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 Sound of Fine Wine

23 February 2019

Glassware rings and clinks.
Crockery rattles and clangs.
Bottles tinkle and plink.
These are sounds which most people know well
but few bother to study as a musical art.

Wine bottles in particular
possess a vibration potential
that varies with the amount of alcohol removed
and mimics the percussive sound of bells and chimes.

Once upon a time there was a musician
who became a master of bells, bottles, jingles and more.
His name was Heinrich Rodenbusch.

Heinrich Rodenbusch,
vom kaiserlichen Musikdirektor geprüfter,
von der hohen Regierung
anerkannter Musik-Virtuose

examined by the imperial music director,
recognized by the high government
as a music virtuoso

Ständige Adresse:  RODENBUSCH, Lennep (Rheinland)
Permanent address:                                                                   

Herr Rodenbusch stands next to rack from which eighteen wine bottles are suspended. On a table in front are a collection of tuned hand bells. He is leaning against an upright piano on which a set of jingle bells hang from another rack. On the floor in front of him is a bass crum and cymbals, a snare drum, a small metal xylophone, and a wooden xylophone in a trapezoidal shape. This instrument was a popular Tyrolean folk instrument, oddly called a Strohfiedel or Straw Fiddle.

The postcard was sent on 17 June 1901 from Cöln, an old style spelling of Köln or Cologne, Germany to Oberpleis, a district of Königswinter near the Siebengebirge or Seven Mountains  a hill range of the German Central Uplands on the east bank of the Middle Rhine.

A few years later Heinrich returned with a display of his many musical instruments: an upright piano, a table with the wooden xylophon, the small glockenspiel xylophon, bass drum cymbal, and snare drum, a second table with gleaming hand bells, a very large rack of tubular chimes, and a rack of twenty wine bottles. The two tables are covered in velvet cloth embroidered with his monogram. The caption is similar but starts with a different ensemble and now a telephone number.

Blinden Solisten Kapelle
Blind soloist band  Heinrich Rodenbusch

Telephon-Ruf ANRATH 25.

This postcard was postmarked 11 October 1910 from possibly Bresslau(?) to someone in Oberhausen, a city in northwest Germany’s Ruhr region.

In his 3/4 portrait, Heinrich Rodenbusch wears white tie and tailcoat, along with a handsome Prussian 'stach, and holds a roll of music in his hands, a symbol for a keyboard artist. The caption again refers to his eminent musical credentials and that he directs the Blinden Solisten Kapelle. This card was sent from Berlin on 28 October 1911.  The remark at the top was written by the postcard dealer. I hate when they do that.

We can't be certain of course, but Heinrich Rodenbusch may in fact have been blind, despite his clear gaze in his postcard images. But in a fourth postcard he stands with three other musicians who do have a distracted look of a sightless person. Seated at a table is a violinist. On the table are some brass trumpets. Standing next to Herr Rodenbusch is a large man with a Prussian mustache and a very long piston valve herald trumpet. Next to him is a smaller and younger man holding a blackwood flute with ivory headjoint.

There is piano, presumably Heinrich's main instrument, but the bells, drums, and wine bottles are gone. The postcard was never mailed but the caption reads:

Blinden Kapelle  Rodenbusch
Ständige Adresse:  RODENBUSCH, Anrath im Rheinland

These four postcards imply that Herr Rodenbusch had a musical career lasting at least 11-12 years in the first decade of the 20th century. The style of his postcards match the kind of promotional material that thousands of German/Austrian music hall artists used for connecting to theater managers and entertainment booking agencies. Herr Rodenbusch's use of wine bottles, bells, chimes, and xylophones was not unusual as I have several other examples of small ensembles that used high pitched metallic percussion instrument. Tuned wine bottle were cheap.

