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
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Another Tuba Baby

20 May 2016

   A very small fiction   
   sketched from an old postcard photo  

Time seemed to slow down on warm days like this. Even with drapes the skylights kept the studio uncomfortably hot. Franklin was half asleep when the jingle bell on the front door announced a visitor. He quickly jumped to his feet and greeted his afternoon clients. "Hello, hello, hello. Right on t..t..time," he stammered even though they were 30 minutes late. "Very pleased to have you come in today, Mr. and Mrs. Bailey." Which indeed he was, as tardy business was still business. "And is this our subject for today?" he exclaimed at the small face peering from under a froth of coverlets.  

The young woman lifted the infant from its perambulator. "Yes, this is Albert Bailey... Junior," she said, giving a smile to her husband. "I do apologize for our delay, but we've just come from his christening and Reverend Joyce did go on a bit longer than we'd planned." She removed the child's cap.

"Quite alright, I'm sure," said Franklin. "I've got everything ready in the next room. The camera is very quick and we will be finished before little Albert will hardly know it." He led them into the studio. "I've selected a number of chairs and stools appropriate for posing small infants. N...n...not that Albert is all that little, of course. You may also choose between several sheepskins and Persians as well. It adds a bit of texture and hides the pillows that keep him upright. This backdrop has been very popular."  He pointed to a gauzy forest scene.  

Mrs. Bailey sat on a large wickerwork chair and placed the child on her knee, as Mr. Bailey swung a large satchel case from off his shoulder. "We was wondering if we could do something different, Mr. Wilson," he said as he began unfastening the clips on the case.

Franklin squinted at the bag getting a glimpse of bright silver. He had a funny feeling about this. "And what would that be, Mr. Bailey?"

"Yesterday we showed off Albert to Clara's Uncle Gus. You know he plays piccolo in the town band with me. Anyway, Gus says, 'He's a real corker!' he says, and that got me to thinkin' that Albert's just the right size to actually be a corker." Reaching into the case, Mr. Bailey hoisted a large tuba into the air. "We wanta take his picture sitting inside the bell of my tuba. Kinda like a mute. We though Clara and I'd be in the picture too." 
Franklin looked at the gleaming instrument and blinked a few times, speechless. Wherever did people get these odd notions? "Well, yes, I suppose we can do that. But you'll have to hold onto him. Perhaps my standard cloud backdrop will be best to highlight young Albert here."  He went over to a chest and pulled out a sheepskin, spreading it onto the carpet. Then with a long pole, he adjusted the skylight drapes to let in the afternoon light. "If you will put your tuber horn right here, Mr. Bailey, so's I can check the focus." He turned the camera on its tripod and peered through the viewfinder. "Very good. Now lets try young Albert to see if he f...f...fits."

The mother lifted her child into the bell of the tuba as the father crouched beside it. Franklin took a quick glance at the lens setting. If he knew anything about children, this babe was about to protest. As the parents gazed fondly at their son, he squeezed the shutter bulb. 

The whimper began in the next breath, like a hesitant breeze preceding the storm. As father grasped the babe to lift it out, the little cries became a cyclone. "He won't come out! He's stuck!" shouted Mr. Bailey, as he gave the boy a twist. 

"Good lord! Don't pull him, Al," shrieked Clara. "His knees and toes are wedged into the tuba!" The baby's alarm climbed to a higher level of urgency.

Franklin rushed into the maelstrom. "Mr. Bailey! Blow! Blow long and loud!" He clasped his hands around the baby's waist. After a second of confusion, father bent down and gave a mighty toot on his tuba. BWAAAAaaaaa! The muffled vibration momentarily startled the child so that its bawling paused. Its little toes relaxed. Out he popped like a champagne cork into Franklin's arms, who hastily passed the baby over to its tearful mother.   

"Yes, indeed a real corker!" said Franklin. "Well, no harm done and I've got one good photo, but perhaps you'd like to come back tomorrow when Albert's quieted down." He hesitated, letting out a long sigh. "However, I would recommend we try a more conventional pose." The ashen faced mother nodded as she held the now sobbing infant. The father looked down the tuba bell with dismay. Franklin noticed the damp christening gown. "And if you would be so kind to empty your tuber horn outside, Mr. Bailey." 

He impatiently ushered them out the studio door. "The prints will be ready tomorrow at 10."


This tiny story is set around another example from my collection of Tuba Babies.  Most babies require training before they voluntarily cooperate to be used as tuba mutes. After an initial break-in period of soft long tones, they eventually learn to enjoy brass band music and usually are not frightened by the low noise of a tuba. On the other hand, a close proximity to piccolos and E-flat clarinets will cause undue distress to tiny ears.

This postcard photo of an unknown infant and its mother and father has no date or message. It does have the name of the photographer and his studio's location embossed on the lower border.  

F. H. Wilson
Byesville, O(hio)

Byesville is a village in Guernsey County, Ohio about halfway between Columbus, OH and Wheeling, WV.  With a population today of about 2,400, in 1910 Byesville reached its zenith when the number of residents nearly tripled from the 1900 census to 3,156 people. I suspect that was the decade when this tuba baby's charming photograph was taken.

Byesville City Band, circa 1910

The vast collection of vintage band photographs at the website provides a grainy image of the City Band of Byesville, OH. Standing center at the back of this band of 16 musicians is a tuba player who bears a rough resemblance to the father in my postcard photo. There are no babies visible.

Did Mr. F. H. Wilson take this photograph too?

Byesville City Band, circa 1910

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where this weekend there is a Special Sale on Babies.
Buy two and get the third for free!


Unknown said...

Love it. Stuff the kid into a tuba!

Jofeath said...

Great story to go with that unknown musical baby photograph.

La Nightingail said...

You have a rich imagination. :) Great tuba mute photo. Great story to go with. Love it!

Unknown said...

I always love reading your posts, they are so rich in detail. A tuba as photo prop, priceless!

Joan said...

The story was great, as was your photo delivery -=-- right to the end. Much fun!

Lavender and Vanilla Friends of the Gardens said...

Bravo, bravo, fun story, and a very unusual photo prop for baby Albert.

Little Nell said...

Who knows - that could be what really happened! If they had gone back the next day I wonder if the little one would be more docile. He probably would have had nightmares!

Barbara Rogers said...

What a hoot! Or tuba mute? Enjoyable post! Thanks.


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