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 }

As Pretty as a Picture

29 April 2016

Taking a group photograph requires real artistic skill to get it right. A photographer needs good timing to recognize that one second when all eyes are on the camera lens. Setting a correct focus and fixing a flattering light are equally important.  And of course in the age of film, no photographer could check the image for its success or failure until after the negative was developed and printed.

A photographer's dark room is a place of  almost mystical alchemy. Complete blackness cloaks the room except for a red safety light. Strange odors emanate from chemical soups. Like a conjurer the photographer watches the image slowly materialize onto the paper. He must judge the best moment to rescue the paper and transfer it to another bath before the ghosts dissolve into shadows. Only then does he know if his incantations have worked.

The anonymous photographer of this photo postcard smiled when thirteen lovely faces revealed themselves for the first time. These young ladies are a mandolin orchestra. We can not know their names, nor their home town. But it shouldn't stop us from admiring their fine portrait. 

The mandolin has eight strings but the pitches are doubled and share the same tuning as the violin. Like the violin family, the mandolin comes in different sizes and collectively mandolin instruments can play the same range of notes available to a string orchestra.

If you search for "mandolin orchestra" on YouTube, you will discover that there are thousands of videos from groups all around the world. These plucked and strummed instruments have a devoted international following that have arranged an astonishing variety of music. This splendid performance by the Madeira Mandolin Orchestra demonstrates why the mandolin is so popular. It's also a fine video portrait of young musicians concentrating on their music.  



Here in Appalachia, far from the Portuguese island of Madeira, the mandolin is often heard as the treble voice in traditional American bluegrass music. In August 2012, a record number of 389 mandolins played together in one gigantic mandolin ensemble at the Galax Fiddler's Convention, in Galax, Virginia. The music is the well known tune, Cripple Creek.

The video has some fun portraits of musicians too.
Bet you can't stop tapping your foot.



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone always likes a pretty picture.

The Role of a Lifetime

22 April 2016

There's a story in this photo.
A guitar playing groom,
a handsome if not winsome bride,
and a bewigged English judge.
Flowers, top hat, guitar.
Is this a civil marriage?

On their right, another fair-ish bridesmaid,
a couple of barristers,
and a half dozen stalwart gentlemen,

On the left, yet another wigged lawyer
and wholesome maiden,
with more stouthearted men.

It is a very strange wedding party.
Where are the bride's parents?
The groom's brother?
Uncles and aunts? 
Why is this group so nuptial and judicial at the same time?
Why are the three women so...manly?
It looks more like a theatrical occasion than a matrimonial ceremony.

This photo postcard has no identification, no date or names,
only a suggestion that it was taken
sometime during the Great War of 1914-18.
The rough vertical siding of the crude building behind them
resembles a barn, or possibly a soldiers' barrack.
It is not unlike the barracks of a prisoner of war camp.

Compare this photo's background with the billets
behind the
French, Belgian, and Russian soldiers
of Baraque I in the
Göttingen POW camp,
taken around 1915.

In both cases the wall construction was chosen
for practicality and not decorative style.
But where ever the photograph of this high court wedding was taken,
its outdoor location seems very odd.

Perhaps there are clues in the characters.
A bride, a groom, a judge, barristers, and a guitar.
Could this be the cast of a musical?

How about an operetta?

Gilbert & Sullivan Trial by Jury
1937 production
Source: Wikimedia

This photo from Wikimedia shows the cast of Trial by Jury, taking its bows in a 1937 production of Gilbert & Sullivan's first serious effort at opera. There are a few more women, but they and the several legal wigs match the group in my postcard. The operetta's nonsensical plot was developed by W. S. Gilbert as a comic satire concerning a "breach of promise". In Victorian times, whenever a man reneged on his engagement to be married to a woman, it was considered a serious civil offense that could result in damages paid to his intended. In February 1875 Gilbert read his libretto to Arthur Sullivan who immediately agreed to set it to music. After a successful opening at the Royalty Theater in March 1875, Trial by Jury became the first of 13 collaborative works known as the Savoy Operas that Gilbert & Sullivan would collaborate on over the next 25 years.

