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 }

Sepia Saturday No. 200

25 October 2013

This weekend we are celebrating the special 200th edition of Sepia Saturday, an internet club that I have been proud to participate in since the Sepia Saturday No. 56 of January 8, 2011, and everyone has been challenged to submit their favorite entry from the last 200 thematic prompts. 

At the time I joined, it seemed like just an entertaining way to add readership to a blog, but I soon learned that I was linking into a new type of media, a kind of weekly internet digest. Its imaginative editor-in-chief, Alan Burnett, produced this magazine by inviting bloggers from around the globe to focus their attention on an unusual black and white photograph and then write their own story based on similar old photos.  Now nearly three years later, I have used Alan's clever choice of subject (or sometimes those of his wonderful assistants) as the inspiration for every post on my website.

Not only has it influenced my choice of photo story, but it has been the best defense against that bête noire of authors, the writer's block. Alan's perceptive insight on the hidden story inside an image, has led me and my fellow Sepian contributors to look beyond the camera lens and search for shadows of forgotten time. Those shades often have great tales to tell, though sometimes, just like ghosts, there really is nothing there. But that's part of the fun too.

It also has been a great delight to meet so many people who share Alan's wonder of vintage photos. Not only have they expanded my knowledge of history and geography, but I have been introduced to countless fascinating families, collections, and interests. We've become one gigantic interrelated clan, as I'm quite sure I am not the only one who thinks Alan's Uncle Frank and Aunt Miriam are part of their own family tree.

The best part of Sepia Saturday though, has been following the many creative writers who all share an insatiable curiosity and a love for a good story. The photos may inspire but the good writing will easily keep us going on to number 300.

So thank you, Alan. And my thanks to each of you who have read my stories through Sepia Saturday.

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As the unofficial music correspondent of the Sepia Saturday group, it was very hard to select just one musical post from my blog. The title of my website, TempoSenzaTempo comes from fusing together two common Italian words used in music - Time Without Time. It describes the characteristic of many of the anonymous photographs in my collection: unknown musicians from some unidentified place and some forgotten time.

The story I chose comes from earlier this year and was inspired by the theme image for Sepia Saturday No. 161. It's an 1890s photo of a fruit and oyster vendor in Raleigh, North Carolina, which just happens to be the state where I live. This typical street view shows two merchants in front of their shop and just to one side stands an unidentified black man, perhaps an employee, who adds an intriguing element to the picture. By chance, Alan's theme came on the week that the United States inaugurated Barack Obama to a second term as President. And this event also occurred on the national holiday celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.

It happened that I had an anonymous photo that fit perfectly with this alignment of themes, and inspired by my friends on Sepia Saturday who have encouraged my fiction, I invented the following story. I hope you enjoy this reprise. 

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A Band for Juneteenth

25 January 2013

    A short fiction   
    glimpsed through the summer haze    
    of an old photograph.   

It was still early in the afternoon, and being a Sunday, people were in no hurry to get to the park. The teams had yet to arrive, so no one was up in the bleachers. Hal took the band through the march one more time.

"No, no, no," he shouted. "Something's not right." The music sputtered to a stop. George gave one last thud on his bass drum. "That last part wasn't even close to the right speed. And you," said Hal, pointing to the trombones, "are playing it all wrong or something." He squinted at the music on his stand. "I know Mr. Sousa didn't write it that way."

The boys looked at one another. Henry called out from the back, "Maybe Tom's got gum on his shoe again and can't tap his toe." They giggled. And laughed again when a loud burp came from one of the tenor horns.

"Would you all just keep quiet a minute and let me figure this out," cried Hal. He scratched his ear and frowned at the music. He looked toward the fence where a man was sitting on a picnic table. "Say Franklin, can you make out what the problem is?"

The tall black man came over to the band and smiled at the boys. "Well Mr. Hal, I was listening right close and I think when the tune comes round again, some'a you cornets played an extra bar." He looked at the trombones. "And there's a queer note sounding in that 'companiment."

