bands were a such a popular form of public entertainment! Wonderful post...

Peter said...

Apart from everything else, which is of the usual high standard, the first two are magnificent postcards! And my congrats to 6'3" Samuel Nathan.

Lavender and Vanilla Friends of the Gardens said...

The perfect Oshkosh advertisement, this little guy with his brilliant smile and beautiful eyes.

Tattered and Lost said...

Another wonderful post in which I learned so much and enjoyed every single minute of it.

Wendy said...

I'm surprised no one has mentioned that the guy playing the Anvil Chorus was dressed in overalls. That's almost as good as the well-timed arrival of the postcards.

Bruno Laliberté said...


Mike Brubaker said...

@TB very funny. The depth of YouTube videos has yet to me measured. The first cartoon is a bit silly and not up to the original Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck quality, but the Popeye is a classic and has more historical accuracy (if that's possible in a cartoon)on proper anvil usage.

Bruno Laliberté said...

To be honest, I am not quite myself lately and don't have the patience to research as I usually do, but I seem to remember the original Mickey with an anvil...
Oh well!!

Nancy said...

Mike, I think this is one of the most interesting posts I've ever read! All out detail - history, postcards, plus videos. I just finished reading Candice Millard's book about James Garfield so it was interesting to see a postcard of and read about Long Branch. For some strange reason watching Doc Cudd brought to mind singing goblets and Ben Franklin's glass armonica. It's amazing the music that cab be brought forth from such common objects. Thanks for a fabulous post. And congratulations to your adorable boy (all grown up!).


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