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 }

Early Radio Orchestras

31 August 2013

Huddled around the microphone, the 10 musicians of the WJBC Studio Orchestra look ready for the signal from the sound engineer to begin their show. The small orchestra's instrumentation includes a concertina, two saxophones, drums, piano, banjo, violin, trumpet, trombone and a sousaphone. This postcard dates from 1928 and the band sits under a velvet canopy in the studio of radio station WJBC in LaSalle, Illinois, southwest of Chicago. The floor lamps and rug probably came from the station's owner, Wayne Hummer.

In May 1925, the Hummer Furniture Company in LaSalle secured a commercial radio station license to broadcast as WJBC at 100 watts. The new medium of radio was only a few years old, and communities across the US were facing "the chicken or the egg" dilemma. Why would people buy a radio unless there was a decent radio station to listen to? And why would anyone make an expensive investment  in building a radio transmitter unless there were customers listening?

In LaSalle, a young man named Lee Stremlau had opened a radio and victrola shop. Though only just out of high school, he convinced Mr. Hummer that there was a profit to be made in this new technology. The Federal Communication Commission assigned call letters in alphabetic order by the application date, but Stremlau thought the station's initials would be more memorable in the slogan "Where Jazz Becomes Classic".

Kaskaskia Hotel, LaSalle, IL
source: Wikipedia

The first programs were produced in the Hummer furniture store until 1928 when the studio was moved to LaSalle's Kaskaskia Hotel. The early radio sets had a terrible problem with controlling the dynamics of music and voices, either too loud or too variable. The audio fidelity on the AM frequency band was also very limited, so musicians were often placed in rooms designed to reduce the reverberation and extraneous noise. I suspect the floor lamps next to the WJBC band are there because velvet curtains were completely drawn all around the musicians when they played.

In 1934 the station was moved to Normal, IL and later changed ownership to become part of the NBC and then ABC radio networks.

This postcard from 1925 shows another early radio orchestra, also with 10 musicians: two violins, flute, clarinet, double bass, cello, organ, and two musicians whose instruments are hidden. The conductor is Joseph Knecht, music director of the Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra, which was also the orchestra for WEAF in New York City. The station was owned by AT&T Western Electric, one of the major manufacturers of radio equipment, and it began broadcasting on March 2, 1922 as the first radio station in New York City. The call letters have since changed and today it is known as WNBC.

Waldorf-Astoria Hotel circa 1915
Source: Wikipedia

The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel was a bit larger than LaSalle's Kaskaskia Hotel. It is actually the amalgamation of two hotels built by competing Astor family cousins in 1893 and 1897. When they finally settled their dispute, it merged into what was once the largest hotel in the world. Today the hotel still operates, but on a different site. This building on Fifth Avenue was demolished in 1929 for construction of the Empire State Building.

The postcard was a method radio stations used to map out their radio signal. Listeners were encouraged to write to their favorite programs and in return they received a postcard. Using the addresses the station could track the strength of their signal. In this case, Mr. Allen J. Hoost lived in Brooklyn and probably got excellent reception.

The Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra began as the resident ensemble for the hotel in the 1890s, providing music for social occasions, dances, and dining. Joseph Knecht was the orchestra's leader in 1910, and conducted a regular orchestra of 35 players, mostly Italian and Jewish musicians, which was expanded to 50 for Sunday concerts. They accompanied many famous soloists and made several recordings for Edison records. The first radio broadcasts of the Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra were in 1923, and Knecht's association with the group seems to have stopped in 1925. He died in 1931.

The orchestra continued to play music for WEAF under various other conductors and after the hotel was moved to Park Avenue in 1931.

By the wonderful technology of our time, YouTube, we can listen to these same Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra musicians in a recording made in 1926 under Joseph Knecht. The foxtrot is entitled: I Gave You Up Before You Threw Me Down.



The invention of radio created a new way of listening to music. Now music could be heard for free, heard in family living rooms, heard in places hundreds of miles from the performers. Radio would make profound changes in the culture and business of music. As the early commercial broadcasters experimented to attract the attention of the public, classical music had new competition from blues, jazz, country and other kinds of popular music.  Show business would never be the same.  

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more vintage photos and bracing stories


Since the fellow sitting in the center of that Sepia Saturday trio is the bandleader Stan Kenton, here is a short bio film of Stan Kenton and his Orchestra from 1946. Notice how the music is very modern compared to the Joseph Knecht's Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra of twenty years earlier, but the purpose is the same - let's get everyone's toes tapping.