A scene from Trial by Jury Sporting and Dramatic News 1 May 1875
Source:  Wikipedia

The story begins as a courtroom melodrama over a breach of promise lawsuit brought by the plaintiff, a young woman who appears in court in a wedding dress, against the defendant, a frivolous young man about town. Singing with his guitar to the jury, the defendant admits to becoming bored with the girl and finding another love. He offers to marry both. When the jilted plaintiff fails to win him back, she attracts the attention of the judge. His honor falls wig over tails for her and resolves the case by getting the young woman to marry him instead. There is a jury, several bridesmaids, counsels, and attorneys as well. To call it silly hardly does it justice, but it was a terrific success and remains a favorite of G&S Societies today. It's quite a short opera with only one act and typically finishes its 14 musical numbers within 30 minutes.   

I think the evidence, though circumstantial, makes a convincing case that the men(?) in my photo postcard are guilty of performing Gilbert & Sullivan's Trial by Jury.

But are they in a prisoner of war camp?

That's harder to prove.
The jury will need to hear more testimony.

In 1917, a small book was published in London entitled The Ruhleben Prison Camp, A Record of Nineteen Months' Internment. The author was Israel Cohen, an Englishman who was working in Berlin as a newspaper correspondent when the war broke out in August 1914. Though he was a civilian, as a British citizen the German government considered him a potential enemy agent. By September 1914, Cohen, along with hundreds of other men caught on the wrong side, was sent to an internment camp for civilian foreign nationals. It was hastily built at a harness horse racing track near Berlin called Ruhleben. The prisoners, all men, came from Britain, France, Belgium, South Africa, Japan, Russia, etc. – the Allied countries opposed to Germany. They represented every kind of profession and trade imaginable. Not surprisingly, there was a very large number of musical and theatrical artists, who had been performing in Germany that summer of 1914.

Within months, the Ruhleben Internment Camp had a newspaper, a literary & debate club, a musical society with chorus and orchestra, and a theater group presenting both plays and musicals. Cohen writes that the prisoner's first attempt at comic opera was a production of Trial by Jury.

The Ruhleben Prison Camp
A Record of Nineteen Months' Internment
by Israel Cohen

Ruhleben also held many skilled illustrators, artists, and photographers and Cohen includes several photos showing life in the prison camp. This photo is labeled "The Orchestra" and shows about 56 musicians, including six cellos, and two double basses. It is notable too that there is an African face behind one of those double basses.

The Ruhleben Prison Camp
A Record of Nineteen Months' Internment
by Israel Cohen

Concerts were given on a stage constructed within the refreshment center of the race course's Grand Stand. Reserved seat tickets were sold, priced between 20 to 75 pfennige. The prison commandant and his wife were in regular attendance. By 1915 there were regular music series programed with well known piano concertos, symphonies, oratorios, and arrangements of popular music too. The theater was equipped with electric lights and printed programs were sold.

Ruhleben Prison Camp
Musical Society Orchestra
Dec 1916

The Ruhleben camp population varied between 4,000 and 5,500 detainees, most of whom were British citizens. After the start of the war, more civilians were added from the passengers and crews taken from British and French merchant ships captured by the German navy. The men interned in the camp endured the expected wartime privations on food and drink, and certainly suffered at the many onerous rules set by the military governor, but compared to military POWs they enjoyed a more free community. After it was recognized that the war would continue for an indefinite time, there were some prisoner exchanges arranged, especially of elderly or infirm men. Israel Cohen was fortunate to be released in June 1916. 

Some of the Ruhleben prison camp magazines have been digitized and are available on at the wonderful library of The December 1915 edition of In Ruhleben Camp included a map of the camp with labels for the "town" features.