What's interesting is his promotion of a band of blind musicians. It's a strange idea that the public would be attracted to a performance of musicians who are unable to read sheet music. There's nothing unusual about any musician playing by ear and by memory, so perhaps Herr Rodenbusch's blind soloists were a kind of sideshow novelty. Their choice of instruments in the last postcard suggests a refined salon style music. Did they sing too? Who knows?

But blindness is certainly no handicap for savoring fine wine and appreciating the music of empty bottles..

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the barman is never there when you need him.

The Band at the Big Show

15 February 2019

Notice the reflection of the scenery
in the car windows  isent
(sic) it
pretty?  I am sending
Claude one of each also     Grace

Broderick – tuba

Smith – euphonium
Harrson – 1st trombone
Doyle – 2nd trombone
Bern – bass drum
Ridgly – snare drum
Sloan – cornet

Putman (?) – alto horn
Bratey – alto valve trombone
Surdley – b-flat clarinet
Jasper –  e-flat clarinet

Mr. Gehle – tenor saxophone

Mrs. Gehle – alto saxophone

Add – solo cornet and band leader

Stephen – band mascot


This well dressed band of 14 ½ musicians is outfitted in a uniform typical of a circus or carnival show band. Their tall hats are similar to a British police constable's hat except for the tasseled plume and an American eagle badge. Their jackets are extravagantly decorated with florid embroidery. They also wear a kind of shoe spat that creates an illusion that they are shod in cavalry boots. Only a circus band would go to that extreme costume. The band's instrumentation of brass, with two clarinets, two saxophones, and drums was also a standard ensemble for small circus tent shows. What's unusual is that one musician is a woman, Mrs. Gehle on alto sax, who is wearing a kind of Hungarian hussar's hat.

This is a good example of how some mystery photos, even postcards with lots of names, are not solvable without more clues. The photocard and message were sent inside a letter so there is no postmark to establish date or place. The Big Show Band might be on any train platform in North America sometime between 1905 and 1920. And the pretty reflections in the windows of the train car offer little geography to identify the region.

The postcard's author wrote surnames without forenames, and  first names without last. Not helpful. Even the lettering on the drum head is ambiguous. 'To-Night Big Show' could work for any band playing a carnival, circus or traveling tent show.

So that leaves only the name of the author, Grace. It seems to me that only a person who knew the members of the band really well would bother to write their names under their faces. Names like Smith, Doyle, Jasper are the familiar way a manager would address an employee. As the only woman in the group, Mrs. Gehle's place by her husband might indicate some ownership of the ensemble. Could Mrs. Gehle and Grace be the same person?

The Germanic surname Gehle is uncommon, and a search of produced just one "Grace Gehle" in Bloomington, Indiana in the 1930s. This woman used her married name but she was born in 1905. As the woman in the Big Show Band was surely about age 30, her birth year would therefore be in the 1880s or 1890s. The only person in the photo who might have be born in 1905 was the mascot boy, Stephen, who looks about age six. The Bloomington woman doesn't square with the postcard's time frame of 1905-1920. And she listed her occupation as stenographer, not saxophonist

So this one record proves nothing. I mention all this just on the remote chance that one day someone might come across the names in this story and actually recognize the people in the band. Maybe Grace was just taking the train from Chicago to St. Louis one day in 1908 and took a seat across from Mr. & Mrs. Gehle. Maybe she struck up a conversation with Broderick the tuba player, who shared an interest in photography and admired her new Kodak camera. It's a mystery.

The reason my research often finds an identification is because entertainers like publicity. The rule is: Put your name out there, preferably on the marquee. Get your name in the newspaper. Build an audience. Attract attention. Make some noise. Bang a drum. That's why it's show business.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where nothing is ever just window dressing.

The Band at the Old Campground

09 February 2019

It's a man dressed in military uniform,
but he is not exactly a soldier.
He's standing in front of a tent,
but he is not camping for recreation.
He's armed with a large brass instrument
so he is a musician,
but he's not a member of a regular army band.

He's a bandsman
in the Washington National Guard.