The Lost Cornet

24 August 2013

Five very short stories imagined
from an old tintype.

Only one is true.

Clutching a small wooden case to his chest, the man walked gingerly up the narrow plank from the river bank unto the photographer's barge. He knocked on the door and a short, burly man in an apron opened it. "Yes sir, please to come in. All is prepared for your portrait today. The light is especially nice this morning. If you would sir, sit just there by the table" He gestured at a chair under the skylight.

The man placed the case on the floor and took out a shiny brass cornet from it. "I'm headed down South soon. The brigadier says it might be next week. I'd like to have this in the picture too. Is that alright? Don't want it to cost extra."

"Yes, of course. The photograph will be the same - 15 cents." He gestured to a display. "And please you may choose a fine case for it too. The prices are from 30 cents to a dollar."

 The man frowned and then nodded. "Yes, something nice." He placed the cornet on his knee. "This is for someone special."

>>> <<<

The young woman took the handkerchief from her uncle and wiped her eyes. Her tears seemed unable to stop. The quiet murmur from about the house seemed to envelope her in a soft cloak. She couldn't recall ever seeing so many people in the house. Her uncle put his arm around her.

"She had a good long life and the end was peaceful." He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small black box. "I found this up on the mantle in her bedroom. She'd want you to have it." He handed it to her.

"Thank you. I've thought about him all last night. I was only 8 then." She opened the case and stared at the face. "She loved him so much. He should have been here. He shouldn't have gone ..." She sobbed again.

Her uncle patted her on the back. "Yes, I know, honey. It was a sad time then too. But it's twenty years gone now." He looked at the photo. "That boy surely could play a good tune. His cornet band led many a parade around here. Oh, how my feet would ache after those dances too."

>>> <<<

The drawer was heavy and humidity had made it tight in the desk. So the boy pulled harder. With a loud crash it dropped onto the floor. "Careful!" his father cried. "The stuff in there is very old. Don't go breaking your grandmother's things." 

The boy took out a handful of photos. They smelled of dust and mildew. In the bottom was a black leatherette box fastened with a small clasp. It looked like a little book but as he unfolded it he saw that it held a dark picture of a man. "Who's this fellow with the horn?" 

His father peered over his spectacles and looked at the face. "I believe that would be your great-uncle, Grandma's brother. He died in the War between the States." He went back to sorting through the papers.

The boy twisted the photo against the light from the window. "Why's it so black? Was he a soldier or something?"

His father looked up. "That's a tintype - a kind of old style photograph. It's made of metal instead of paper." He reached over and ran his fingers over the gilt frame. "Grandma said he joined a regimental band from upstate. Got killed in some battle in Virginia." He paused. "I wish I could remember his name."

>>> <<<

The shoeboxes were old and didn't look too strong. She shifted a few to make some room to set out the photos she had selected onto the table. Forty, maybe fifty with the postcards. Not bad. Why was the light always so dim in these places? It was like the light bulbs were antiques too. She picked up the pile of photos and took them to the counter where an old man sat behind a cash register. "How much for these?" 

"A quarter  apiece." the old man said. "You like old photographs? I got a few older ones over there." He pointed to an old jewelery display. "Been picking them up for years from old estate sales and charity shops.  Got some real nice ones that must be pretty old."

The woman took a stack of the dark embossed boxes and began to quickly flip open the covers. The usual somber looking people of the shadows  stared back at her. Here's a nice one. Some guy with a bugle. That might fetch something good at the next auction and pay for the drive out here. She put a dozen onto the counter. "I'll give you twenty for the lot"

>>> <<<

The door to the office was open again and a fuzzy tail beat a flourish from under the desk. Keeping two dogs in the house now meant three times the fuzz on the carpets. The retriever already had a strong claim on his wife, so the new dog had quickly sorted out who to follow and had now become his constant companion.  It was nice that he seemed such an undemanding dog with a calm temperament. Still, he was young and until they figured him out he would need watching. 

The desk was cluttered with vintage postcards and photographs.  Some were in folders, some in clear sleeves, some awaiting their turn on the scanner. He was disappointed that the scan of that new tintype was not as clear as he would like. Maybe a different resolution could resolve the silvering and bring out more detail on the cornet.

Where was that plastic box? The old tintype case was missing it's cover and the glass needed protection. He thought he'd put it over there on the lower shelf, but it was not there now. And where did all these strange little crumbles come from? 