"Dang it, Milton," said Hal. "That's an A-flat. Watch your key signature." He twisted the curl on his mustache. "Cornets did you get that? The second time through you got to skip over that first repeat.  Show them how it goes, Franklin."

Franklin drew a breath  and in a deep voice sang their part, adding emphasis to the correct pitch. He gave a nod toward the drummer. "Mr. Francis, you could help them out with the rhythm there too. Taaa, tuh, ta, ta, ta.  Taaa, tuh, ta, ta, ta.  Ta, ta, ta, Taaa, tuh, taaa"

Hal picked up his tuba. "Alright. Let's give her another push, and maybe get her going down the right track. From the top. ONE, TWO. ONE, TWO." The music stumbled along with a melody that stayed mostly upright. Franklin stood to the side waving his hand to the beat.

The band finished and Hal could see that the crowd in the grandstand was getting larger now. "Take a short break, fellas. Leo, you keep next to your brother and don't go wandering." They placed their instruments down on a bench near the diamond's backstop. . "And don't forget," he called, "we got a photographer from Marshall's going to take our picture after the game!" 
Just past the assembly of wagons and pony traps over at the corner, some of the players were getting off the street car. The umpire had unpacked his bag and was setting out the bases. There was a pleasant summer taste to the air. It was a fine day for baseball.

Hal re-shuffled his stack of music. "I sure am glad for your help, Franklin. Ever since Mr. Holloway left, we've been lacking a good ear." He set his tuba down by the bench and walked over to the table. "We don't play the Tremont team too often. Shame we couldn't do it on Flag Day, but that rain last week was enough to float Noah's boat. It would have made a real special day for the band."

"Yes, sir, Mr. Hal, but it's still a special day alright." He smiled at the sky. "It be Juneteenth. A very special day"

Hal frowned. "Juneteenth? Oh, you mean June 19th."

"No, I mean Juneteenth. The day Mr. Lincoln freed the slaves." He smiled again. "My daddy was in Galveston back then, and ever since I was a little'un we always celebrate Juneteenth. Now since I come up here though, there not many black folk around to remember with."

"I never took you for a Texas cowboy, Franklin." Hal pulled out his watch and checked the time. "Now I recollect my paw used to talk about Emancipation Day being in January. He served with the 36th Illinois Volunteers."

"Well down in Washington D of C they take their day in April, and others got January or September. But daddy always said that to hear those words was to hear a rainbow, so I always liked Juneteenth."

Hal watched his friend sigh and thought back to the stories his own father had told. All along the campaign, from the mountains in Tennessee to the ocean in Georgia, he had seen countless black people rejoice at liberation. That wondrous joy had made the terrible great burden of war easier to bear.

Hal saw the umpire was waving the players onto the field. "Come on boys, let's form the circle," he said picking up his tuba.  He motioned to Franklin. "Get your self in the center and lead us through the anthem, Mr. Franklin. I 'spect this town needs a Juneteenth jubilee song."

There was no need for the folios as the boys knew this tune from heart. George and Francis struck up the drum roll. Franklin turned to the flag now waving in a light breeze, and his strong baritone soared above the ball field noise. 

       My country, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
       Of thee I sing;
       Land where my fathers died,
       Land of the pilgrims' pride,
       From ev'ry mountainside
       Let freedom ring!
       My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
       Thy name I love;
       I love thy rocks and rills,
       Thy woods and templed hills;
       My heart with rapture thrills,
       Like that above.
       Let music swell the breeze,
       And ring from all the trees
       Sweet freedom's song;
       Let mortal tongues awake;
       Let all that breathe partake;
       Let rocks their silence break,
       The sound prolong.
       Our fathers' God to Thee,
       Author of liberty,
       To Thee we sing.
       Long may our land be bright,
       With freedom's holy light,
       Protect us by Thy might,
       Great God our King.
< >

Lost in time and space, this photograph of an unknown band was never meant to be anything but a memento of a day. But it had one element that made it different from the thousands of similar photos of bands from the 1900s - a black face. We can't know if this man played an instrument or just drove the wagon, but since he wears the same simple uniform cap, there is a small sense of inclusion, perhaps even acceptance of this man in an era when African-Americans were not afforded an equal place in society.