{click images to enlarge}

Ruhleben Prison Camp Magazine
map of Ruhleben Camp
Dec 1915

Ruhleben Prison Camp Magazine
Schedule of Entertainments
Dec 1915

The December camp magazine offered a list of theater works planned for the first quarter of 1916. There was a play every week beginning with Playboy of the Western World by the Irish playwright John Millington Synge. Shakespeare's Othello was featured for February. The camp critic congratulated the Ruhleben players for their Christmas Pantomime of Cinderella.

* *

That same edition included a review of the camp production of Trial by Jury. It would seem that the stage heroines left something to be desired from the all-male cast.  

Ruhleben Prison Camp Magazine
Review of "Trial by Jury"
Dec 1915

At this point the prosecutor must provide all the evidence,
even that which may disprove his case.

Only a couple of pages after the review
was a grainy photo of the full cast of
the Ruhleben Prison Camp production
of Gilbert & Sullivan's Trial by Jury.

Ruhleben Prison Camp Magazine
Cast of "Trial by Jury"
Dec 1915

There are at least 42 people on the stage. Quite a few dressed as women too. It would seem that the Ruhleben Prison Camp had the benefit of many more musical thespians than are pictured on my postcard. Nonetheless if one prison camp could put on a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, then it's still not impossible that another POW camp might put together a similar production.

Where did the detainees get the scripts, the music, the costumes, the props?
Clearly the men of Ruhleben camp made the best of what they had the most of.     Time.

Ruhleben Prison Camp Magazine
Cover of  Xmas Number
Dec 1915

Courtesy of a comment link from David Cookson (see below),
here's a painting by Nico Jungmann, an artist interned in the Ruhleben prison camp,
of the camp audience watching a production of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado.

Gala performance of The Mikado
at the Ruhleben internment camp
by Nico Jungmann
Source: Wikipedia

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where this weekend her Majesty takes a turn on the stage.

Hungarian Boys Bands - part 3

08 April 2016

Smudge or schmutz?
If there was a jelly doughnut involved,
it was more the fault of the postman than the boy.
Nonetheless Frau Steiner doubtless ran a daily inspection
on the uniforms of her husband
Lambert Steiner's Hungarian Cadet Band.

I say Frau Steiner, because that seems the most likely explanation for the appearance of a woman in a boys band. Sitting next to Kapellmeister Steiner and holding blackwood concert flute, she is surrounded by 37 boys dressed in military style uniforms with braids and plumed shakos. Can you imagine the movie plot?  The band has nine woodwinds, not counting Frau Steiner, and the rest are brass instruments and two drums. There are four horns on the back row. Most of the boys are aged 9-12, while a few are older teenagers, perhaps around 16.
Behind the band are a number of pedestrians gawping at the camera, as this postcard came from the Earl's Court Exhibition in London, with a postmark of OCT 9, 1908 from South Kensington, to Mrs. Rinkay of Stoke Flemming, South Devon.

Dear Aunt,

Have received
parcel quite safely.
Thank you very
very much for it. The
coat fits me exactly,
& I like it very much.
I am writing you a
letter, so you will have
it soon. Sorry to say dad is
out of work & hope you are
better now.
With best love
I remain
your loving niece Nellie.

Nellie had no doubt acquired the postcard of the Hungarian Cadet Band at the 1908 Hungarian Exhibition at Earl's Court. This summertime event began in May as a combination of Hungarian arts, industry, and culture with a strong emphasis on fun.

1908 Hungarian Exhibition at Earl's Court, London

London The Graphic
16 May 1908

Steiner's Hungarian Cadet Band got top musical billing, followed by Gustav Racz's Tzigane Orchestra, and English Military Bands, which gave four performances daily. In the Empress Hall there was America's Greatest Zoological Show, the Bostock Arena with thrilling displays with Jungle Brutes by the World's Best Trainers. People were encouraged to Don't Fail to "Turtle" ! ! ! ! ! !  There were Hungarian Ice Caverns; a beautiful summer ballroom; the Urania, a giant cinemaograph; an Auto-rail; ballooning; a submarine; a Haunted castle; and a WORKING COAL MINE.  Wet or Dry. Hot or Cold. Always attractive.