He went down stairs to ask his wife. But the evidence of the crime was now scattered on the front rug. "Arrgh!" he shouted. "Bad dog! Bad, bad, bad dog!" The tail vanished behind the sofa.

>>>>> <<<<<

The preceding narratives were inspired by this Tintype photograph  of a young man holding a 19th century cornet on his knee. He is dressed in a spotted waistcoat and wide bow tie and looks to be around 20 years of age. The photographer has added a hint of red color to his cheeks. The photo is a 1/6th plate size (2.75 x 3.25 inches) and the remaining case is a typically American style but there is no identification of subject or photographer. The image above has been improved with digital software to enhance the tone, lighting, and contrast.

The glass has now been replaced. The dog has moved on. The teeth marks remain.

The style of the man's clothing, as well as the period for the photo and case, strongly suggest he posed for a camera sometime around 1858-60. While it is not the earliest kind of tintype, it is not like the later ones either. Tintype photographs were also called ferrotype photographs which is more accurate as the metal plates were not made of tin but of enameled iron. They were first introduced in 1856 as a cheaper and less breakable alternative to the older daguerreotype and ambrotype photographs which were made of glass. Tintypes were popular during the Civil War era of 1861-1864 but became less attractive in the decades afterward when the Carte de visite and then the Cabinet Card photos offered clearer images and most importantly, allowed copies to be made inexpensively.

This cornet player holds an instrument that is called a Top Action Rotary Valve Cornet in B-flat. At the website of brass instrument specialist Robb Stewart, I found a very close match for it. Mr. Stewart describes a similar B-flat T.A.R.V. cornet made in Boston by Benjamin Franklin Richardson in the decade of 1856 to 1859. This instrument belongs to the collection of Wayne Collier, and he had Mr. Stewart bring the cornet back to playing condition. The photo on the right shows it before restoration and without mouthpiece, but it looks nearly identical to the cornet in the tintype. Note that tintype photos, unlike film or glass plate negatives, produce a positive image that is a mirror reversal.

During the early to mid 19th century, brass instruments with rotary valves competed against those with piston valves to become the favorite of the emerging brass bands. For a short time during the Civil War era, the rotary valve design was the most common, but by the 1880s the musical instrument companies in the United States were manufacturing primarily piston valve brass instruments. This is the style still used today in modern tubas, euphoniums, and trumpets. The modern French horn remains (mostly) the only common rotary valve instrument.

What can one say about the sad people who lived in the shadow world of tintypes? The later cdv and cabinet card photos usually advertised a photographer's address to give a location. Those photos have subtle differences in card stock and color that let us give general dates for the prints. They even have a blank area of card paper where a name or date could be written. But tintype photos have none of these. They are an enigma with more questions than answers. A mirror from another time that reflects our imagination.

>> <<

While preparing this post, I found this beautiful video made for the George Eastman  Museum in Rochester, NY. It shows exactly how an early tintype  photo was made.

>> <<

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone celebrates vintage photos this weekend.

The Irwell Springs Band

16 August 2013

What does it mean to be the best? In athletics you get a medal. For team sports like football there's always a trophy. Baseball, bowling, and even ballroom dancing have events to sort out the best from the rest. In music, solo instrumentalists like pianists and violinists regularly compete for prizes. But one of the oldest musical contests is a match between musical teams that contend for top honors as the best British Brass Band. This national competition dates back to 1853, and this postcard features the Irwell Springs Band of Bacup, Lancashire, who were the winners of the 1905, 1908 and 1913 national brass band contest at the Crystal Palace in London.

The British brass band tradition is a special heritage that continues to be an important part of British musical culture. Its arrangement of brass instruments and choice of music followed a different path than similar brass bands in America and Europe. In particular they are associated with the rise of industry and the British working class. The musicians of the Irwell Springs Band were not classically trained musicians, but instead men who worked at the cotton mills in Bacup. Their competitors came from similar industrial towns with names like the Foden Motor Works Band, the Spencer's Steel Works Band, the Perfection Soap Works Band, and the St. Hilda Colliery Band. One of the most celebrated was the Black Dyke Mills Band from Yorkshire which remains, since 1855, one of the best brass groups still performing.

However in 1913, they only took the third place medal to the Irwell Springs Band. There is a wonderful history of the Irwell Springs Band and their musical achievements at this website - the  Bacuptimes.

Written on the back of this postcard is a note:

This is a photograph of one of the bands which played in Vernon Park. Saturday
July 18, 1914
With Kindest Regards

Vernon Park is a public park in Stockport outside Manchester, England.

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Here we can see the bandstand where they played and the throngs of people surrounding it on that warm summer's day. Surely there are some picnic hampers but they are hard to see. The caption says Vernon Park (Musical Festival), Stockport and the attention of the hundreds if not thousands of spectators is focused on the small band stand.  It must have been a challenge to fit the 26 members of the Irwell Springs Band under that roof.

Written on the back is page two of another note that E.E. sent. Unfortunately page one is lost. 

Photograph of you that you gave to her, but she will not part with it.
If you have one of yourself to spare I should like to have it. Hoping you will not be offended at me for asking.

With best love, Edith Eastham
21 Park Street

Could Edith be in that photo?

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Sometime after I had acquired the two postcards, I bought this cdv photo of a British  bandsman. Dressed in a fancy embroidered uniform with a tall helmet and plume, he holds a cornet. There is no photographer's imprint but on the front someone has written a name - Walter Nuttall. The name is repeated on the back and Bacup is added twice for emphasis. My guess was that the photo dated from around 1885 to 1895. The uniform might indicate a military bandsman or possibly a policeman, but it was hard to be sure.

But my research showed that I already knew this face. The name Bacup referred to the original place name of the band, and when this photo was made Walter Nuttall was only a young cornet soloist. But he went on to become the band's leader. The same bandleader seated in the center of the prize winning Irwell Springs Band of 1913.

The confirmation comes from one of the best websites on the internet, the  which has an amazing amount of information on the history of brass bands. It keeps a catalog of thousands of historical images of bands from all around the world, and there are dozens of photos of the Irwell Springs Band. One postcard from 1913 included this note written on the back:

This is the photo of the Irwell Springs Band who have just got the cup which they won for the third time in September. It is a beauty. It is gold, studded all over with gems, & is valued at a 1,000 guineas (£1,050 or  5,250 dollars) The Bandsmen each received a gold medal & and the band about £150in money and instruments. The first time they won they got bronze & the second time silver medals. What they will get again if they win I don't know. J.R. Newell

Some historic bands are given a special page on the and the Irwell Springs Band has one with all its history. The band had its start in 1864, and one of the founding members was Walter's father. Born in 1867, Walter Nuttall proved to be a talented musician and capable leader. In 1886 the band acquired new uniforms, and posed for a photo which is found at the archives. I believe Walter Nuttall, age 19, is on the grass in the center, 2nd from right.

Irwell Springs Band 1886

Since Walter's small cdv photograph  was also taken outdoors in a park and in the same uniform as these bandsmen, I suspect that they were both taken on the same day by the same photographer. Perhaps this was a copy given to one of the other bandsmen.

Walter Nutall
Irwell Springs Band


Walter's regular employment was in the mills as a weaver or cotton spinner, but his true calling was as a bandleader. During his tenure as cornet and bandmaster, the Irwell Springs Band played many contests, but in this golden age of brass bands the competition was fierce, and it was no easy task to keep his musicians trained and prepared, men who needed to work in the mill for their living too. Musicians supported the band by paying a membership subscription. The instruments, uniforms, and music were owned by the band and loaned to each bandsman.

When the band won the gold medal in 1913, they played a test piece - music that all the bands had to play, called Labour and Love by Percy Fletcher. This was the first original music commissioned specifically for brass band, and it would go on to become a standard of brass band programs. Prior to this, brass band music consisted primarily of arrangements of orchestral or choral music, like Rossini's William Tell Overture or Wagner's Rienzi Overture.  Walter was leading his bandsmen in new and unfamiliar music, and it takes real musicianship to play such music with distinction.

The Irwell Springs Band came to an end in 1960. Walter, who had gone on to be mayor of Bacup and honored as a Freeman of the Borough, was still alive and by that time was the oldest member of the band.

As I have written before, I collect time machines, and these two postcards and the photo of Walter Nuttall, are perfect examples. The gold medal, prize money, and trophy were won in September 1913. In July 1914, when Walter and the Irwell Springs Band played a concert at Vernon Park, they were riding high on well deserved celebrity and fame.

In less than a month, Germany would invade Belgium and France, and the world would be at war. Labour and Love would have a new meaning for these musicians in the dark years ahead.

I found this video on YouTube which is a compilation of old photos of Bacup, Lancashire in Bygone Days. The soundtrack uses music of a brass band to accompany this slide show of an English mill town and its inhabitants.

