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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Don't I Look Fierce?

24 June 2016

Home on the Range
original lyrics by Dr. Brewster Higley (1876)

Oh, give me a home where the Buffalo roam
Where the Deer and the Antelope play;
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the sky is not cloudy all day. 
A home! A home!
Where the Deer and the Antelope play,
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the sky is not cloudy all day.

Oh! give me a land where the bright diamond sand
Throws its light from the glittering streams,
Where glideth along the graceful white swan,
Like the maid in her heavenly dreams.

Oh! give me a gale of the Solomon vale,
Where the life streams with buoyancy flow;
On the banks of the Beaver, where seldom if ever,
Any poisonous herbage doth grow. 

How often at night, when the heavens were bright,
With the light of the twinkling stars
Have I stood here amazed, and asked as I gazed,
If their glory exceed that of ours.
I love the wild flowers in this bright land of ours,
I love the wild curlew's shrill scream;
The bluffs and white rocks, and antelope flocks
That graze on the mountains so green.

The air is so pure and the breezes so fine,
The zephyrs so balmy and light,
That I would not exchange my home here to range
Forever in azures so bright.

Aug.7, 1909

Dear Friend Susie,   I spose you
rec'd the other postal. here's one of
the Landa band on practice evening.
Don't I look fierce, don't judge me
to severely I'm not so bad looking as
the camera tried to make me.  Am
or was out of wind "Donchernaw"
I'm going to a y. P.S. to have a
good time drikke kaffe og spise
lefse og fattig mans behkelse. 
{drinking coffee and eating
flat bread
and poor mans pastry}

Dont you
wish you were here.   Au Revoir
I am with best wishes
your friend
Ed. Asker

Edward Asker was the eldest of 6 children of Kathinka and John P. Asker. They lived on a farm between Eidsvold and Landa North Dakota. In August 1909 he was 18 years old and played snare drum in the Landa Brass Band, which had 14 musicians, not counting children. Edward's father was an immigrant from Sweden and his mother came from Norway. 

Landa is a small community in Bottineau County in Northern North Dakota, about 7 miles from the Canadian border. In 1910, Bottineau County was booming with 17,295 citizens, nearly six times the population as in 1890. Today the county's farming communities have declined and population is only 6,716. 

Landa is located on a spur of the Great Northern Railway line that runs from St. Paul, MN to Seattle, WA. It incorporated as a city in 1922 and reached its largest population in 1940 with 149 citizens. As well as a town brass band, it once boasted of a bank, hardware store, lumber yard, hotel, and other businesses. But today the number of residents is estimated at only 38. 

North Dakota is very flat
and also very bright,
because the sky is not cloudy all day.



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link, but whatever you do, please don't wake the baby.

Grandfather's Mustache - part 1

17 June 2016

One hundred years ago,
a gentleman's hair style
was a mark of pride
in their class,
their nationality,
and sometimes their ethnic origin.
Time in a barber's chair
was considered
a worthwhile investment
in personal grooming for success.
This was especially true
of men in the world of entertainment.

This champion mustache belongs to a musician
whose name may never be known,
but his magnificent bristles deserve
to be immortalized on the internet.  

He was a member of a musical trio called Konzert-Ensemble Veritas. His two female partners clearly spent a lot of time with a hair dresser too, and display coiffures typical of the 1900s women's hairstyles in Germany and Austria. Their postcard was never mailed but it is similar to others from 1905 to 1914. Though the photo shows no instruments, I believe they were a string trio that played salon music on piano, violin, and cello. The gentleman's mustache resembles the 'stache style of other violinists of this era and his center position definitely makes him the leader. 

 Were the women his sisters?
A wife and a cousin?
Who can know.

But we can safely assume that
there was a large jar of hair pomade
in their dressing room.  


This entertainer's name was Richard Alvari, Instrumental-Virtuos. The upturned Prussian curl of his mustache indicates his imperial German nationality, but is softened by his pince-nez spectacles. My guess is that he is a violinist too, but he could just as well be a pianist or a trumpeter. Or all three, as an instrumental virtuoso implies artistry on several instruments. His brilliant white tie around a tall starched collar and his formal coat with a carnation in the lapel adds to his image as a professional musician of the highest musical class.

The postcard was postmarked from Bremen on 21.4.20 so it is post-war, but the printing style seems earlier than 1920. I can't read the message but it is signed Richard + Peperl? and the note on the front of the card says 1-15 Mai   Kiel Reichshallen.  The sender may be Richard Alvari himself writing to a friend with his May concert dates in Kiel.   


Musicians played a part in promoting more than just musical culture. Before World War 1, nationality in Europe was not always defined by a political border. This musician's dark hair and luxurious mustache are only one element of his photo. Violin-Virtuose, Direktor und Kapellmeister T. Jonescu is also wearing a wonderfully embroidered short jacket which indicates he performs the fiery music of Romania/Hungary. The surname Jonescu may be a variation of Ionescu, which would place his heritage in the Transylvania region of the Austrian empire.