Hungary was known for many exotic entertainers beyond its talented musicians. This event featured enough circus and carnival acts to fill an amusement park. Which is what Earl's Court really was, a seaside holiday park without the ocean.  

Here we see the bandstand at the Imperial Court of the Hungarian Exhibition at Earl's Court. 

According to the program and guide book of the exhibition, available on, Steiner's Hungarian Cadets Band played at the Queens Court in the center of the Exhibition which featured a lake surrounded by an impressive promenade.

They played three times each day from 1 to 2:30; 3:30 to 5:30; and finally 8:00 to 10:30 when the exhibition closed. The programs are remarkably varied with 28 pieces listed. There are marches, overtures, waltzes, polkas, songs, and novelty tone poems, almost all by Austrian composers, not Hungarian. Undoubtedly the programs changed each week, but many professional bands of adult musicians would find this repertoire to be very challenging. 

1908 Hungarian Exhibition at Earl's Court, London

1908 Hungarian Exhibition at Earl's Court, London

At the other end of the lake were the Ice Caverns, and possibly the Working Coal Mine to judge by the mountains.

Now I need to explain that I know the Earl's Court area of London very well, as I lived there for over two years within earshot of its underground station. Therefore I can say with some authority that London does not lie in the valley of a mountain range. Certainly not the Tatra Mountains as painted in this next scene from the Hungarian Exhibition. 

The exhibition's ballroom and Hungarian Village offered a prosperous street view that could easily accommodate thousands of strolling Londoners eager to learn more about Hungary's gross national products and see examples of the many crafts of Hungarian peasants. 

The ballroom was promoted as the finest dancing floor in London. In the background of this painted postcard we can see a uniformed band, but probably not Steiner's Hungarian Cadet Band. Though I expect women while dancing could secure their  head covering with a hat pin, I have no idea how men were able to dance a waltz or polka while wearing a top hat. Maybe lots of hair gel.

The Western Gardens of the Hungarian Exhibition featured cafes, fountains, hills, and another bandstand with a uniformed band. This was where the British military bands played. This colorful painted postcard was part of a full set of 13 cards that I recently acquired, and several images were included in the official 1908 guidebook.

In fact the Hungarian Exhibition of 1908 was organized by a London entertainment producer. The Italian Exhibition was in 1904, The Austrian Exhibition was held in 1906. Ironically the following year, 1907, saw the Balkan States Exhibition of Serbia, Bulgaria, and Montenegro. And the America Golden West Exhibition came to Earl's Court in 1909. During the summer of 1908 the Hungarian Exhibition competed with the Franco-British Exhibition at nearby Shepard's Bush, and London was also the host of the IV Olympiad 1908 Olympics.

The postcard was sent by L. to Miss Abbott of Fort Lee, New Jersey. The postmark is Earl's Court, SW1 at 3:15 PM, 2 SeP 1908. I know that post office well, but I don't recall anything nearby that remotely resembled the grandeur of London's 1908 Hungarian Exhibition. The event closed on October 3rd. Though we can imagine that the lake, the village, the ice caverns, the coal mine, etc. were all packed up and shipped back to Hungary, in truth, over the winter they were just redecorated in the style of another nationality for the following season. The Ice Caverns that were once Stalactite Caverns became next season's Salt Mines.  Sadly one hundred years later, all this fantasy land has disappeared.


Lambert Steiner, the director of the Hungarian Cadets Band, was age 71 when he brought his young musicians to London. Like Niklas Schilzonyi, the leader of the Hungarian Boys Military Band that I featured in part 1 of this series, Lambert Steiner was also a native of Billed, Hungary, now part of Romania. Born in 1837, he was old enough to have been Schilzonyi's first music instructor.

Steiner established his first Knabenkapelle - Boys Band in Warjasch, Hungary, now known as Variaș, Romania. In 1870 he moved his family to Sanktana, a suburb of Arad, Hungary, also now in Romania, and started a music academy there. Over the next 40 years, Lambert Steiner developed a band program for boys that took them around Europe and the world. From Budapest to Vienna to Berlin to Paris to Amsterdam to St Petersburg to Stockholm and beyond, they played for two Kaisers, a Czar, and numerous princes and princesses. That of course was where the patronage money came from.   