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A few years after this story was posted
I acquired two cabinet card photos,
of two of Walter Nuttall's band mates,
a baritone horn player and a tuba player.
Both men pose in the same uniform
and at the same park
as Walter appears in his smaller cdv photo,
so it seems very likely that
they were all taken the same day.
Perhaps after that prize winning band contest in 1886

On the back of the baritone horn player's photo
is a modern yellow sticker with his name
written in neat block letters.
Edwin Colesby
Bacup Prize Band

I have been unable to find this name in any census records
to confirm his identity.

On the back of the tuba player's photo
is the same kind of yellow sticker
with the name:
Richard Law
Bacup Prize Band

The name Richard Arthur Law appears in the 1891 Census for Bacup, Lancashire, England. He was then age 46 (born in 1845) and listed his occupation as Weaver, Cotton Mill. He was married to Isabella Law, age 45, and they had five children: Walter, age 17; Emma J., 12; Alice, 10; Maud, 7; and Bertha Law, 5.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday.
Click the link for more stories on vintage photos.

The Novelty Act

09 August 2013

Today we live in the so-called Information Age, but a better title might be The Age of Novelty as the Internet provides us with an endless parade of wonders. From the singular and fascinating, to the inane and stupid, we will look at anything. But it's hardly a modern concept, as the Novelty Act has been an entertainment since ancient times. Here are three  German novelty acts from a century ago.

In this first postcard from 1904, we see an odd musical contraption with its proud inventor standing beside it. This freezer-sized assembly appears to have only percussion instruments - bass drum, snare, bells, cymbals. Perhaps there are more instruments hidden in the lower box because the caption makes a grandiose claim.

Hub. Dünnwald mit seinem Wunder Orchester 
eine vollständige Kapelle in einer Person

Hub. Dünnwald with his Wonder Orchestra
a full band in one person

This could be a mechanical music box that uses a perforated paper roll like those on player pianos. A pneumatic system would activate various levers and linkages which then strike the musical rhythms on the drums or keyboards. Or it may be an elaborate one-man band machine with Herr Dünnwald playing several instruments linked together. Though he keeps his standing address in Düsseldorf, the flags on his Wunder-Orchester appear to be those of the Kingdom of Prussia, which would explain his mustache. He wears the uniform of a military bandsman., so perhaps he was seeking favor from the Kaiser's royal court in Berlin.

The back shows it was sent from Spich, which is a small town only a short distance east of Düsseldorf, to Fraulein Maria Creischen (?) in Eilendorf.

Percussion instrumentalists have always been a popular choice for novelty acts, and this duo has a full stage of them. There are various jingles, bells, glasses, and sauce pans tuned in different sizes. The two musicians hold a mandolin and a guitar and displayed on the floor are other string instruments, including a violin and some odd folk type instruments. The rhomboid shaped table on the right is a cimbalom, a type of hammered dulcimer played in Hungary and Eastern Europe. The caption tells us who they are.

Gisela u. Hugo Hostowsky, Original Topfschläger

Gisela and Hugo Hostowsky - Original Pot Beater

Were Hugo and Gisela, husband and wife or brother and sister? They do not have any wind instruments, so it's likely they also sang while they played their bells and pots.

The postcard was sent from Hannover to Fraulein Mathilde Rossig in Delligsen, Lower Saxony on 20th February 1911.

This last novelty musician has an elaborate display that includes handbells, wine glasses, and bottles. On the floor are a snare drum and a kind of foot pedal with a small pair of cymbals. There is also a long necked string instrument with a bow that looks like it's made from a cigar box. On the table to the right are two unusual horn shaped instruments. Can you guess what they are?

The caption reads:

O. Joston, Spez. Instrumentalist u. Musik-Clown
auf 12 Phantasie Instrumenten
O. Joston, Special Instrumentalist and Music Clown
on 12 Fantasy instruments

Herr Josten lived in Dresden, but he also sports a fine mustache of the German Empire style. The flags that decorate his bottle and bell rack look similar to the Prussian state flag but lack the Imperial Eagle symbol.

The instruments on the table? They are Mundharmonika - harmonicas with added megaphones for amplification. The box next to them looks like an accordion type instrument powered by Herr Joston's breath.  I would bet he also made his own custom traveling trunks for all his fantasy instruments. What kind of clowning or jokes did he add to his performance?

The handwriting on this card defeats me, but it was postmarked on 18 April 1911 from Züllchow which is now in Poland, but during the German Empire before WW1 it was in the Pommern or Pomerania district of Germany.