To make this violinist's background even more confusing, the card was sent from Köln, Germany to Senorita Elena Schmedling in Norway. The writer's language is neither German nor Romanian but Italian. The fountain pen ran dry a couple of times but the lengthy message does involve a Atelier di dentista! - dental studio!


This last mustache is another prize winner in the handlebar category. It belongs to Kapellmeister Martin Fischer. The title Kapellmeister indicates he was the leader of an orchestra, and likely was the principal solo violinist. His black tie and evening jacket with two little medals on the lapel are another sign of a high class musician, proud of his artistic accomplishments as well as his grandiose mustachio.  

The card was sent from Muenchen, Bavaria, once a separate kingdom within the German confederation, on 26 NOV 1908. 

My title this weekend, Grandfather's Mustache - part 1, was chosen because my collection includes a number of performers with impressive hirsute fashions. This is the first of what will become an ongoing, if intermittent, series to present the various ways that grandfather tried to look good for the camera. 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where fuzzy and cute are always appreciated.

Mud Walking with Music

10 June 2016

Mud, mud, glorious mud

Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood

So follow me follow, down to the hollow

And there let me wallow in glorious mud”

chorus to The Hippopotamus Song by Flanders & Swann

It's a rare find to see a vintage photo
of musicians in their bare feet.
The members of this brass band wiggle their toes
in a muddy seashore surrounded by
a large crowd of men, women, and children
who join in a cheer, all sans shoes and stockings.

 But it is also for their


The postcard is captioned:

Nordseebad  Büsum
Wattenläuffer mit Musik

These mudflats are alongside
the small coastal town of Büsum, Germany
in the district of Dithmarschen, in Schleswig-Holstein.
This small fishing community was, and is still,
a family holiday destination
originally made popular as a health resort,
when it was officially designated
as a Nordseebad - North Sea Spa in 1837.

Wattenläufer translates roughly
as Mudflats Runners.
or maybe Mudflat Bishops or Mudflat Carpets.
German is a funny language.
 This northwest coast of Germany
does not have sand beaches,
nor stony shingle beaches
like the English spa towns
on the opposite side of the North Sea.
In Büsum the ocean tide is quite dramatic
when it goes out
revealing a broad shallow mud flat,
home to shellfish of all kinds.

At some point
in its early years as a health spa,
patrons of Büsum discovered that
walking barefoot in the local mud
produced salubrious
and invigorating improvements
to ones fitness and vigor.
This healthy mud
made Büsum famous,
and its souvenir shopkeepers prosperous
from all the postcards that promote
the benefits of Mudflat Running.

This postcard was mailed on 25.6.09 – 25 June 1909.


People lined up to follow the band
as it led a parade onto the mudflats
made warm by the summer sun.
The Nationalpark Wattenmeer
now protects this area
but mudflat hiking,
which has its own Wikipedia page,
remains a popular recreation.
Today, licensed guides are recommended, as are shoes,
for there are dangerous places where the mud is like quicksand
and hidden in the muck are many sharp and rough edged shells.
But our ancestors were made of sterner stuff
and happily took a muddy promenade in naked legs.
The modern guidelines for this activity do not mention sticks
but in the olden days, nearly everyone
carried a long staff, sometimes even a flag.
Perhaps it was used as protection against encounters with clams.

It all seems like jolly sport.
So why not have a brass band play
as one took a stroll through the mudflats?
A brisk polka might warn when the tide was turning.

The caption reads:

Nordseebad  Büsum

This postcard was sent on the 31st of August 1913.
One year later, in September 1914,
Büsum's harbor and shipbuilding industry
would be preparing to defend the Fatherland
from the British fleet.
The mudflats were not so carefree then.

But these happy people are not there yet,
so let us celebrate with them
and sing along
(in English)
to The Hippopotamus Song
and Büsum's wonderful glorious mud!



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is leaping for the beach.

Four Flutes

03 June 2016

It's the directness of his gaze that captures our attention.
His eyes look straight into the camera lens
which fixes the moment with wonderful clarity.
His carefully groomed hair and chin beard
give him an air of a pious but genteel man.
The purple coloring of his bow tie,
crudely dabbed on by the photographer,

suggests an affable or even a debonair nature.
But it is the flute resting on his thigh
that adds an unusual refinement of culture
to this man's portrait.
The flute is made of African blackwood or possibly South American rosewood, which were traditional materials for a premium flute in the early 19th century, as well as the standard woods for oboes and clarinets today. This woodwind instrument has only a few simple keys for the player's fingers, and comes apart in five sections, but is otherwise no different from how flutes of the Medieval and Renaissance eras were made. By the 1850s, most professional flutes were fitted with a more sophisticated key mechanism, so this flute's less complicated fingering system would be more suited for playing popular music rather than more chromatic symphonies and operas. Generally the fife and piccolo with their high treble voice were used in bands, while the flute's quieter timbre was better suited to performances in theaters. 

As the man is holding a musical instrument, it may indicate his trade as much as any amateur interest in the flute. Singing teachers often displayed an instrument, so he may be a choral music teacher rather than a member of a band or orchestra.  