The 1908 tour was not Steiner's first visit to England. In 1903, his Royal Hungarian Military Boys Band boarded a ship there for a long tour of South Africa and Australia. At the time this band numbered 54 musicians. It included a very young assistant conductor named Birger Steiner, Lambert's son, whom I suspect is the boy with the clarinet standing next to Frau Steiner at Earl's Court.

1903 Royal Hungarian Military Boys Band

After a month in Africa, the trip to Australia was canceled, in part because of the cost, but also because many parents had complained and wanted their sons back home in Hungary. Kapellmeister Steiner was used to that because he had managed many long tours of his boys band. One month seemed short.

Boston, MA Daily Globe
09 November 1891

In November 1891, he brought a group of 40 boys to the United States. The promoter was described as a producer of many celebrated high class concert tours including Patrick Gilmore's Famous Band, the US Marine Band, and Johann Strauss II, who in 1871 gave a noted series of performances in America of his Viennese music. Even though it was reported that Steiner's Knabenkapelle was from Arad, Hungary, it was renamed The Austrian Juvenile Band for this tour. Waltz music would be an important part of the band's musical program.

The band arrived in New York, but its first concerts were to be in Boston.  The young musicians supposedly ranged in age from 12 to 18, but their maturity may have been stretched in order to appease New York City's strict labor laws for children used in theatrical productions. The instrumentation was listed as 2 flutes, 1 piccolo, 10 clarinets, 4 fugel horns, 4 trumpets, 4 French horns, 2 tenor horns, 2 euphoniums, 2 tenor trombones, 1 bass trombone, 2 alto horns, 1 bombardam, 1 F helican, 1 C helican, 1 B helican, snare and bass drums and cymbals.

The boys also sang and whistled in chorus for novelty effect. A soprano, Miss Marie Glover of New York, was engaged as a soloist and traveled with the band.

The Boston concerts of the Austrian Juvenile Band received several favorable reviews which were used in the  advertising for the tour.

 * * *

By December 1891, the band reached St. Paul, Minnesota. The 40 Musical Marvels of the Austrian Juvenile Band used an illustration of a uniformed boy playing a kind of herald trumpet. There was Unparalleled Enthusiasm Everywhere of the Most Wonderful Band Ever Heard in America. Such high expectations placed a great burden on 40 young shoulders, not to mention Lambert Steiner's too.

St Paul, MN Daily Globe
10 December 1891

By the end of 1891, the Austrian Juvenile Band had given concerts in all the major cities of the East Coast and Midwest, with performances in smaller cities in between. Newspapers did not yet have a technology for printing photographs, but they did have very skilled engravers who could copy a photo for a newspaper illustration. It is probably no coincidence that the Elkhart, Indiana newspaper, the Weekly Truth, would publish a large image of the band, as the paper's founder was Charles G. Conn, whose Conn Band Instrument Co. was then the largest manufacturer of music instrument in America, if not the world. We can only wonder if he gave the band boys a tour of his factory. It's certain that these young Austrian/Hungarian musicians inspired a lot of towns in America to purchase sets of Conn band instruments for their own American boys bands.

Elkhart, IN Weekly Truth
31 December 1891

Music programs are often the most elusive history to track down in my research. Old newspaper reports usually recorded when and where a band played, sometimes they included individual names as well, but they seldom mentioned the actual music on the concert. Certainly the audiences of the time knew how to respond to tunes they recognized, and applauded vigorously when there was something new that they liked. This was of course, some decades before radio, when music could only be experienced through live performances. If other musicians heard Austrian/Hungarian music that seemed successful, it was likely to be programed by an American band in very short order.  

