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 }

Monsieur le Curé and his Ophicleide

25 July 2013

1. Au Lutrin ~ Avant l'exécution
At the Lectern ~  Prior to the execution

2. ~ Attention !!!
Caution !!!

3. ~ Introduction ... pianissimo
Introduction ... very quietly

4. ~ Crescendo
Increasingly Louder

5. ~ Fortissimo
Very Loud

6. ~ Essoufflé
Out of Puff

7. ~ Harassé
Worn out

8. ~ Exténué

The writer of the last card had such beautiful penmanship, that it deserves to be featured on the Internet too. Five of these postcards were sent to Monsieur Chascel(?) who lived in Passy, Paris.

It is very unusual to find the Ophicleide depicted in postcards, and it is even more rare in vintage photographs. It was an instrument that enjoyed, if that is the right word, a place in French and English opera orchestras from the 1820s to the 1870s. As a bass instrument, it never become part of the brass band tradition, where instead the Tuba had more musical and practical qualities.

The humor of the exasperated padre and his funny instrument was even in this later era, a familiar image in France as the ophicleide was still used in small Catholic parishes to support the music sung in the Roman Catholic liturgy. Monsieur le Curé and his Ophicleide was only one of many postcard series printed by Albert Bergeret & Co., in Nancy, France. By 1905 when most of these cards were posted, Bergeret's company had already produced more than 75 million postcards.

Over the past few years I have featured the Ophicleide and its ancestor the Serpent on this blog, but after this collection there may be no more unless I can find another series or a rare photograph with one. So before we say, "Au revoir!" to the Ophicleide, let us watch a YouTube video that demonstrates this unusual musical instrument. 

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Since the Ophicleide is no longer manufactured, the few modern performers who specialize in this unusual brass instrument must acquire antique models. In this YouTube video, trombonist Everson Moraes debuts his newest acquisition: an Ophicleide in E flat made by Gautrot breveté and manufactured around 1875.  I believe this is a smaller (higher pitch) instrument than Monsieur le Curé's Ophicleide, but this tune, which is very nicely played, is a perfect melody to hear the mellifluous tone of this curious keyed-brass instrument.

YouTube provides all manner of instructional material now. While preparing this post I discovered an ambitious team of young people who have recorded an entire dictionary of words in an attempt to correct the world's English pronunciation. 

Or in this case French pronunciation.

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This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where this weekend everything is by the book.

The Rainbow Orchestra

19 July 2013

It was the small child balanced precariously on a chair that sold it. Otherwise it was just an unremarkable postcard of a man and woman standing behind ten young kids seated with band instruments. But the child holding a baton added a lighthearted quality that made it a better photograph. Were they a school band? A church ensemble? A musical family? Their ages from around 6 to 20 years seemed too broad for a school. They clearly were not British, or American, or even French as the helpful caption was written in an unfamiliar language. Who were they?

Māc. V. Fetlera gimenes orkestris

The language turns out to be Latvian. The translation in English reads:

Pastor (mācītājs) V. Fetlera family orchestra

Ten children makes quite an impressive family band! Postcards of musical groups from Eastern Europe are not common. What year could this be? 1950s? 1930s?

A second photo postcard shows the same group but this time the caption is in a different language - Swedish.

Familjen Fetlers "Regnbågen" - orkester.

Now the Rainbow Orchestra has 12 children! All lined up neatly by height, Pastor Fetler and his wife stand proudly just behind them. Their instruments and dress now suggest 1930s. Are they from Latvia or Sweden?

The next postcard shows the line reversed this time and the shortest boy is on the right. They wear matching outfits but have no instruments. A small portrait of the pastor and his wife is inset in the corner. The caption is now in English.

The Rainbow Family Orchestra of Riga
(Pastor and Mrs. William Fetler's Children)

Are they Latvian, Swedish, English, or American?

The second boy from the right in the last photo is Jacky Fetler. He had his own solo postcard as the "Bandmaster" of the Rainbow Family Orchestra, Riga. He wears a pair of Bavarian style lederhosen and looks to be about age 8.