Between 1855 and 1875, early American photographers made thousands of small photographs like this, called carte de visites, or CdVs. Unlike the first daguerreotype photographs, they were inexpensive to produce, but more importantly they were easy to reproduce as duplicates. Everyone had to have one, and the trade of photographer became the new tech entrepreneur of the 19th century. 

Though much improved from the lengthy time needed to make daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, the photo process still required a several seconds to expose the negative plate, so subjects had to remain as immobile as possible for the best photo. One way to make people comfortable was to have them sit in a special chair with a padded fringed arm rest, the standard furnishing for any early photographer's studio. Likewise the drapery hung behind the subject was a very common prop in these early photos. I suspect it was a style left over from painted portraiture adding an element of texture and shape to the plain whitewashed walls of the studio set.  

The photographer's backstamp shows a medallion:

National Gallery
Mills & Son
Main St.   Penn Yan, N.Y.

Penn Yan is a small village in west New York state at the top of  Keuka Lake, one of the Finger Lakes. The photographer sometimes used the label - Dr. Mills. I have seen other examples of Mills cdv's which have a tax stamp affixed to the back which dates the photos to the Civil War years 1863 to 1865. In 1860 Penn Yan had a population of 2,388, but its next census of 1870 recorded 3,488 citizens, an increase of 46.1%.


This flutist belongs to a group of musicians from Reading, PA that I featured in a story from 2011, Uncle Fred Wagner and Friends. He is dressed in a formal tail coat with lapels nearly as wide as my first 1970's tuxedo. His CdV was made by the same photographer that took photos of Uncle Fred and three other musicians, so I presume that they all went down to the studio for a photo with their instrument in order to commemorate an occasion. Perhaps an anniversary of the start of their orchestra, or maybe to make a collective a souvenir for a departing musician. I hope to discover more Reading musicians so I can put the band back together again.

The back of the CdV has the photographers' name
with a woodcut image of a smoking steam engine train:
Patton & Dietrich's
Photograph Gallery
Cor(ner) of Seventh & Penn Sts.
Reading, PA.

Like the first CdV, this studio was active from around 1860 to 1875. I estimate that this set of photos was made after the war, around 1870.

The gentleman's flute is also made of blackwood, but it has an ivory headjoint where the embouchure hole produces the flute's sound. Elephant ivory was once a common material used for woodwind instruments, as it is very stable when damp and yet has plastic properties that allow it to be turned to exact dimensions. The instrument also has a complex key mechanism which marks it as an orchestral flute.


There are numerous unknown musicians in my photo collection who sadly left no useful clues as to their name, place, or time. This serious looking flutist is one of them. His studio photo was printed as a postcard so he comes from a later generation, perhaps 1900 to 1920. The postcard message/address is divided but lacks any clues for its country of origin, so he might be American, or Canadian, or British. Dressed in fine formal wear with starched white shirt and stiff collar with black bow tie, he has an authentic appearance of a professional musician. Perhaps he had his photo taken to celebrate his appointment to an orchestra.

Again his flute is made of African blackwood including the headjoint. The keys, I think, are of a higher level of woodwind design than the previous flute, but as my expertise lies with brass plumbing, I will not venture into the arcane details of flute fingering systems.

What is interesting is that tucked under his left arm is a piccolo, also in blackwood. Most flute players learn to play a piccolo just in order to play John Philip Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever march, a popular encore on music programs ever since its 1896 premiere. But in an orchestra the piccolo player is a very special soloist, capable of obliterating an entire brass section with blistering fast runs of high notes. Usually their position is designated as third chair flute/solo piccolo, with the flute as their secondary instrument, used as needed. Therefore I've decided this sober fellow with a neatly trimmed mustache holds the third flute/piccolo seat in a proper opera or symphony orchestra.


Our fourth flute is held by this young lady who also posed for a studio photographer. It is a 4"x6" photo print sized a bit larger than a postcard. Dressed all in white from the bottom of her shoes to the bow in her hair, she sits on a faux garden bench in front of a painted pastoral backdrop. Her age is more than 13, I think, but surely no more than 18 years old. Again this photo is of another anonymous musician, as there is no name or date or place. The best clues are her hair bow and dress length, fashions from around 1905 to 1920.

The girl's flute is a hybrid model with a blackwood body and a silver headjoint. By the early 20th century, flutes were made in two styles, one in wood, and the other in metal, principally silver. Some manufacturers tried to get the best of both by combining a wood body with and a metal headjoint. But the true woodwind flute was on the decline.

Silver flutes produce a brilliant color of sound, whereas blackwood flutes evoke a different sonic hue that makes a warmer whistle. Wooden flutes however are heavy, sensitive to temperature change, and prone to cracks, while metal flutes are lighter, stable, and less influenced by the humidity of the player's breath. Consequently in our modern time, the silver, and sometime even gold, flute has become the dominate style for flutists in orchestras and bands.

Did this young girl aspire to be a professional musician?
All we can know is that she had a beautiful smile.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where mill wheels always turn out the best in vintage photos.


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