On this week where we commemorate the dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. and inaugurate President Barack Obama to a second term as leader of our nation, it seemed fitting to use the Sepia Saturday theme photo to inspire a small story about how far our country has moved. Juneteenth is a real holiday that deserves to be celebrated by all Americans. And despite today's over production performances of the Star Spangled Banner, in 1900 it was not the usual national anthem performed in most small towns and America, perhaps because it is easier to sing, was the better known patriotic song.

** **

As a special treat, here is a 1917 recording of the song with baritone Arthur Middleton
accompanied by unnamed singers and band, produced by Edison records,
and restored by the Library of Congress Archives.

** **

This was my favorite contribution to Sepia Saturday
for both No. 161 and No. 200.
Click the link for more popular stories from the past 200.

The Zanesville Rube Band

18 October 2013

{click the image to enlarge}

Clowns and music have been partners in foolishness since forever. What fun would Carnival and  Mardi Gras be without musicians in masquerade? How would ancient folk traditions like Mummers Plays continue without musicians and dancers in elaborate costumes? In American culture, the clown band became a popular entertainment with small town society groups, and the Rube Band of Zanesville, Ohio was a great example of that silliness.

This large format photograph shows twenty musicians dressed in a wild assortment of crazy outfits. Some wear masks, while others are in makeup. One man wears a woman's dress and wig. Their instruments are mostly brass cornets, tenor horns, and trombones along with a few drums, a clarinet, and a penny whistle. Stenciled on the bass drum head is Rube Band, and in the corner the photographer has written:
Copyright 1908 
by J. Lincoln Smith
Zanesville, O.

Mr. Smith even took the time to record it in the official U.S. Catalog of Copyright Entries as taken on June 17, 1908.

The name Eagle Rube Band refers to the Fraternal Order of Eagles which was a mutual aid society organized in 1898 by 6 theater owners. The membership was initially made up of men associated with the performing arts. The group is credited with creating the holiday of Mother's Day and advocating for the establishment of Social Security.

Born in 1860, the photographer John Lincoln Smith came from a family of Prussian emigrants, and his parents moved to Zanesville, OH from Baltimore. Smith's photography studio was listed in the Zanesville city directory from around 1890 to 1922. As a town photographer he became quite a prominent member of his community. A biographical sketch was included in a gazette of Ohio's Muskingum County social elite. It notes the following:

Mr. Smith is connected with a number of fraternities, being a valued representative of the Masons, Knights of Pythias, Odd Fellows, Red Men, Woodmen, Maccabees and the Royal Arcanum, while at one time he was also an Elk. His political views accord with republican principles and at one time he was a trustee of the city cemeteries.

Sadly, Mr.Smith suffered some illness or injury, and in his later life was described as totally paralyzed and confined to a wheel chair. He died in 1923.

The Zanesville Rube Band performed not only in Zanesville but also at numerous F.O.E. conventions around the country. In August 1905 the Denver Rocky Mountain News reported: 

The famous, or rather infamous, Rube band of Zaneville, is here in a special car, and will make things hum when the parades come on. It is led by Professsor Dasmer Dittmer of Zanesville, and is strictly an Eagle's organization. Their work is altogether done in Rube makeup and they are said to be the best organization of the kind in the country. It consists of thirty pieces and together with John Rhinehart, the delegate from Zanesville Aerie No.31, the members represent the city.

The Rotarian
September 1916

In September 1916, a photo of the Rube Band appeared in The Rotarian, <<click this link if you can't see the image above|  the monthly journal of the International Rotary Clubs, in a report on the Rotary Club convention in Cinncinatti, OH. Evidently the band either changed sponsorship or was part of multiple fraternal groups. I found them also appearing for the United Commercial Travelers Society, and the Letter Carriers Union. By the late 1930s, the Zanesville Rube Band seems to have ceased clownish activity.

In 1943, on the death of its longtime bandleader, Fred Geiger Jr., a Zanesville newspaper described how the band was responsible for inventing a popular phrase for the city.

The story is told of how the Zanesville band, composed of able and talented musicians, once stole the show at a big convention in Denver. Mounted on a truck, the band attracted a large throng of Denver children. From the truck, someone would shout: "What's the capital of the world?"  To which the Colorado youngsters would reply in unison: "Zanesville!" Their reward was always a handful of pennies, taken from a barrel on the back end of the truck.

Today many Masonic lodges have clown bands that march in parades and perform at civic events with a similar tradition. But there is a serious flip side to all the fun. Bands like the Zanesville Rube Band were a good advertisement for community development. A celebrated band could both boost and boast about the great social and commercial interests of a town.

Even The Capital of the World needed wacky cheerleaders.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where this weekend everyone is in costume!

An Oktoberfest Band

11 October 2013

Here it is the second week of October and yet Oktoberfest in Munich finished last weekend. This famous Bavarian festival celebrates traditional German beer, food, beer, music, beer, fun, and beer. The musicians of the Bayrische Bauerntrachten-Kapelle "Die Dachauer"  look like they are just getting started. Under the Direktion of Seppl Weinzierl of München, Kurfürstenstrasse 22, the band's name implies that they are from Dachau, which is a small town about 12 miles northwest of Munich in upper Bavaria.

This six man ensemble calls itself a Bauerntrachten-Kapelle or a "Peasant Costumed Band". In addition to beer steins, their equipment includes violins, double bass, lute-guitar, rotary valve trumpets, tuba, and trombone, and an Alpenhorn, a folk instrument of Europe's central mountain range. The Alpenhorn or Alphorn is made from a single spruce tree. The wood is split in half, each side carved and hollowed out, and then re-assembled into a long conical horn. It is played like a brass instrument by buzzing the lips into a wooden mouthpiece, but is limited to a narrow set of tones like those on a bugle. This particular alpenhorn is much shorter than those typically played today, which are about 12 feet long and pitched in the key of F (or 11' and F# if it's a Swiss model). This one looks to be in a higher pitch, perhaps B-flat.

The postcard of "Die Dachuer" musicians was posted on 2 October 1905 to a Fräulein Frankiska Baum of Ramersdorf, which is a southeast suburb of Munich. 

This second postcard of the Bayrische Bauerntrachten-Kapelle "Die Dachuer" is a few years older and has the sextet posed at a photographer's studio. They have 3 violins, viola, double bass, and accordion. Clustered in the center are 5 rotary valve brass instruments. I don't see any beer. 

The music direction is by Hans Bauer, and some of the players are different. I think the 3 musicians on the right look similar to three of the musicians in the first card. My guess is the leader, Herr Bauer, is the accordion player here, and the large violinist on the right, who might be seated left on the first card, is Herr Weinzierl .

This card was posted in Bern, Switzerland on 19 August 1902 to Herrn Haus Hoirmann(?) of Bern. The group may have traveled and played at hotels and restaurants in the Swiss Alps.

The musicians from Dachau look to be a good humored bunch. Of course this is a decade or so before the trials of WW1 and a generation before the horror and tragedy that will forever mark Dachau's name. But we will speak no more of that here.

Dachau also has a long tradition of an annual folk festival, but theirs begins in August before the one in Munich. There are dozens of videos on YouTube where you can watch the Dachauer Volkfest parade, the beer, the carnival, the beer, the music, and the beer, but this one from 2010 has better closeup shots of the horses. Look out for the Bauerntrachten - "peasant costumes" and you will see that the Bavarian costumes from 1900 are still brought out for important events.