The Rainbow orchestra are now 13 children! The ten boys and three girls are seated in this next postcard which has the title:

The Fetlers Family Band of Riga, Latvia
Thirteen Children of Rev. & Mrs. Vaseely Andreyevich Fetler-Malof

They wear black shirts and white ties in a sophisticated fashion that seems less European than the earlier photos. There is a reason for that, as they are very far from Riga now.

Reverend William Fetler was born in 1885 in Talsi, Courland, as this part of Latvia was then known. His father was a pastor of a Baptist church and William took up the calling too. He went to London to study theology and graduated in 1907 from Spurgeon’s Pastors’ College.

The religious history of Eastern Europe is far too complicated to describe here, but suffice it to say that the people of the Baltic nations were destined by geography to be entangled in the long struggle between empires and the Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Russian Orthodox faiths. Evangelic Baptists did not find favor with any of these dominant religions, and were consequently subject to discrimination, limitations on property rights,  and sometimes very harsh treatment for their beliefs.

When he returned to Riga, Latvia, Fetler ran afoul of the Russian Orthodox church for his charismatic Christian zeal, so the Tzarist government banished him from the country in 1914. He narrowly escaped from being exiled to Siberia, and instead emigrated to America, living in New York and Philadelphia during the war years where he helped establish a Missionary Aid Society for the Russian community. After the war, he and his family returned to Latvia and in 1923 he took over the Golgotha Baptist Church in Riga and each Sunday preached three services to Latvian, Russian, and German congregations.

Around 1933 he also began to include his talented children as a musical ensemble for his evangelical services. When the politics of the new government of Latvia became too authoritarian, the Fetler family moved to Sweden where they discovered that they could make money with concerts of a family band. The children already knew several languages, so they put together a show of songs and instrumental music that toured Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Germany, and Switzerland. In 1938 they found themselves in Munich, Germany where Pastor Fetler picked up on the ominous signs of the Nazi programs and decided it was time to leave.

They boarded a ship in Copenhagen and sailed for America.

On the back of this postcard the children had their signatures printed.

  • Jacky
  • Paul
  • John
  • Philip
  • Elisabeth
  • Andrew
  • Peter
  • David
  • Mary
  • Lydia
  • Timothy
  • Daniel
  • Joseph
and their parents:
  • Barbara Fetler
  • William Fetler. 

You will also note that they now make their home in Evanston, Illinois.

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The Gettysburg, PA Times - July 20, 1939

In July 1939, the Fetler family arrived in New York. Pastor Fetler had arranged for them to attend the International Baptist World Alliance convention in Atlanta. They came with 80 pieces of luggage and needed two seven-passenger cars to travel south to Gerogia. A family band like this had a great advantage for promotion, and their appearance was featured in newspapers across the country. Even Time magazine had an article on the Fetler band in Atlanta.

In this last postcard, the Fetler children are once again lined up by height, but with new hair styles and matching open neck shirts that make them look very modern Americans. Their band instruments are no longer European but are distinctly American made designs, like the trumpet, melophone, euphonium, and tuba.

After the Baptist convention in Atlanta, William Fetler and his Rainbow family stayed in America. They started their concert tours again, often providing music to their father's lecture/sermons. One appearance in the November 2, 1939 edition of the Danville, VA The Bee included the same photo of young Jacky Fetler and a detailed program.

Russian folk songs, religious anthems, folk songs of several European countries - the group has made its home in 12 different countries and speaks seven languages and a talk by Rev. Fetler on "The Revolution and Religion in Russia" constitute their unique program.

Little James (Jacky) Fetler, eight year-old bandmaster, will lead the orchestra in several numbers. The 12 children - instruments include Daniel - 24, trumpet; Timothy - 23, clarinet; Lydla -22, cornet; Paul - 19, trombone; John - 17, second trombone; Philip - 16, bass horn; Elizabeth - 15, altohorn;  Andrew - 14, baritone horn; David - 12, cornet; Peter - 9, drums; James (Jacky) - 8, bandmaster; and Joseph - 5, the cymbals.