Judging from the numerous promotional postcards for one-man bands and musical duos using unusual instruments, novelty musical groups were very popular during the 1900s in the German and the Austrian-Hungarian empires. Undoubtedly many emigrated to Britain and America before the war years, and continued their show business careers on the vaudeville stage.

Let us imagine Herr Joston, Herr Dünnwald, and the Howstowsky Duo meeting up one day, perhaps at a Bahnhof cafe. They would compare notes and programs. Certainly they would complain about the struggle of managing their equipment through stage doors and rail platforms. I'm sure they would have exchanged a few glasses too. 

As a demonstration of this Age of Novelty that we live in today, YouTube presents some Australian humour with their version of an expanded Wonder Orchestra from Melbourne.

WARNING: Some good beer was sacrificed in the making of this video.

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This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link for more novel inventions.

A Filipino Navy Band

02 August 2013

I collect time machines. Little marvels of simple technology, they cleverly open windows to specific moments in time. This one transports us to Virginia at the mouth of the James River just off the Chesapeake Bay. We are at the Norfolk Training Station on May 10, 1912 with eight US Navy bandsmen. Remember to keep off the rigging.

But time machines do odd things with history, revealing unexpected mysteries. There is something different about 6 of these musicians. They are men of color wearing US military uniforms. In the America of 1912 that was not the normal state of race relations. Certainly not in Norfolk, Virginia where segregation kept all people of color separated in society and culture by complex rules of apartheid. This time machine asks a question. Why are these men in US Navy uniforms? The answer is the Filipino American connection.

They stand in the great port also known as Hampton Roads, a center for all kinds of maritime industry, but especially the United States Navy. During the Spanish-American War in 1898, this navy base in Norfolk, Virginia became an important seapower piece in the global game of colonial imperialism. The war started with the sinking of the USS Maine, and lasted only 3 months, 2 weeks and 4 days, but it had a profound change on the position of America on the world stage. Overnight the United States acquired the former Spanish possessions of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, so it is not hard to see how many of today's modern political problems can be traced to this blatant hegemony by the United States over an act of terror.

But let's skip the political history and jump to 1912.

This time machine records the time and place, but it makes us guess at the faces we see. I can't say with absolute certainty that these men are Filipinos. But there is a history of Filipinos who joined the US Navy beginning in 1901, and I believe that these musicians are part of that history.

This time machine came with a companion that helps makes the connection.

This time machine take us onto the deck of a ship with more navy bandsmen. What does the caption say? Taken the ...Deck (?) The number of musicians is about right for a band assigned to a large ship. The have exchanged white caps for dark blue caps, but I think they are in the same US Navy band uniforms. In this photo they all have Asian features.

The postcard was sent to Mr. S. U. Arelfam at the US Naval Station. Unfortunately the stamp was removed and there is no postmark. Time machines are not alway reliable. The writer has a reasonably clear but challenging script. It is not in English.

For the reader's convenience I've flipped it. It is not English or Spanish, but I think it is in Tagalog, the language of the Philippines. I may be mistaken and this might be another language, but I'm writing this post in hope that someone with the right language skills might help translate it correctly.

I can't see a match between the two groups of musicians. But writer of the second card signed his name on the front. He is the tuba player on the right. Is he the same musician as the smaller tuba in the first card? I can't tell for certain.

The recruitment of Filipinos came out of the resolution to the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902. After hundreds of years under Spanish rule, the people of the Philippines were understandably expecting independence. When they realized that the US liberation was only a pretext for more foreign domination, a war of insurrection broke out. It would be just one of many military entanglements that occupied the US in the years before World War One.

The Philippines were granted US commonwealth status in 1935, but then came WW2 and the terrible Japanese occupation. The Philippines would not achieve real independence until 1945. But the ties to the US military continued and many Filipinos have served in the US Navy.

By good fortune, I spent my high school and college years in Norfolk's neighbor city, Virginia Beach, where the Navy School of Music is located at the Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base. One of the navy musicians at the school was a very talented conductor and soloist on clarinet and saxophone. His name was Alberto Romen Aercion and he was a Filipino American. My band director knew him and brought him in to demonstrate his clarinet and lead our high school band a few times. Sadly he died in 2006, but he was perhaps the first professional musician I ever met, and his artistry and musicianship was a major influence on my choosing a career in music. Over the years I would meet other fine musicians from the Navy School of Music and several of them became colleagues and good friends.

These time machines give us a glimpse of the Filipino-American connection that came out of immense political conflict and national struggle. The Filipino musicians became part of the heritage of American military bands, and by chance, a curious thread connects them to me too.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is making waves this weekend.


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