Germans certainly love their buttons and badges.




This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link to see what other people have on their launch menu.

A Horn Trio

04 October 2013

click to enlarge

It's still magic. Even when you know the trick, it remains a wonder.  In just an instant the light flashes through the camera lens and strikes the thin chemical film. Silver crystals in a gelatin emulsion capture the light and preserve that brief moment as an image. In the era before photographic film, this image was saved onto a dry glass plate as a negative that reversed the light and dark. On this glass plate a horn player, a pianist, and a violinist are forever frozen on a single musical note.

There might be dozens or even thousands of photographic prints made that reproduce that moment. But there is always only one negative. It is the original record of the raw light that a camera saw.

In the past, we would need a photographer's skill with a darkroom, an enlarger, and more chemicals to translate that negative into a positive print. But today we have a modern magic that converts the silver into numbers, and a second trick removes the confusion of tones for our limited human eyesight.

Now the three men are clear. The pianist sits at an ornate upright piano with the horn player and violinist to either side. The hornist reads off the piano score (and maybe turns pages) and the violinist plays from memory. They are in a drawing room of a private home. Fine paintings hang on the walls. Atop the piano is a porcelain vase. An elegant oil lamp sits on a wonderfully carved table. The blur of the violin bow recreates a real moment of musical performance.

A second glass plate has the pianist alone. The negative hides the details from our eyes until digital technology once again transforms the pixels into 5 million shades of grey we can understand.

The pianist may be playing solo, but the violin rests on top the piano lid, and the horn, though hidden by his back, is on a small table under the large painting. The image has an intimacy and spontaneity that is very rare to find in vintage photos. Like the first photo, we can almost hear the chord that he plays.

AGFA photografic plates, 1880
source: Wikipedia

Glass plate negatives allow no inscription or notes. With no names, no date, and no photographer's logo, we can only guess at their description. Perhaps American, but equally they might be Canadian, English, or German too. From their clothing it would be reasonable to say they lived in the decades before or after 1900. And in addition to the quality suits, I would say these three musicians have playing postures that only professional musicians could have.

But there is another detail that only a horn player like myself would see. A musical trio of violin, horn, and piano is most unusual. Though these instruments perform together in orchestras and larger chamber ensembles, there is really only one piece of music that these three particular instrumentalists would likely play - the Horn Trio in E flat major, op. 40 by Johannes Brahms.

Written in 1865, it is a monumental piece for all three instruments that has some of Brahms' most beautiful music. No other major composer of the Romantic period wrote for these three instruments, so it has long been a favorite of horn players. Though originally written for the natural horn without valves, it was soon taken up by players of the modern valved horn. This horn player uses a single rotary valve horn that is usually pitched in F, but his horn has a crook in E flat I think, which would put it in the key of this piece.  (note: Brass musicians spend a LOT of time analyzing the twist and turns of plumbing.)

But it was not until the late 20th century that other composers would again write for this combination of instruments. Brahms died in 1897, revered around the musical world as one of the greatest composers. Because his Horn Trio was the only prominent chamber music available in 1900 for these three musicians, I believe that is what they are playing.

I can't prove it, but imagination has magic too.

The Horn trio is usually played with seated musicians, but I found this wonderful video on YouTube that has the two solo instruments standing like the musicians in the photo.  It is so artfully filmed that it conveys the excitement of Brahms' great music.

It is also my favorite part of the Horn Trio.

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This amazing performance of the 4th movement Finale of Johannes Brahms' Horn Trio was produced for the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art by Stéphan Aubé. The musicians are Bruno Schneider (horn), Daishin Kashimoto (violin) and Eric le Sage (piano).

I highly recommend their recordings of the other three movements too.

My suspicion is that the musicians in my photo are really in the second movement.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday.
Click the link for more vintage out-of-focus photos.


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