The bandsman's photo is on a small postcard marked on the front:

American Lake  1910

He's holding a euphonium, a brass instrument which has three piston valves for the right hand and one for the left hand on the side. (I believe this euphonium is a British model) In brass bands the euphonium plays the lower middle voice and is sometimes called incorrectly a baritone, which is a similar but subtly different instrument. Its sound has a quality not unlike the full-throated voice of an opera tenor, so its large range and beautiful tone makes it an ideal solo instrument.for band music.

This bandsman's photo is one of ten postcards that I acquired from a dealer in Washington state. The second image is cropped from a postcard of his band in formation. It has the same notation on the front written in the same hand, and under one musician playing a euphonium is a small vertical line to mark his place.

The band stands on a level field, a carefully mown parade ground. One the far right is a formation of infantry soldiers, rifles neatly resting at their sides. The band may seem static in formation but the boys are in full blown music making with fluttering music folios clipped to their instrument lyres. On the left of the band the drum major is at parade rest.

South of Seattle along the tangle of saltwater bays that make up the greater Puget Sound, and just below the city of Tacoma, Washington, is a small freshwater lake roughly 2 miles in length. It's called American Lake and today it is a popular recreational park. But in 1910 it was the location for the bi-annual maneuvers of the U.S. Army with the Washington, Oregon, and Idaho National Guard. Beginning in 1890 and continuing every two years it was the site for an event that assembled thousands of troops in camps around American Lake to undertake military training under battlefield conditions.

The men came from regiments of both regular army and national guard, with units of infantry, cavalry, artillery, signal corps, medical corps, and general staff. The state national guard forces were somewhat independent of federal control and under command of their state's governor. Militiamen could be called up at any time by the governor for emergency duty during disasters or civil unrest. They were also obliged every year to participate in military exercises, typically for about two weeks in the summer. 

In 1910 the U.S. Army maintained a very small force of regular troops. During the Spanish-American War of 1898 the main divisions came from volunteer regiments of state national guardsmen, Though this conflict was very brief, ten weeks from April to August, it was the first global war in modern times, mobilizing troops for foreign action in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. What is forgotten is that by acquiring the Philippines, the United States became embroiled in a brutal war with Filipino nationalists who wanted independence. It lasted far longer than expected, formally from February 4, 1899, to July 2, 1902, with continued guerrilla resistance under the American occupation, which lasted until 1946. This conflict did not go unnoticed by Americans living on the Pacific coast.

In some respects it was a new era of modern warfare with machine guns, heavy artillery, and battleships. But it was also ancient combat with swords, bayonets, infantry attacks, and cavalry charges. And marching. Lots and lots of marching. And since soldiers move faster and with less complaint if there is music, there had to be a band playing catchy tunes with lively rhythms.

My euphoniumist marked his position on another postcard. Here his likeness is more recognizable as he stands next to the tuba and trombone players.

The band is more casually dressed in campaign hats, fatigue shirt and trousers with canvas leggings. . 

Twenty-two bandsmen are posed next to a tall canvas tent with two young boys, band mascots or go-phers, seated on the ground in front. The photo has a similar caption on the front with a different year.

American Lake - Meier - 1908

The name Meier refers to the band leader, who I will describe later. I believe he's the short stout man with a clarinet standing in the center of the group.

Yet another photo shows the euphonium player's position marked with a line at the end of the band's front rank. The band is playing but one trombonist seems confused as if he's pulled out the wrong music. The band leader stands at one side directing. This photo also has the same caption as the other.

American Lake - Meier - 1908

The band has about 20 musicians followed by several ranks of buglers, numbering at least 14.

This postcard is the only one in the set of ten that was sent through the mail. The postmark is marred but the date must be August 1908.  It is addressed to Mrs. F. C. Langridge of 210 W Lee St., Seattle, WA.

Camp Stanley
Now you can
see the beautiful
uniform tht Mr
Meier wore  we
are now playing Inspection Arms
in Guardmount
OMS (?)

