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 }

A Sympathy Orchestra

13 July 2019

Good music teachers are patient.
They know a student's initial enthusiasm
for making a musical noise
will soon wane
as the student discovers
a bewildering maze of things to learn.

So the teacher waits.

Then one day they see the look.
The eager smile of accomplishment.
The clear eyed gaze of capability.
The teacher recognizes that now
the student has mastered
the first real music lesson.

For as all teachers know
the goal is not the destination
or the thousands of steps.
It's the journey itself that is the reward. 

This is a photo of two earnest young boys
who made their teacher happy
and their parents proud.

The boys are clearly brothers.
The older one, maybe age 10 or 11,
sits on a piano stool with his violin on one knee
and his younger brother perched on the other.
He is perhaps age 7 or 8 and is also holding a violin.
Beside them is a wire stand with music
and behind them an upright piano
with a jumble of sheet music
hiding an ornately carved front desk.

It's a postcard photo
likely taken in the parlor of their home.
No names, no location, no date.

But there are a few clues about the music they played.

On the music stand is a book of single line exercises
The camera captured enough of the room light
to read the music's key signature, one sharp,
and a title over the first staff, Chaconne,
a style of repetitive dance from the baroque era,
followed by Var. – Variations on the staves below.

It looks like a intermediate method book
with numbered exercises
to develop both instrumental skills
and understanding of music notation.
I'm sure a violinist in our time would recognize it instantly.
My first advanced studies were like this one,
a collection of 60 exercises
originally published in two volumes in 1833.
To this day the two books have never been far from my music stand
and remain an inexhaustible source of inspiration and satisfaction.
Maybe one day I'll master them all.

On the right side of the piano is piece of sheet music
with an illustration and a portion of the title.


I'm in Love with the Mother of My Best Girl
by Gus Kahn and Egbert Van Alstyne
Source: The Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection

The music is a song: I'm in Love with the Mother of My Best Girl, words by Gus Kahn and music by Egbert Van Alstyne. The title is a riddle with the answer is revealed in the chorus. 

I'm in love with the mother of my best girl,
Her mother is in love with me.
Of course I love the girl, this sweet and precious pearl,
Still her mother's kisses set my heart a-whirl.
If I had to choose between the two I love,
I'd lead a most unhappy life,
For the girl you see is only three.
And the mother of the girl's my wife.

The lyricist, Gus Kahn (1886 – 1941), and the composer,  Egbert Van Alstyne (1878 – 1951), were prolific songwriters in the early years of vaudeville and then Broadway musicals. Alstyne wrote hundreds of hits before joining Kahn in 1913, the year this song was published, in a productive partnership. Both were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.

On the left side of the piano is another illustrated music cover.
In the picture are women in a long gowns,
tall trees, and either the sun or the moon.
The title reads:

In the Shadows

In the Shadows
by E. Ray Goetz and Herman Finck
Source: The Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection

This music was In the Shadows, a dance song composed by Herman Finck with lyrics written by E. Ray Goetz. Herman Finck (1872 – 1939), born Hermann Van Der Vinck of Dutch parents, was an English composer and conductor who wrote over 30 shows for the London stage. He was music director of the Palace Theatre and principal conductor at the Queen's Theatre. This version of In the Shadows has a copyright date of 1911, and became very popular. Notice that the publisher provided arrangements for high, medium, and low voice as well as male quartette; and had parts for piano solo; small orchestra; full orchestra; military band; mandolin solo; mandolin and guitar; mandolin and piano; two mandolins and guitar; two mandolins and piano; mandolin, piano, and guitar; two mandolins;  two mandolins, piano, and guitar; banjo solo; second banjo; and piano accompaniment. and piano. One of these versions was listed in the program for the Titanic's ship orchestra in 1912.

Oh! meet me in the shadows,
When twilight dims the day,
When the golden sun has gone to rest,
In the golden west, loving time is best.
For love dreams are the sweetest,
When moonbeams flood the sky,
Love will find its own, When we alone,
In the shadows, just you and I.

