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 }

Three Duos

27 April 2018

A violinist stares directly into the camera lens,
his wide eyes framed by his wire spectacles.
There's hint of humor, as if he knows a joke
that hasn't reached the punchline yet.

His partner on valve trombone
keeps a straight face,
that gives him the appearance
of a young man not inclined
to make practical jokes.

They make an unlikely pair
as a trombonist and a violinist
would rarely sit near each other
given a choice. 

Their postcard is an example
of the many musician photos in my collection
that have no names and no location recorded.
Who and where is just a guess.
The best I can say is
that the photo's paper card
was made in the United States.

* * *

The guarded expression on this next violinist,
a serious older man,
is not so direct.

His companion is a young tuba player,
perhaps his son or brother.

At the feet of the seated violinist
is a slide trombone,
making this duo almost a trio.

As with the first photo postcard
these two have no name or place.
Judging by their best suits
we can only speculate
that their photo was taken some time
between 1905 and 1918

* * *

This somber fellow holds a mellophone,
an instrument which was once
the most common alto voice in American brass bands,
but has now become an obsolete design
bearing no resemblance to the modern marching mellophone.
On his lapel is a pin with the initials US
that suggests a date around 1917-18
when the United States joined the war in Europe.

His compatriot is a drummer
with drumsticks hovering over a snare drum
that is tilted on the seat
of a twisted wire cafe chair.

Both young men look about the right age
to have joined the war effort
as either volunteers or draftees.
As they wear broad brimmed hats
rather than boys' caps,
I can't help seeing two farm boys
trying to look more mature than they really are.

This is their second appearance on my blog.
The first was in May 2010
A Drum and Mellophone Duo

Though we may not know their names,
all three duos share a quality
of a kind of brotherhood, a close friendship
formed by making music together.
It's that timeless aspect that inspires my blog.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is waiting for the train.

The Lofty Piccolo

19 April 2018

It's simple.
Take a very short wooden tube,
stopper one end, cut a few holes,
and blow.

It makes a delightful whistle,
a charming bird song,
or a banshee shriek from Hades.
(At least it does when one is played into your ear)

It's called a piccolo.

This piccolo belonged to a musician from Livermore, California,
a city just east of San Francisco  and Oakland.
A slender man with a dapper mustache,
he is dressed in a fine uniform
decorated with knotted braid toggle buttons.
His cap has a  badge with the initials L.C.B.
which likely stand for Livermore Cornet Band.
The cabinet card photo was taken by
G. F. Madison
of Livermore, CA.

Sacramento CA Record-Union
04 May 1888

In May 1888, the Livermore Cornet Band
played a special evening concert
when the town's streets were lit up for the first time
with ten Waterhouse electric lights.

The band was established sometime around 1884
and continued to perform until 1908.
The scalloped edges of the piccolo player's cabinet card
were a fashion from 1889 into the 1890s.

* * *

The modern piccolo is 12 inches long
making it in the key of C,
one octave higher than the flute.
But 19th century bands
used slightly shorter piccolos in D-flat,
which are no longer found in wind ensembles.
This may be because it is very strange key with 5 flats,
which could just as easily be in C-sharp with 7 sharps.
Who wants that kind of
transposition headache?

Like the first example, this piccolo has a similar ivory head-joint
with the keyed body in Black Granadilla wood.

It was the instrument of a bandsman
from Bristol, Rhode Island
who sports a splendid soup-strainer mustache.
His military style uniform
has three rows of brass buttons,
a Sam Brown belt, and a plumed shako.
The belt buckle may have an embossed eagle
which would be the sign of a US Army regimental band,
but unfortunately the camera's focus was on the piccolo.

The photographer of this cabinet card was
E. V. Dailey
36 State St.
Bristol, R.I.

* * *

This last piccolo is made entirely in blackwood
with a silver lip plate and very simple keywork.
This piccoloist is not dressed in a band uniform
but instead wears a formal tailcoat.
His mustache, like his oiled hair,
is carefully groomed.
His name was George.

He appears to be a professional musician
of a theater orchestra, or maybe even a symphonic orchestra.
as he has chosen to sit with his music stand next to him.
Regrettably the camera did not capture his sheet music clearly.

