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 }

The Band Reunion

28 October 2017

It's a worry all right.
Seems like I'm forgetting somethin'.
I think I got my music in order.
My baton is polished
and so's my shoes long as I don't step into nothin'.
I wish mama hadn't fussed
with these pants of Uncle Joe's.
They feel kind of scratchy.

It's a fine day
and looks like we got a good turnout.
That boy looks a bit skittish
but then it's his first time leading at the front.
He'll be okay once we get under way.
I remember my first parade back before the war.
Got so turned about
I went left down Main
while the band went right.

Startled Mr. Nixon's horse with my baton
and nearly got run over.

Say Henry, when you think they's gonna start playing?
It sure took 'em long enough to get lined up.
Hold on, is that fellow up there on the roof
gonna take our picture?

Now the first tune up is the Thunderer
and I'm playing the second part. I think.
Then we flip to the Yankee Girl,
then the Marceline, then when we stop
Victor plays his Euphonium solo,
then we do that new song, and then...?
Guess I'll just follow Mr. Charles.

Oh, Betsy don't they look swell?
Did you ever see such shiny instruments?
Isn't that your cousin over there?
He plays the clarionet don't he?
I don't know if I can see James and Will.
What do you suppose they're late again?

You fellas remember two years ago?
Rained the night before
and turned Main Street into a frog pond.
I was soaked through
from my hat to my socks.
My drum head was so limp
it sounded like I was beating on an ol' rug.

The parade was about to start.
The photographer steadied his camera and clicked the shutter.

AUG. 28, 1908

Albany is a village in Green County, Wisconsin. It's population in 2010 was a touch over 1,000 and a century earlier in 1910 it could boast of 669 citizens. Like many small towns in America at this time Albany had a town band. At one time it had two bands and an orchestra. Music was part of every civic activity. Bands accompanied fairs, dances, games, and often produced their own special concerts to raise money for new instruments or uniforms..

A few days later.the Albany Band Reunion got a mention in the Janesville Daily Gazette. 

Janesville WI Daily Gazette
2 September 1908

Fully three thousand people attended the band reunion here last Friday. Six bands were present and rendered some fine music. J. Jacob Figl of New Glarus was again chosen president, Henry Schwartz of Brodhead was elected vice president, and E. E. Atherton of Albany was elected secretary. The next reunion will be held at Brodhead. A ball game was played between Footville and Monroe in which Monroe was defeated.

The band is in formation in front of the G. W. Roberts & Son Drugstore which also sold paint, glass,school books, and stationary. George W. Roberts was a physician and with his son ran a business that dealt in a wide variety of useful household products. I suspect the younger Roberts might have been the photographer too, as both pharmaceuticals and photography required a knowledge of chemistry, and a drugstore would be a typical place to sell photo postcards.

In 1908 a small town like Albany probably did not have many large stores, so I decided to see if I could find it using Google Street View. The town is divided by the Sugar River and the east and west side are linked by a single main street. The business district on the east side is on Water St. parallel to the river, and on its corner with Main St. is the remains of G. W. Roberts & Son Drugstore. The building has been remuddled over the decades since 1908 but if you look close three brickwork arches survive as does the door step block. The second floor windows also match in number and position.



Hidden among the 78 musicians
of the Albany Band Reunion
is one musician who stands out.
Towards the center behind the drum rank
is an African-American cornet player.

He might be a member of the band
from Monroe, or Footville,
or New Glarus, or Brodhead, or even Albany.
All the towns were within 15-20 miles from each other,
so it's likely that all the bandsmen knew each other.
Most were farmers, tradesmen, mechanics, or students
in their daily occupation and every so often
gathered together to play band music.
The inclusion of this man in the photo is a rare example
of a black musician playing with white musicians
during an era when segregation was the rule,
even in a northern state like Wisconsin.

In an old Wisconsin state digest
I found a brief mention of Albany's Saxhorn Band
which served in a Wisconsin regiment of the Union Army in 1863.
As this was only 45 years later, it seems probable
that in Albany there was still a strong sentiment
of support for the Union and a condemnation of slavery.
But how this black musician came to be in Wisconsin
is a question whose answer will have to remain an enigma.


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone loves a parade.

Stand Partners, A Postcard Romance

20 October 2017

A micro story contrived from two postcards.

It's the great mystery. Who will it be? When will you meet? Where will it happen? Questions endlessly replayed but never answered. You just don't know. So you dream. You hope. You go back to practicing your violin. Scales are so boring.

You think you know what it will feel like. It will be a kind of kinship in sound. An affinity for music that mirror's your own sensibility, your passion, even your very breath. Or maybe just in tune. With most of the right rhythms.

So you wait. There's no worry. Time passes slowly. Perhaps in a couple of months. Maybe a few years. Surely not forever?

Then one day you notice something. There's a hint of shy rapport from a name and face you've known for a while, yet somehow never sensed before. A new familiarity that's comfortable and fun. The violins dance. The upbows and downbows cavort across the strings. Cellos and violas blend together and pick up the tune. The orchestra sings with wonderful fervor. Notes fit together like dovetails on a wooden box. 

So one day, February 23, 1912 to be exact, you take a chance. A postcard photo with just a simple wish. “Many happy returns of the day. Jerrie.”  That's wouldn't seem too forward, too presumptive, would it?

And quickly, without effort, a tiny spark kindles a glow that builds from flicker to flame. Your mystery dissolves in the bright light of companionship. The Who becomes a him. The When flips tense from future to past. And the Where turns out to be closer than you'd ever imagine. 