Opening with a Latvian march conducted by Jacky, this program will continue with "The Twelve Robbers"; an old Russian cloister song; "Concerto In B Flat Major"; a clarinet solo; the ever popular "Russian Volga Song"; "Ey Uchnyem"; Richard Wagner's "The Pilgrim's Chorus" from "Tannhauser" arranged by Daniel.

"Jamshtshlk", Rusian coachman's song will be followed by "Bethlehem", a Czech song featuring trombone solo by Paul; a spiritual "I Ain't a'Gonna Grieve My Lord Any More"; the Gospel according to St. John 3:16 in thirteen languages; "The Rainbow March" composed by Paul; "Mein Herzchen soll Seln, Wie Die Lilie so Rein, German nursery song; and "They Come From the East and West".

Dunkirk NY Evening Observer - July 20, 1939

During that summer of 1939, some newspaper editors even added the Fetler family photo to the front page in an effort to let a small light shine through the dark clouds of impending war. Only one month later on September 1, 1939, the German army invaded Poland and lives everywhere were changed forever.

Pastor Fetler and his family band performed at churches around America until at least 1944, but like every family, their aspirations and priorities changed. In 1941 the Soviet Union assimilated the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, so they could not return to Riga. Instead, the Fetler family made America their new home. Latvia would not regain full independence until 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union.

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I have found several sources for research on the Fetler family history, but I would like to cite three as very important to this story. One was a memoir of Robert Tarziers who considered Fetler to be his mentor. Robert Tarziers had quite an exciting life too, and I recommend the Tarziers family website for those who like exciting family history.

Lydia Fetler, who was the third oldest of the thirteen Fetler children, died in 2008 at age 91. The Washington Post carried a beautiful obituary and tribute to her life, and it is still available online and includes a reprint of the second postcard.

The Metropolitan, an arts journal for the Rochester NY Arts & Cultural Council, published an article in the Fall of 2010 (page 13) on David Fetler, who went on to study music at Julliard and the Eastman School of Music, and become a successful conductor and composer. He now lives in the Rochester area. The article reprinted an image of the first postcard.

David Fetler was the little boy standing on the chair.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where Amazons stand guard this weekend. 

Hussars in the Rain

12 July 2013

Sometimes it rains. Sometimes it pours. And in the army whether it's a shower or a torrent, the parade must carry on. After all that's just what soldiers do. And if soldiers march, they must have music played by the regimental band. Photographs of military parades are not uncommon but few offer as much interest as this British postcard of a regimental band in the rain. Flanked by throngs of people huddled under umbrellas, a band of about 24 men takes a left turn while leading a unit of soldiers also in full ceremonial and very wet dress uniforms. This looks like an important event. Where could they be?

As the card was never posted there is no indication of date or location on the back. But most unfortunate is that the photographer's caption is obscured by the wet pavement and dark umbrellas.

{click the images to enlarge}

Despite my best effort to alter the image contrast and color, the lettering refused to cooperate and all that I could bring out was ... S... ...Y_r_ ... ... A 286. Tantalizingly close but still insufficient to make a proper identification. Perhaps a search for similar uniforms would offer better leads. The bandsmen are wearing a distinctive style headgear called a Busby, which is made of fur. Originally worn by Hungarian hussars, it was adopted by several cavalry regiments of the British army. 

It happens that one of the best websites I have found on the history of military uniforms is called  This specialty site has an astonishing number of vintage photographs and detailed history on the hussar military tradition. It seems nearly every European country (and Japan too!) developed mounted regiments of hussars. Though the main text is in French, the page devoted to British hussars is in English. It was there that I found an excellent photo that confirms that the band was a unit of the Yorkshire Hussars.

Yorkshire Hussars 1906
In this photo of six Yorkshire Hussars, we can see that their busby and elaborate jacket cording match the uniforms of the marching band. The colors are dark blue with five rows of buttons and white/silver braiding. Could the postcard have a Yorkshire connection? And where were their horses?