The cabinet card was produced at the studio of
No. 4 Greene St.
Trenton, N. J.

There is no date but it's likely made in the early 1890s.

Cousin Sallie

Please send yours back.

Whether in a band marching in a parade, or in an orchestra playing a Tchaikovsky symphony, the piccolo, the highest of trebles, is capable of playing thrilling melodies that easily carry over the sound of a hundred other instruments. Perhaps the piccolo tune best known by people around the world was composed by John Philip Sousa for his famous march, The Stars and Stripes. However Sousa's march was not performed until May 1897 which was likely several years after my three piccolo players had their pictures taken. Nonetheless I feel certain that all three eventually learned to love that moment when the piccoloist got to stand up for a solo. 

Let's hear a stirring rendition by a band
with best uniforms ever,
as the 1st Marine Division Band
plays "Stars and Stripes Forever"
at an evening colors ceremony
at Camp Pendleton, SC.on September 29, 2011

Cpl Philips plays the piccolo solo,
though evidently he needs to play it a few more times
before he has it memorized.

* * *

* * *

Usually a band or an orchestra only needs one piccolo player
to balance the sound of a full ensemble.

But in Austintown, Ohio, which celebrates the 4th of July early,
the Canfield Community Concert Band
played a concert on June 27, 2017
with dozens of piccolo players
from eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and West Virginia
joining in on the famous piccolo solo.

* * *

* * *

I can't help imagining
a gigantic flock of patriotic starlings
swooping down over the concert audience.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where Queens Gambit doesn't always lead to checkmate.

Salute to Burlington

13 April 2018

An old postcard is like a message in a bottle
floating on the sea of time.
After decades adrift through storms and doldrums
eventually it washes up onto a distant beach
far from where the sender ever expected it to go.

 This genial old tuba player,
with his straw hat, bow tie, and twisted mustache,
is one of those castaways
whose timeworn photo postcard
was destined to be marooned
on the shores of my photograph collection.

It happens that his arrival here
in western North Carolina
means he has actually not traveled far
from where he started
in the mountains of southwestern Virginia.
Study his face and you might see
a resemblance to a well known person of our time.
It could be another case of a time traveling celebrity,
so who do you think he looks like?

He sits on a wooden box
next to a heavy chain link fence
that guards a large industrial work site.
Behind him a long conveyor stretches up,
perhaps for moving coal or gravel into a railroad hopper car.
His broad brimmed hat looks appropriate
for what looks like a warm summer day,
as in fact it is some time around the 31st of August, 1908.

The location was somewhere near Konnarock,
a small community in the mountains
of Washington County, Virginia
just downhill from the Appalachian Trail,
and about 125 miles northeast of my desk.

The note in the bottle is brief and to the point,
and is a rare musical message.
It is addressed to:

Mr. Wm. Snyder
Synder Co.,

Will. –
"Salute to
Burlington" March
by Geo. D. Sherman.
Issues by Jean
M. Missud, Salem
Yours truly,
M. K. H.

The composer of Salute to Burlington, George Dallas Sherman was a Vermont native, born in 1844. During the Civil War he served as a musician in the 9th Vermont Infantry. After the war he returned to Burlington where he organized Sherman's Military Band in 1878. It became a much celebrated band in the region and he was its leader until retirement in 1917. George D. Sherman was also a composer of numerous band marches and this one was published in 1888. Tragically Sherman died in 1927 after being struck by an automobile while crossing a street near his home. He was 83. Even more tragic was that most of his compositions were lost in a fire that occurred the same year as his death.

Today the Burlington Concert Band continues a Vermont tradition of music making that began in 1851. They performed "Salute to Burlington", at their Sunday concert on July 24, 2016 at the Battery Park high above Lake Champlain.



As we listen to the music
that inspired this message in a bottle
it seems fitting
to follow the same tuba part
that Mr. M. K. H. would have played.

So did you guess the time-traveling celebrity?

How about Sir Anthony Hopkins
as Henry Wilcox in the 1992 film
Howards End ?

And to add more proof of time travel,
Anthony Hopkins is also an amateur composer whose works
have been recorded by the modern waltz king, André Rieu,
and by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
Evidently he can play the tuba too.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where something fishy is going on.