Unlocking the mystery brings a treasure. Another photo card and a handsome one too, with an unmistakable inscription. “To the Harmony Girlie - From the Melody Boy - Q_ Young

So that's how it happens. The perfect stand partner doesn't just appear. They've always been there. The strangeness is that you can't remember if there ever was a before. It's as if the two were always one. Harmony and melody intertwined. As it was always meant to be.

* * *

These two violinists, girl and boy,
to my knowledge never actually met.

But they could have.

The only clues to their identity
are what you see here.
So now, sweethearts or not,
my imagined postcard romance
will have them play as stand partners forever.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone waits for that special someone.

Xylophon Kinder part 2

13 October 2017

I think it's the tilt of her head
that makes the photo's composition so charming.
Her name is Gret'l Bode,
age 8, maybe 10,
and she sits beside her instrument, a xylophone
atop a beautifully carved end table.
Her second instrument, a violin,
which appears to have frets like a guitar,
rests on the floor between the table legs.
She's dressed in a dirndl frock,
a traditional Tyrolean folk costume.

The postcard caption reads:
Grüß Gott! :-: Zum Andenken an Gret'l Bode :-: Grüß Gott!
Xylophon-, Tubaphon- und Schoßgeigen- Künstlerin
überall Zügkraft! ::-:: Diplom von der direktion
des Grand Zillerthal, Brüssel

Good Day! :-:  For souvenirs of Gret'l Bode :-: Good Day!
Xylophone, Tubaphone (with metal tubes) and Castle violin artist
Attractive everywhere! ::-::

Diploma from the Directorate
of Grand Zillerthal, Brussels

Gret'l is one of the many Xylophon Kinder
who were popular child entertainers
in Germany and Austria
at the beginning of the 20th century.
The xylophone children in Part 1 were
dated around 1913-1915 by postmarks on the cards.
Gret'l Bode's was never mailed
but based on the cheap paper
it probably dates to the war years 1914-1918.


Her instrument was called a Xylophon,
but the arrangement of the tuned wooden bars
is very different from the modern xylophone and marimba
which follow a standard keyboard system
with bass notes on the left and treble on the right.

With this percussion instrument the bars are turned 90°
and the bass notes are closest to the player
with the treble farthest away.
This detail shows how the bars are closely woven together.
In the background are a set of handbells.
They belong to the Geschwister Stehle
i.e. the Stehle sister and brother.

The two Stehle children are about age 8 and 12
and they hold little mallets
poised above two xylophones.
A third one is on another table in between.

There is no date on this postcard but there is on the next.

A penciled message gives a date of 17 Oct 1920,
while the postcard caption says this boy's  name is Otto Stehle.
He may be the missing brother for the third table
or he might be the same boy but in a younger photo.


This next brother and sister Xylophon Virtuosen act
are named Harry (?) and Vera Gläsner.
They appear about ages 13 and 16.
and are dressed in white tie and tails.
Their xylophones rest on trapezoidal tables
that look like they might double
as folding cases for the instruments.
There is no postmark, but the back does have
an agent's address in Berlin.
The style of photo postcard likely dates
Gläsner siblings to the 1920s.

* * *

My last example of  Xylophon Kinder
is Rita Lenz, 8 years old.
Her eyes were poorly retouched by the photographer
which gives her a rather alarming look.
Her short dress is a more conventional than folk style
and she wears high top white shoes
that resemble ice or roller skating shoes.

Her postcard was sent to Berlin on 26 July 1921.

The Xylophon, also known under its folk name,
Strohfiedel or Straw Fiddle
was a favorite instrument by many young entertainers.
There are still more to come
in Xylophon Kinder part 3.

Meanwhile here's a delightful video
of Josef Ost,
85 years young,
performing Souvenir de Cirque Renz,
aka Zirkus Renz,
by Gustave Peter (
1833 – 1919),
a xylophone performer and composer
remembered only for his one big hit.
This is the music that I'm certain
every Strohfiedel Kinder knew by heart.

(click the full screen icon for a better view)



And for an even more impressive virtuoso
here is Xylophon soloist Bena Havlu
playing an arrangement of the familiar
Capriccio XXIV of



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where some kids study while other play.


06 October 2017

Do you ever have one of those days
that leaves you dumbfounded for words?

When terrible news
hits you in the face
with such force
that you are stunned
for something to say?

There must be a word for that feeling.


In 1904 affection, love, and maybe consolation
led Germaine Perriolat to send a thousand caresses
to Gaston Perriotlat, an electrician
who lived in Espelette,
a commune in southwest France
in the department of the Basses-Pyrénées.

* * *

Sometimes the bad news is enough
to give you a stomachache
trying to understand
the reasons why.

Hermann Funke,
das bergische Unikum
the Rarity from Bergisches Land
(North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany)
knew what that felt like in 1908.

* * *

The pain becomes
almost unbearable agony.
A complaint that gripped
Emil Reimer
der Urkomische
the Hilarious
with great discomfort.

But there was a lot
to complain about
in October 1917.

* * *

No matter the reason
it feels so unfair, so unjust,
that you just want to cry.

A sentiment shared with Fräulein Marie Krist
who lived in Wien, Austria in 1902.

Since ancient times
comedy mirrors the twin face of tragedy.
Suffering brings grief
but laughter gives us balance
to endure the never-ending cycle of life.

We live in difficult times.
Try to be of good cheer.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where maybe someone else has more to say.


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