The signature is not entirely clear, but the message is in a familiar tone. The author seems to know Mrs. F. C. Langridge well. So who would he write to that he would need to mark his position in a group photo? A daughter? A wife? A mother?  How about a mother-in-law?

It took no time at all to find Mrs. F. C. Langridge in the 1908 Seattle city directory, listed as Frances C Langridge (widow of Charles T) boarding at 210 W Lee.

1908 Seattle city directory

Using her full name I easily located her in the 1910 U.S. census, residing at the same address on West Lee with her daughter Ada and son-in-law, Orville M. Snyder. Orville's occupation? Musician, Band.

1908 Seattle city directory

The euphonium bandsman was Orville M. Snyder, born in Kansas in 1872 of parents William H. and Sarah Snyder. At some time in the 1870s or 80s his family moved to Seattle, Washington where he was counted in the 1892 Washington State Census. He was then 20 years old, unmarried and working as a Musician. In 1902 he married Ada M. Langridge when his occupation was Clerk, Post Office.

In 1890 Orville was listed as one of the bandsmen in the 1st Regiment Band of Seattle, a professional military style band that performed with Seattle's state militia at that time when it was named the 1st regiment. The band's leader was a cornet player named Theodore H. Wagner.

At this point I should explain that along with this set of ten postcards came another set of larger format photos of bands marked Wagner and Meier that performed at various fairs and amusement parks in the Seattle area. Was Wagner's Band also the band that played at American Lake in 1910?

The answer is of course, yes, it did!

Seattle WA Star
10 August 1910

In August 1910 the Seattle Star reported that beginning on Monday, August 15th, Wagner's Second Regiment band would go to American Lake for two weeks, and during that time there would be no park concerts (by the band.)

In this next image we can recognize Orville M. Snyder, euphonium player, standing just behind the tuba, and again marked with a vertical line. Just behind him is an older man with a white mustache and cornet tucked under his arm. That is Theodore H. Wagner, the band's leader.

It was quite common for a band director to play an instrument, often as lead cornet. In this military band there was a tall drum major to direct the band's music and parade march. But it was T. H. Wagner who ran the show. This postcard is captioned:

American Lake  - Wagner - 1910

In August 1910 the Tacoma Daily Ledger ran a lengthy report on the summer maneuvers. Every detail about the number of soldiers and who, what, and where was carefully noted. The 2nd regiment of Washington National Guard has 12 companies of men, 45 officers and 586 enlisted men. And there was a band too. Montana had some band. Oregon boasted of its "cop" band, but brigade headquarters readily admitted, when Washington's 2d regiment's band had finished an hour concert...that "Washington has it on them all."

Tacoma WA Daily Ledger
16 August 1910
Has Excellent Band
    Not only in the excellence of its music, but in size the 2d regiment band outdistances all contemporaries. Chief Musician T. H. Wagner has 34 men with him, besides band attendants, who bring the total muster close to 40 persons. The band was the official band of the late Alaska-Yukon-Pacific exposition and is well known to Tacoma music lovers. It will probably be entered in the band contest now under way at the Tacoma hotel.
    There are numerous musical celebrities with the organization.Albert Nightingale, the solo cornetist, is recently from the famous Grenadiers' Guard band of London. T. H. Wagner has been directing military bands a lifetime, and many of his musicians have been with him 20 years. O, yes, "Heine" Meyer, sometimes known as "Ernest," is along. "Heine" was leader of the band at the 1908 maneuvers and covered himself with distinction by his inability to draw on the quartermaster for a uniform big enough to fit comfortably. "Heine" never did get a coat two years ago, but his experience "put him wise."
Personnel of Band
    The personnel of the 2d infantry band follows:
F(T). H. Wagner, chief musician; Conrad Bieber, solo cornet, principal musician; Sergt. Fred Graef, drum major; William Gruber, piccolo; Arthur Walker, flute; H. A. Nachbar, oboe; Jack Beattie, E flat clarinet; H. A. Ekstrand, John Seivers, Edson Warner, Frank Aronzo, Ernest Meyer, Ed Mulholland, R. R. Parkhurst, and Randolph Lubem, B flat clarinet; Llew Jones and W. E. Murray, bassoon; Albert Nightingale, solo cornet; S. R. Price and J. J. Cross, cornet; D. C. Doon, Cassidy Cleveland, E. S. Brady, and Crover Cleveland, horn; Will Douglass, W. E. Parker, and H. S. Sewall, trombone; Ed Cleveland and O.M. Snider (Snyder), baritone; George Carter, A. C. Anderson, and G. K. Peele, tuba; H. A. Inghram and Harry Peelier, drum; Dell Mclande, bass drum.