Tracking down photos like this is much like a scavenger hunt, which for an amateur historian like myself, is the real appeal. I readily admit that it is a thrill to uncover the obscure and solve a riddle. My perseverance paid off a few months later with the find of another photo postcard more clearly marked and taken on the same day -- Military Sunday at York, April 30th 1905 C & A 281.

Military Sunday was a special Church of England service established in 1885 by Arthur Percival Purey-Cust (1828-1916), Dean of York Minster from 1880 to 1916. Soldiers and cavalrymen assembled at the York cathedral for this service in April, which I presume was of a type of memorial or thanksgiving. One description says they arrived and departed dismounted and unarmed, though officers were allowed to carry their swords. This explains why the hussar band was on foot.

In this photo a different band marches past the camera. They are not a regiment of horse but of regular army.  Just as I write this post, I have found an identical postcard that was mailed in 1905. The writer identifies this band as the band and drums of the 1st West Riding Regiment, also known as the Duke of Wellington's. The writer goes on to add that "the big drummer has got the Royal Humane Society's Bronze Medal. " The Royal Humane Society was founded in Britain to promote lifesaving and prevent people from drowning. A bronze medal would be one of their awards for gallantry and successful resuscitation of a drowning victim.

I have found (but not purchased) other photo postcards from this same day in 1905. There were at least a  half dozen different photos taken from the same vantage point. (Presumably protected from the rain!) Similar postcards of other Military Sundays at York dating from later years were also published when the weather allowed for more clear but less dramatic photos. Today Google Maps can get us fairly close to the parade route.



The photographer positioned himself just as the parade route turns left from Duncombe Place onto Blake Street. The church doorway on the left is that of St. Wilfrid's Catholic Church. Looming in the background is the western front of York Minster cathedral where the service was held. I've wondered if there was actually two parades before and after the service. Did people wait in the rain the whole time? If they attended the service in the cathedral, where did they check umbrellas?

Since the subjects of the first photo are British hussars, this seems a good opportunity to feature another musician from my collection of well dressed trombonists.

He is a bandsman from the regimental band of the
10th (Prince of Wales's Own) Hussars. His uniform is less flashy than the Yorkshire Hussars band, but still very impressive. You will note a spur visible on his left boot heel. Someday I may learn just how many hours went into learning to play a slide trombone while riding a horse in close formation.

Strong knees, I guess.

Private, 10th (Prince of Wales's Own) Hussars c.1905

The site provides this photo from around 1905 of a Private in the 10th (Prince of Wales's Own) Hussars showing a near identical uniform. The tunic was of dark blue with the busby bag in red with a  white and black plume. This hussar has a collar badge which the trombonist does not have, but bandsmen's uniforms were often subtly different from regular soldiers' dress.

It was show business after all.

How long did it take for a busby to dry out?  Did it smell?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is singing in the rain this weekend.

Le Chef d'orchestre

05 July 2013

Music excites the passions, especially those of conductors, whose mercurial temper always seems to be in proportion to their size. So this diminutive French conductor may be the most feisty little maestro in history. These two postcards are entitled:

Le chef d'orchestre
The Orchestra Conductor

(Métier Ingrat)
(An Ungrateful Profession)

1. Suivez la mesure! (a part) Triples sots!
Follow the action beat! (aside) -- Triple fools!

2. Sombrioso (A part) - Abrutis!
Sombrioso (aside) -- Idiots!

3. Allegro vivace. (A part) -- Limaces! marchez donc!
Allegro vivace. (Aside) -- Slugs! march on!

4. (A part) -- Ah! les braillards! La seule chose qu'ils
sachent faire n'abusant pas, du fortissimi.

(Aside) -- Ah! the loudmouths whiners! The only thing that
they know not to abuse are the fortissimos.

It was the trombones that sent him over the edge, I think.

(Any suggestions for a better translation are always welcome.)

These lighthearted postcards were sent by Remy to Mademoiselle Madeleine Mercier in Bry-sur-Marne, France, a commune in Paris,  on 29 September 1904.

Did Mlle. Mercier laugh at the little conductor? It's never a good idea to let a small child play with a stick.

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This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link for more monumental photos.



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