Happy Hours

07 April 2018

The 1920s were a new modern age.
Peace had returned — mostly.
Prosperity too — for some.
Innovation, invention, and industry
seemed to move the world faster,
rapidly changing culture and traditions
in bold liberating ways,
especially for women.

In an exuberant expression of feminine freedom
women cut their hair, plucked their eyebrows, and painted their lips
in fashions that would have been unthinkable only a few years before.

This impish young woman seated at a piano
exemplifies that new spirit of the jazz age
with her frilly bobbed haircut and Clara Bow lips.
She's imitating the look of an entertainment personality
because she is one too.

She's Betty Dean.

A petite woman, Betty has turned on her piano bench to
look at the camera. Her instrument is not a concert grand
but a large square piano which runs the strings side to side
making a more compact design.
It should be more accurately called a rectangular piano.

Betty's 8"x10' glossy
was taken at the photography studios
of Joseph I. Sussman of
305 Nicollet Ave.
Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Mr. Sussman's studio produced a number of publicity photos
for theater entertainers from the 1910s to the 1930s.
The photo of the vaudeville group
the Cadet Saxophone Sextette
that was in my 2016 story Sax Appeal
was produced in Sussman's studio.

What makes her photo interesting
is that Betty wrote a dedication on the front.

To Mr. & Mrs. Talpan
Wishing You all
the luck & Success
in the world.
From Betty Dean
Happy Hours
Greeting    Season
19276- 27.

The florid handwriting is clear but I'm not certain of the name Talpan. The T might be a K or something else. Below her name, the word construction seems odd, perhaps to avoid writing on her dress. I think she intended "Happy Hours Season Greeting" which would be appropriate for a holiday gift. Also the year 1927 was corrected to 1926 and 27 was added which implies a concert tour or transition from December to January. 

With all these good clues one might think Betty would be easy to find somewhere in the vast internet archives. But unlike last week's story, Betty Dean's history has proven to be cloaked in mystery.

Perhaps she was the Betty Dean who in 1925 played songs everyday at 4:55 PM for radio station WHN in New York. She only had five minutes, just after Engel and Hercog did ten minutes of other songs and at 5:00 Bernard Share, violinist and Frances Brown, pianist played for two hours through the dinner time hours.

Bridgeport CN Telegram
10 June 1925

Following the idea that "Happy Hours Season" referred to some traveling show, I did find a burlesque show touring the northeast in 1926. It was the Big Laughing Sensation, Happy Hours, which starred Norma Noel and a Chorus of Frisky Frolickers.

Allentown PA Morning Call
24 February 1926

Along with Red Hot Norma Noel
the show also featured the world's famous dancer Zalleh?.

Lebanon PA Daily News
24 February 1926

Happy Hours was still on tour in late January 1927 with Harry Stratton & Fred Walker, the speedy funsters and a bevy of beautiful, Broadway belles. Burlesques's biggest, brightest, best bet.

Betty Dean's name was not included in the cast list or in reviews, but she might have been the show's accompanist. Her makeup matches the new Hollywood style of Norma and Zalleh.

Uniontown PA Morning Herald
27 January 1927

Perhaps she was married and one half of Bert & Betty Dean, a Musical Melange, who appeared at the Asbury Park, NJ Palace Theatre in October 1928 as one of the five vaudeville acts around a photoplay film "Square Crooks".

Asbury Park NJ Press
31 October 1928

So what music did Betty Dean play? What songs did she sing? Was she a vaudeville trouper or a radio celebrity? Maybe I'll will never uncover her true story, but I'm sure she was part of a new age of showbiz fashions.

Unlike the decades that followed when the technology of sound recording brought radio DJs, movies with sound, television, and now the internet, in the 1920s music still required live performance. Radio stations struggled to capture the public's attention with this new media, but they didn't use recorded music, they had real musicians playing music over live broadcasts. Theaters kept orchestras employed in the pit to accompany silent films and vaudeville acts. And entertainers like Betty Dean continued to promote themselves with publicity photographs, so in some respects the new age was just the same as the old. 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone has a song to sing.


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