_ _ _

The report helps us understand Orville's mention of Mr. Meier's "beautiful uniform" in 1908. He was Ernest A. R. Meier, another professional bandmaster of Seattle and a German-American musician. For the two week encampment most of the band probably did not own a khaki army uniform but instead were issued one from the army quartermaster on arrival. Sometimes one size did not fit all.

As the band was engaged under a private contract with the regiment, musicians were not expected to practice marksmanship or dig trenches. There were reports in 1909 that the 2nd Regiment was going to organize it own band with a different leader, but I don't think that effort succeeded. It was probably more practical and reliable for the Seattle guard command to hire Theodore Wagner's well-known professional ensemble to serve as the official band of the bi-annual encampment at American Lake.

In this era the instrumentation of military bands was different from town bands. A "military" style band like Wagner's typically included one bassoon, or even two, and an oboe, both double reed woodwind instruments that were not commonly used in amateur bands. It also added four French horns, a brass timbre associated with symphony orchestras but rare to hear in any but the most professional wind bands. And who would have suspected that Grover Cleveland, 22nd and 24th President of the United States, had a Seattle doppelganger who played horn?

During their two weeks in camp, soldiers were expected to follow military hours, that is early to rise and quickstep to work. There were countless daily calls for exercises, drills, assemblies, patrols, inspections, sentry duty, and practice training. And bugle calls played by the company musicians,  not the band, announced everything.

Source: Washington State
Report of the Adjutant General

In the 1900s America's recent history of warfare had persuaded the war department's top brass that military training was vital to protecting the nation's new global empire. Battle forces no longer numbered in the hundreds but in the thousands. Preparing the logistics necessary to move soldiers, feed them, provide shelter, supply equipment, and care for both men and animals (horses and mules) was only half the exercise. Just as in music, practicing for war was also essential.

The headquarter's followup reports placed a lot of emphasis on sanitation. The disposal of waste was a big deal because it was now recognized that sickness and disease caused even more casualties in tropical warfare than combat did. So soldiers dug a lot of holes. Fast and economic movement of men and gear was also critical in this age when steam power still outperformed automobile engines. So harnessing horses and driving wagons and caissons was still a routine activity for soldiers.

Music may seem a non-essential element of this training, but commanders also appreciated how a good band contributed to better morale and instilled regimental pride amongst the troops. Wagner's band first began providing this musical service in the 1890s. His ensemble would not have been called back if the band was not acknowledged as a valuable asset for the Seattle national guard.

This next photo shows the 2nd regiment band at a relaxed formation. It's a casual and patient ensemble shuffling their music and awaiting the order to strike up the band. Orville M. Snyder is once again marked with a vertical line. The postcard's note reads:

American Lake  1910

Nonetheless it was summertime. Despite the strictness of army life, the men must have felt they were on holiday. No women. No family worries. No work, that is, no civilian work. Just thousands of men enjoying the camaraderie of other men. Who could resist a joke or two?