Wilkes-Barre PA Evening News
01 January 1892

An 1891 pre-tour notice said that Steiner's Austrian Juvenile Band could play fifty-five marches, thirty-five overtures, fifty-seven concert pieces, and hundreds of other selections. This program from Wilkes-Barre, PA, during the last leg of their tour in January 1892, supports that claim, with 19 different pieces used for the afternoon matinee and evening concert. It's interesting that unlike the program from the 1908 Hungarian Exhibition when the band was officially from Hungary, this one from the Austrian Juvenile Band included Hungarian songs and traditional Czardas dances. Maintaining a quality entertainment like this would be very difficult for adults. For young boys touring a foreign country who knew little of the language, this is an amazing accomplishment.

Niklas Schilzonyi's Hungarian Military Boys Band which I wrote about in Part 1, the other similar Hungarian Boys Bands seen in Part 2, and Lambert Steiner's Royal Austrian / Hungarian Military Cadet Boys Bands, were the result of an extraordinary musical talent found in a exceptionally small region of the world. The Banat district of what was then called Hungary produced a phenomenal number of  boys bands for an area in central Europe made up of ethnic Romanians, Serbs, Hungarians, Romani, Germans, Krashovani, Ukrainians, Slovaks, Bulgarians, Czechs, Croats, and Jews, all nominally beholding to Kaiser Franz Josef, the Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary.

It is uncertain which groups the boys in these bands came from, but it seems likely that they had a number of languages to learn in addition to studying their musical instrument. In this era, a career in music was considered a skilled trade, not unlike a butcher, a carpenter, or machinist, but with the added glamour of show business. Music was music, whether it was a military band or a boys band playing on a summer afternoon in Earl's Court. The Hungarian Band Boys were taught discipline, precision, organization, and above all, quality musicianship. It took good leadership to instill that and as anyone who has ever taught school children will tell you, that takes a special talent to do well. Imagine keeping 40 boys in line and focused on music when they are surrounded by an amusement park or traveling to a new country. Even John Philip Sousa would have admired Lambert Steiner's managerial skill.

The notion of playing music in a traveling band
may have a romantic allure,
but it was really all about WORK.

Take a look at these 1891 show dates of
Lambert Steiner's Austrian Juvenile Band,
as published in the show business weekly, the New York Dramatic Mirror.

New York Dramatic Mirror
14 November 1891

  • Boston. Mass., Nov. 11-13,
  • Portland, Me., 14.
  • Boston. Mass., 15,
  • Providence. R.I., 16,
  • New Haven, Conn., 17,
  • Bridgeport 18,
  • Philadelphia, Pa., 19- 20,
  • Harrisburg 21,
  • Washington, D.C, 22,
  • Altoona, Pa., 23,
  • Pittsburg, 24-25,
  • C o l u m b u s , Oh., 26,
  • D a y t o n 27,
  • Cincinnati 28,
  • Louisville . Ky.. 30-Dec. 1
  • Indianapolis, Ind., Dec 2
  • Kansas Citv. Mo., Dec 8- 9
  • St Joseph 10,
  • Lincoln. Neb., 11
  • Omaha 12,
  • Des Moines, Ia, 14,
  • Cedar Rapids, 15.
  • St Paul, Minn., 16-17.
  • Minneapolis, 18-19,
  • Superior, Wis, 20,
  • Duluth, Minn., 21,
  • Ashland , Wis., 22,
  • Eau Claire, 23,
  • La Crosse, 24.
  • Dubuque, Ia, 25,
  • Rockford, Il , 26,
  • Chicago 28-31.
  • Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Jan 5.


It's an exhausting schedule. Non-stop without break.
And it does not include the matinees and lunchtime rehearsals.
It borders on the exploitation of child labor, and many cities like New York
tried to control such abuse in the theatrical world, but this was a time
when many children worked long hours on farms, and in mills, and coal mines.
Playing on the road with a prestigious band probably seemed easy
for these boys compared to the alternative apprentice work
available to them back home in Arad, Hungary. 

Now do you understand what I mean by the hidden jelly doughnut?
It's what I would be thinking about during every concert.
What am I going to eat on the train?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone else is off to the boat races.


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP