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 }

Isn't it good, Norwegian wood?

30 January 2015

In earlier times folk music was typically associated with primitive musical instruments. It was simple tunes played by country rustics on crudely constructed instrument, since provincial musicians could not afford anything sophisticated. However this was not true for some traditional music where musical craftsmen developed elaborate designs to ornament their native instruments. The beautifully decorated string instrument that this young man holds is not a violin but an instrument from Norway called the Hardingfele or Hardanger fiddle.

Hardanger Fiddle
Source: Wikimedia

The Hardanger fiddle shares the basic shape of a classical violin but adds 4 or 5 additional strings that are not touched by the bow or fingers. Instead these strings run under the fingerboard and resonate according to the tones made by the 4 main strings. This produces a characteristic ringing sound which adds a kind of amplified chorus effect to the music.

The pegbox of the Hardanger fiddle, besides being larger for the 8 or 9 strings, is also carved into a different shape from the usual spiral scroll found on violins. It is typically a representation of either a dragon or the Lion of Norway, the symbolic animal on the coat of arms of the Norwegian Royal Family.

The pegs and fingerboard are embellished with inlay of Nacre, also known as Mother of Pearl, and the body is covered with a stylized floral motif made in ink called rosing.

Though the patterns are derived from Scandinavian folk art, the artistry in the luthier's craftsmanship puts this string instrument at a level of refinement that I think has no equal and gives it one of the most beautiful ornamental design of any musical instrument.      

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Norwegian dogs are good too.

These two young men have posed in an unknown photographer's studio in some unknown location with an unknown black dog. The small photo has no marks for any identification of date but I would speculate it is circa 1900-1910.  Were they brothers? Maybe. But surely they were from Norway.   

The sound of the Hardanger fiddle is not exactly like a violin. Fortunately YouTube provides us with an excellent demonstration of its wonderful tone along with a closeup of the instrument. The artist is is Sindre Vatnehol playing a dance tune called a Rull or twirl originally performed by the celebrated fiddler Severin Kjerland from Voss, Norway.

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This second small photo shows another musician with a Hardanger fiddle and his pose shows off the decorated instrument for best effect. In the first photo it is partly hidden, but both fiddles have a pair of tasseled ribbons tied to the lion's head. This decorative device may have been required when the Hardanger fiddle was used to lead a wedding procession.

This musician may date from around the same time as the two men in the first photo. But he is definitely Norwegian as the back of the photo has an imprint for the photographer, Hilda Julin of Gjøvik, Norway which is about 80 miles north of Oslo. While female photographers are not uncommon, it adds a special quality to the photo for me as I have not previously had one in my collection. 

This second video on YouTube gives another view of the Hardingfele with some very fine playing from a musician who evidently has a new instrument. His Hardanger fiddle has 9 strings. The extra sympathetic strings can be tuned to several arrangements of pitches to suit different song and dance melodies. 

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The great Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (1843 - 1907) wrote many beloved compositions that used the folk tunes of Norway. The opening phrase of the prelude Morgenstemning in his incidental music for Ibsen's Peer Gynt is derived from one kind of tuning for the sympathetic strings of the Hardanger fiddle.

This last video comes from the Norsk Folkemuseum in Oslo. Though the Hardanger fiddle is not easily seen, it accompanies a couple dancing a Hallingdans. {On closer inspection the musician may only have an ordinary violin, but the dance tune is still appropriate.}

Norwegian wood. Isn't it good? 

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Here are two examples of Hardangersøm or Hardanger embroidery which was a traditional Norwegian pattern work on white thread material. My thanks to Liz Needles and boundforoz for recognizing this connection to the decorative design on the Hardanger Fiddle.

Isn't it good, Norwegian embroidery?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link and you might get a bird's eye view of Norway.

Clover the Horse and the Boys Band

24 January 2015

This is Clover, a former racehorse with a remarkable record. His achievement didn't come from winning on the track, but from being a champion on the race course of time. When this photo was made in 1922, Clover's age was 51 years. 

His owner was Rev. Dr. Uriah Meyers, who is the man in the straw boater hat standing beside Clover. In 1921 when Rev. Meyers retired on a small church pension of $33 a month, he was forced to solicit support to care for this phenomenal horse who had been his faithful companion over the many years that the reverend made his ministerial rounds in east central Pennsylvania. Afraid that he might have to put the animal down, friends of  Rev. Meyers endeavored to get Clover's story published in newspapers, veterinary journals, and horseman magazines all around the country.

Source: The Literary Digest, May 06, 1922

This short article appeared in the Shoals, IN News on May 26, 1922
and gives the best account of Clover's tale.
Horse Aged 51 Astonishes the World

All the world of horse-lovers is talking about Clover, a Hanibletonian trotting horse. Why? Because Clover is alive and hearty at fifty-one years of age — which is believed to be a world record. Clover's owner is the Rev. Dr. Uriah Meyers, seventy-five, former pastor of St. Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran church of Catawissa. Pa. The reverend gentleman, retired on a pension, had become so poor that it looked as if he and Clover would have to part. The New York World got hold of the story of man and horse. Financial and other aid for both man and horse was the immediate result of publicity. And how the horsemen are talking about Clover! 

"I bought Clover in 1884," said Edwin J. Walker of Philadelphia. Four years later I sold him — practically gave him — to Doctor Myers, my cousin, who promised him a home for life and used him in his pastoral work. Clover is a dark bay, 16 hands, of Hambletonlan stock. He's a double-gaited horse — trots and swings into a pace. I often drove him over the Wisahicken drive to wagon or sleigh and used to win the basket of wine offered in the old days to the first to reach Fairmount Inn. He could trot in 2:17, and when he was fortytwo I drove him a quarter in 36 seconds. He was always "babied"; that accounts for his age, I suppose. He still has his teeth and his eyes are good; he knows me every time I visit Mr. Myers. I had Clover's pedigree, but lost it. He raced under another name."

Horse experts the world over agree that fifty-one years is an unheard-of age for a horse — any kind of a horse on four legs. Kingston, the famous American thoroughbred, achieved additional fame by living to twenty-eight. A Canadian horse is known to have lived to the age of at least thirty-eight. An English pony is stated to have lived to be thirty-nine.

Mr. Myers is said to be a "natural born horseman" and has given Clover the best of care. Possibly Clover's fame may be great. Horsemen think he should be exhibited.

Clover lived at Reverend Meyers' home in the small town of Catawissa on the Susquehanna River. It was about 75 miles from the city of Allentown, PA where another Lutheran minister, Reverend John Raker, had a different kind of charity to promote, his Good Shepherd Home for Children. And like every orphanage in America in this era, the home had a boys band of musicians playing cornets, trombones, clarinets, flutes, and drums. According to the caption, this was the band's second tour, presumably of eastern Pennsylvania.

In the summer of 1922, the two ministers arranged to appear together in Catawissa and this photo postcard was taken to commemorate the event. Rev. Raker wearing a slightly disheveled hat stands on the far left from Clover. Next to him with a straw boater is the band's director, Joseph Smith.

What made this boys band different from all the rest was that many of the boys are on crutches and have leg braces. The Good Shepherd Home of Allentown, PA was established in 1908 by Rev. Raker as a Home for Crippled Children and Old People. In earlier times the word crippled had a less pejorative meaning and the young musicians were regularly advertised as the Band of Crippled Orphans. The two girls behind the bass drum were blind and were featured singers with the band.

The boys in the band of the Good Shepherd Home are seated and standing in front of their small motor bus which was evidently still large enough for 22 children and instruments. Raising money for charities dedicated to this kind of social welfare was very challenging so many orphanages and children homes sent their bands out during the summer months to play at county fairs, civic events, and church socials. Selling souvenir postcards was a common way to generate donations.

In 1921 the Good Shepherd Home was still a young institution trying to fulfill a difficult mission for a growing number of handicapped children. America was rapidly changing with the end of WW1 and the resulting economic boom made charities very competitive. Of course we in the future know that before the 1920s end the Great Depression will make things even more difficult.

Many families could not manage the specialized care needed for children with a physical impairment or a debilitating disease. It is likely that many of these boys were not orphans but came from poor families unable to cope with their disabilities. Though affiliated with the Lutheran Church, as superintendent of the home Rev. Raker  made no restrictions on accepting children. The Good Shepherd Home took in its first Catholic child in 1910, the first Jewish child in 1918, and the first African American children in 1919.

Rev. Raker remained as Good Shepherd’s superintendent until his death in 1941. At that time his work was taken over by his son, Rev. Dr. Conrad W. Raker. Today the Good Shepherd Home has expanded its services to become a leader in rehabilitation care for people suffering from brain and spinal cord injuries, or who have complex orthopedic and cognitive disabilities.

Harrisburg PA Evening News
August 03, 1922

The postcard photo appeared in the August 3, 1922 edition of  the Harrisburg, PA Evening News along with a lengthy caption. Despite Clover's great age, it would not be the last time that the Good Shepherd Boys Band and Clover posed for a photo. A similar photo was made the following year (available on the Good Shepherd Home website) showing the boys and their band director, Joseph Smith, in fancy new band uniforms. Clearly their music was a successful way to promote Rev. Raker's foundation and good works.  

  Mount Carmel PA Item
April 28, 1924

Clover lived two more years to die on April 27, 1924 at age 53.

Without Clover's charitable assistance, Rev. Meyers and his wife struggled on through the depression years on his meager pastoral pension. Rev. Uriah Meyers finished his race on April 1, 1932 at age 85.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link for more horses of another kind.

Music as Metaphor

17 January 2015

This is not a band. There are caricatures of cornets, saxophones, trombones, and tubas, but this is not a band. There is even a fancy French musical title, Concert Patriotique Francais, but this is not a band.

It is actually a joke.

None of the men pictured on this postcard were musicians. They were in fact prominent French politicians, journalists, and writers from the 1890s and 1900s. This postcard, printed in Paris but never posted, shows a satirical drawing of 21 members of the French political right arranged as musicians of a wind band. The title translates as French Patriotic Concert.

I must confess to being disappointed that they were not principal musicians of some grand band as I had originally thought when I purchased the card. Fortunately the artist provided some last names which made research somewhat easier, and I was able to find almost all of the men. The connecting link was that each was associated with the Ligue des Patriotes  or League of Patriots, a right wing society founded in 1882 by the nationalist author and politician Paul Déroulède (pictured in the top right corner). This society was established to demand revanche or revenge for the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. It also promoted military training which included gymnastics and rifle shooting.

Marcel Haber (18621937)
Source: Wikipedia
The man in the top left corner is Marcel Habert (18621937), a French nationalist politician who became Déroulède's right hand man in managing the Ligue des Patriotes. They were both part of this radical faction's effort to overturn the government of France in 1899 following the intense divisions caused by the infamous Dreyfus Affair. Both men were arrested and brought to trial which resulted in their banishment from France for a period of time and an end to their society. Habert, like most of the other men in this "band", was a notorious anti-Dreyfus and anti-Semitic.

François Coppée (1842 – 1908)
Source: Wikipedia

The harp player in the center was François Edouard Joachim Coppée (1842 – 1908), a French poet, playwright, and novelist. Much of his work focused on expressions of sentimentality and patriotism, but he became involved in the Ligue des Patriotes and made public attacks against Alfred Dreyfus.

Maurice Barres (1862 – 1923)
Source: Wikipedia

The horn player at the top left, who is actually holding a cor de chasse, was Maurice Barres (1862 – 1923), a French writer and politician. He became a major leader in the nationalist movement in the 1890s and remained a notable figure during the Great War of 1914-18.

I think it safe to say that all of the men pictured on this postcard are now footnotes of history. Though a few did become parliamentary ministers in various governments of pre-war France, their books, plays, and poetry are now forgotten. This volatile period of political debate in France was a constant struggle between the working classes and the interests of money and privilege. There were also shades of religion, monarchism, colonialism and militarism that were distinctly French issues. Many of the arguments from the far-right Ligue des Patriotes would show up again in 1914 when French nationalism and honor forced the European powers into war.

Source: The Internet

Did these politicians laugh at being portrayed as musicians in a wind band? Did they appreciate the musical metaphor? Was the intent of the satire to praise them for harmony or treat them foolishly as so much brassy noise? I can't say I can tell. Humor never ages well.

The postcard is not uncommon but I've never found one that has a postmark. My best guess is 1900 to 1904, though the original illustration is likely an older newspaper or magazine poster that was reprinted. My postcard is missing a sub-title that is found on other examples where a caption on the lower edge reads: 
La Marseillaise

This is of course, the title of the national anthem of France  written and composed in 1792 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle during the French Revolution. It was adopted as the official anthem of the French Republic in 1795 and remains one of the most recognized national tunes of the world.

The horrific events in France this past week at the newspaper offices of Charlie Hebdo have focused the world's attention on the importance of protecting freedom of expression and especially that of satire. How can any civilized society explain a joke to barbaric people so enveloped by fanaticism that they are insensible to humor? Alas too many disputes in the world today seem to get lost in translation. So just as Je suis Charlie  – I am Charlie, we all become French citizens after this terrible tragedy. 

On January 13, 2015 the lower house of the French parliament, the National Assembly, met for the first time since the terrorist attacks. The assembly leader called for its members to stand for a moment of silence in memory of  the victims. After a few seconds, a single voice begins to sing and then the whole chamber joins in singing the national anthem, La Marseillaise. Apparently this was the first time it has been heard in the assembly since 1918.   

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It is a rare occasion of unity through the power of music. But there is a strange confusion on some of the faces and I think it is not because they are uncomfortable singing in public. I suspect the difficulty is in the anthem's words themselves, written at a time when nationalism and patriotism had connotations of revolutionary violence that seems out of place in the light of current events.

Perhaps the price of liberty, equality, and fraternity is irony.

Here are the words commonly sung from the first stanza and an official English translation from the French department of information. 

La Marseillaise
Allons enfants de la Patrie,

Le jour de gloire est arrivé !

Contre nous de la tyrannie,

L'étendard sanglant est levé, (bis)
Entendez-vous dans les campagnes
Mugir ces féroces soldats ?

Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras
Egorger vos fils, vos compagnes !

Aux armes, citoyens,
Formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons !
Qu'un sang impur

Abreuve nos sillons !

Arise you children of our motherland
Oh now is here our glorious day!
Over us the bloodstained banner
Of tyranny holds sway!
Oh, do you hear there in our fields
The roar of those fierce fighting men ?
Who came right here into our midst
To slaughter sons, wives and kin.

To arms, oh citizens!
Form up in serried ranks!
March on, march on!
And drench our fields
With their tainted blood!

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where every picture tells a story.

Louis Vernassier – Musical Excentrique

10 January 2015

It's a very old question. Is she a he? Or is he a she? The theater world has always had cross dressing entertainers who have exploited this provocative idea of transgender. Today I present a showcase of an unusual musical artist.

Louis Vernassier
l'homme protée
musical excentrique
dans son travesti

This French postcard shows a very elegantly dressed woman holding a violin and standing in front of an array of musical instruments. From the left is a tenor saxhorn, a small guitar, a stand of tubular chimes, an alto saxhorn, a zither, a lyre guitar, a mandolin, and a stand of tuned jingle bells. Notice the electric light bulbs above the bells and a small feathered fan inserted into one of the chimes. On the bottom edge is a short message:

Goodbye Bremour(?)


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In this second postcard the stage is rearranged. Louis Vernassier has put aside the violin and stands plucking at the bells. A waiter now stands behind the chimes delivering a tray with a carafe of coffee. On the lower edge is a one word message:  

They are actually part of a much larger photo of a theatrical troupe with five other characters. On the left is a magician complete with dove and magic wand. Next to him are two women at a garden bench, one wearing a décolletage gown more revealing than the other woman's chaste attire. To the right of the waiter and Vernassier is another young woman dressed in a peasant's folk costume. And on the far right is what looks like a postman on a rock waving newspapers. We can now recognize that the strange foliage in the second postcard was a primitive photo technique to cover up the other women.

The first two postcards were sent at the same time, possibly 1906 but the postmarks are unclear, to Monsieur P. Fremont, 15 Rue Cachin, Honfleur, Calvados France. Honfleur is a commune located on the south bank of the mouth of the River Seine across from the great port city of le Havre. It is noted for its picturesque buildings and riverside life which attracted noted painters like Gustave Courbet, Eugène Boudin, and Claude Monet who chose it for many landscapes and street scenes. It was also the birthplace of the composer and pianist Éric Satie (1866 – 1925). 

The address of 15 Rue Cachin is still a proper place and is visible on Google Street View where there is a shop offering language lessons. English for Success!    Sadly that ironic shop seems to have disappeared in 2016.  No.15 is the grey door.



Monsieur Vernassier (or is it Madame? Or even Mademoiselle?) also played the harp. In this postcard she/he appears younger and has a different gown embellished  with elaborate embroidery. 
Louis Vernassier
l'homme protée
musical excentrique
dans son travesti - dame

Jouant Violon, Mandoline,
Mandole, Violoncelle, Piano,
Contrebasse, Guitare, Xylophone,
Grelots, Saxophone, Harpe,
cuivres etc. & tous
instrumenté Excentriques

 playing Violin, Mandolin, Mandola, Cello, Piano,
Bass, Guitar, Xylophone,
Bells, Saxophone, Harp,
etc. & all
instruments eccentrics.

The instrument is a concert harp with several pedals for changing to different musical keys. Because of its angelic symbolism, the harp was particularly associated with female musicians. Sometimes they were the only women of this era allowed to have membership in a professional orchestra.

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The postmark from Mortagne, France, which is a short distance south of Honfleur, is more clear with a date of 28 Juin 05 on the back. It was sent to Monsieur Emile Guibert of that small commune.

Vernassier has changed gowns again for this next postcard. She/he has no instrument and instead offers us a beguiling pose.

The archives of the internet have failed to produce any information about this performer. Even in France, his/her history remains a secret. 

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This next postcard is a variation on that same bewitching quality of cross dressing entertainers. Vernassier looks older and his/her choice of l'homme-protée musical dans son travesti
as a subtitle description for his/her act is interesting. The English translation for l'homme protée is the man Proteus. Proteus was an ancient Greek god of rivers and seas. Like the sea, his shape was very changeable, which gave us the word protean meaning variable or capable of many shapes. Its theatrical meaning is more commonly interpreted as chameleon man.

The pioneering French film maker Georges Méliès made a silent movie in 1899 with this title, as did another Frenchman with Pathe films, Ferdinand Zecca, in 1907. Méliès movie title is translated as The Lightning Change Artist and the plot, such that there is one, has a man doing twenty complete costume changes in two minutes, combining them with dancing while in full sight of the audience.

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The phrase dans ses Travesti Dame translates as in his transvestite lady. In this next postcard 8 small portraits of Vernassier as a woman are arranged as the stylized leaves of a folding fan. In the corner is a portrait of Louis as a man. Her rather coquettish expressions suggest a certain camp humor, as the lower right image shows him removing his wig. 

This last postcard has Louis Vernassier shown in a double side by side portrait in both gender forms. He has even signed it Mes remerciement: Vernaissier – My thanks: Vernassier, though it is only a printed facsimile.

What kind of music did he play? Did he sing or dance? Was he a solo unaccompanied act or did he belong to a larger traveling music hall ensemble? Unfortunately I have discovered no answers.

Vernassier closely resembles another cross dressing American vaudeville entertainer from this same pre-war era, The Great Weber, who was featured on my blog back in October 2011. Weber also played multiple instruments and specialized in quick costume changes into eccentric comic characters. More recently this last year I wrote about Jose??? a German cross dressing performer who was a member of the traveling Wandertheater of the Kaiser's army in 1916.

Here is an extra bonus postcard I've recently acquired. It shows Vernassier standing with an elderly gentleman and the card's title reads:

Les Vernabene 

Could this be trick photography and both characters are the same man? Vernassier's beautiful gown is the same one she/he wears in the first postcards. 

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The playbills of early 20th century music halls included many entertainers exploiting the mystique of cross gender dress including several women who dressed as men. Our modern cinema has produced many similar story lines of men dressed as women. Two of my favorites are the 1959 film, Some Like It Hot, with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, and The Birdcage from 1996 with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. Both movie plots involve the confusion of sexual identity and the romance of musical revues. And of course The Birdcage was an American remake of the 1978 French film La Cage aux Folles, which was adapted from a 1973 French play of the same name by Jean Poiret.

Our 21st century sensibility to human sexual nature is very different from those of Vernassier's era. Was he heterosexual, homosexual, or transgender? I don't think there is any way we can know. He certainly must have had talent to produce such a clever act and become a successful artist on the musical stage. It is also clear that he understood good marketing to have circulated so many different promotional images. But what is more difficult for us to imagine is the strong will necessary to endure the bigotry, misguided slurs, and violence that would have been directed against him. It was not a liberal or tolerant age. It took great courage to create an act like this. From our perspective in time we can only admire his audacity and charm that make us wish we could have heard him.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everything is not what it seems.

   UPDATE 11 JAN 2015    

The internet revealed nothing about "Louis Vernassier" but I am never satisfied until I've tried every variation. Today I wondered what "Vernassier Louis" or even "L. Vernassier" might bring up. To my surprise, there were a few citations using only his initials which connected him to the history of early French cinema. In particular the French version of the first primitive motion pictures called the Kinetoscope.  This mechanical film strip device was developed in the US in the late 1880s at Thomas Edison's labs by William Dickson.  By 1895 both Britain and France had their own competing machines that became popular attractions at fairs and carnivals. One website referred to L. Vernassier's Théâtre des Merveilles or Theater of Marvels. But it was this next image found on a French museum archive  that provides the best connection to Vernassier. It is a traveling Kinetoscope trailer parked on a French street with a crowd of people waiting to pay 5¢ and watch the amusing moving images. The date is unsure but 190? is written on the bottom.

The proprietor's name on the signboard is L. Vernassier.

Source: Musée des Civilisations de l'Europen
Now go back and image the 8 images of Vernassier on the fan shaped postcard flipping through a Kinetoscope. Do you see the big finish with the flourish of her wig?

One last reference came up for "Vernassier, Louis" in a French military record for the Great War of 1914-18. A soldier with that name was killed in action at Saint-Jean-de-Bassel on 20 August 1914.

Live! Love! Laugh!

02 January 2015

Leben! Lieben! Lachen!
Live! Love! Laugh!

Machen Sie Ihre neue Jahr 
Make your new year

ein Fest von allen die besten Dinge im Leben
a celebration of all the best things in life

Viel Glück und ein gesundes neues Jahr!
Good luck and a healthy new year!

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This photo postcard was never mailed and has only a few illegible German words on the back. My guess is that they are dressed in costume for a music hall entertainment from 1910-1914, though not necessarily for the new year. Whether they were from Germany or Austria, I'm sure they would be happy to entertain us one hundred years on. 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where I wish everyone a bountiful 2015


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