This sepia toned photo has faded almost to ghostly shadows. Yet digital technology fixes the contrast enough for us to smile at the absurd humor. Two bandsmen stand next to each other. One is tall and holding a little piccolo while the other is a very short and portly man wearing an immense helicon tuba. This is the setup.

The photo is captioned:

Graef           Avanzo

The punchline comes in a second photo
taken from behind them
showing the gleeful laughter of their comradesa
at the incongruity of the two men's height
and the short man's baggy trousers.

This photo is captioned:

Avanzo       Graef

In vain I searched the other photos for the tall piccoloist or the compact tubist and came up without a match. But they are there. Just not on those instruments. Discovering the names of the bandsmen in that Tacoma newspaper report revealed the prank. The tall Graef was the drum major, Sergt. Fred Graef, and the short Avanzo was Frank Aronzo (?) a clarinetist. Someone, maybe Snyder, gave the two men instruments that were the least suited for their physique. In the band photos Graef is easy to spot, and if you follow the mustache, Aronzo-Avanso, may be standing two ranks behind Snyder in the first 1910 band photo.

The next postcard offers a rare image of a band in motion. With each bandsman's left foot in sync, the band steps off. As Graef the drum major aims his baton ordering a right turn, the band prepares to wheel right. This is the only photo where Orville Snyder has not made a mark on his position, but as he was usually placed next to the tuba, I think that is him in the front rank. The photo is captioned:

American Lake  1911

The bandsmen's adherence to military time in camp was probably variable. They performed at least once or twice a day, and probably had their own practice rehearsals to learn suitable new marches. Though excused from ordinary soldier duties, playing in the band was still hard work. Sometimes the concentration and vigor needed for marching and playing was too much for some musicians who were more used to sitting in a theatre pit.

Stretched out on the grass next to a tent,
the clarinet/helicon player takes a siesta.
The caption reads:

Avanzo     American Lake 1910.

Catching some ZZZs wherever one can
has always been a universal attitude for any soldier.

* * *

Today the national guard plays a much stronger role in foreign wars than a century ago. In Orville's  time, the biggest problem facing the national guard was recruitment. Some of the officer reports remarked on the challenges of getting young men to enlist in the guard. They observed a resistance to join-up and it was not just because civilian jobs paid better. On numerous  occasions in the 1890s and 1900s, state governors called up the guard to suppress labor strikes. This kind of altercation between obstinate employers and passionate workers frequently became violent causing state militia to be ordered to intervene. Almost always this was done in support of the employers and in retaliation against the workers. So in some regions, membership in the guard was not seen as patriotic service, particularly in progressive states like Washington which had a large population of trade unionists.

In 2019 there are bands for both the national guard and the army reserve. They don't perform music in quite the same way as Wagner's Band did in 1910 but the purpose is the same. A good band presents the public with an attractive aspect of military life. It helps promote the goals of military service and at the same time entertain the public. Orville and his mates certainly knew what that was about.

This series of photos was a fun puzzle to solve but it was a surprise that the photo postcard of the euphonium player, Orville M. Snyder, turned out to be the common thread woven through all of the postcards. But what really made this research exciting is that it untangled a thread that ties Orville to another set of photos in my collection that illustrate Seattle's musical culture from 1890 through 1915. Evidently Orville was a talented musician, who played for both bandmasters Meier and Wagner. From 1908 to 1917 he was regularly featured as a soloist on Wagner's band programs. That might be one motive for why these photographs were preserved . But I think there was a better reason .

From 1909 to 1917, Orville M. Snyder was secretary of the Seattle Musicians' Local Association No. 76. In June 1917 he resigned his union office to take a better paying job in the shipyards. This employment likely came about because the shipyard was expanding to meet wartime industral demands.

I think Orville saved these photos because that's what union secretaries do. They write letters, record meetings, negotiate contracts, remember their local's members, and learn everything about the work they do. And in Orville's case it's because there's no business like show business.

Seattle WA Daily Times
10 June 1917

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everything  tastes better
cooked over an open campfire.


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