The Library of Congress has a wonderful audio recording archive called the National Jukebox. It provides a recording made on October 25, 1911 for Victor Records in Camden, New Jersey. The vocalists are Walter Van Brunt, tenor, and Helen Clark, soprano.

* * *

* * *

In the center of the piano desk is one more piece of music
with a typeface large enough to read.


Sympathy waltz-song from The Firefly
by Otto Harbach and Rudolf Friml
Source: The Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection

The music was Sympathy, a waltz song from the 1912 comedy opera, The Firefly. The composer was Rudolf Friml, and the lyricist was Otto Haurbach. The producer of this operetta, Arthur Hammerstein, originally intended for Victor Herbert to write the music with the Italian soprano Emma Trentini as the featured star. But Herbert had a falling out with Trentini, who was appearing in his operetta Naughty Marietta, when she refused to sing an encore in order to save her voice. Hebert took it as an insult and refused to work with her again, Suddenly pressed to find a substitute composer for The Firefly production Hammerstein chose a relatively unknown Czech-born pianist, Charles Rudolf Friml (1879 – 1972) to compose the music. It would be his first Broadway success. His first visit to America was as the accompanist for violinist Jan Kubelík who toured the United States in 1901–02 and 1904. Friml's association with Emma Trentini also led to his divorce from his first wife in 1915.

{See my story The Famous Twins for more on Kubelik.}

The libretto was by Otto Abels Harbach (1873 – 1963), born Otto Abels Hauerbach  in Salt Lake City, Utah of Danish parents. As a young man he aspired to become a professor of English, but vision problems turned him toward a writing career that required less reading. In 1902 he went to a New York Broadway revue that introduced him to musical comedy and brought him into the world of theatre. He began writing songs collaborating with various composers without much success until 1912 when he was hired by Hammerstein to worked with Rudolf Friml on The Firefly.  They went on to write 11 more musical together. Harbach's more famous lyrics are for "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes", "Indian Love Call" and "Cuddle up a Little Closer, Lovey Mine". In 1917 when the United States entered World War 1, Hauerbach changed his name to Harbach to fend off anti-German sentiments.

You need sympathy, sympathy, just sympathy!
You won't think I am free,
You will not scold or say I am bold
When I treat you tenderly, tenderly!
Don't blame me, for you know
I'm but showing sympathy!

Again the Library of Congress National Jukebox has a recording of this duet by the same vocalists, Walter Van Brunt, tenor, and Helen Clark, soprano for Victor Records, only made fifteen months later on January 8, 1913.

* * *

* * *

The heart of music making is fun.
This anonymous photo, taken sometime after 1913,
captures that feeling in a way
that lets us see the love between two brothers
and the delight they took in learning to play
the piano and the violin. 
Imagine the joy that their music
brought to their parent's household.

And did you spot the clarinet?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is as fit as a fiddle.


La Nightingail said...

Ah, you made me go back & look for the clarinet! :) I wonder who played it? One of the boys? Their father? Or mother? My father played the clarinet in high school. I remember seeing it in its case in my Dad's closet & he got it out & showed it to me once, but he never played it again. A shame, as the family was very musical. My own children played alto sax, trombone, & flute in their high school band. Only the one on alto sax kept at it and currently plays in a community band. As for me, I 'played' with vocal chords and still do much to my enjoyment. And I sing a lot of the old songs. Not necessarily the ones you found - nice sleuthing, by the way! When I was active in melodrama theatre, my choices centered on the frisky "Gay 90s" tunes which were perfect for olios then. Now I sing all manner of things with a special love of '30s and '40s music. My Mom sang with an orchestra before she was married & after marriage, would sing all those great numbers around the house, so I grew up singing them too. :)

smkelly8 said...

Such sweet lyrics! You couldn't get away with such innocence nowadays.

Can't help but smile seeing the boys with their violins and their smiles.

Wendy said...

Nope,I didn’t spot the clarinet, but I did spot the older brother’s resemblance to Alfred E. Neumann.

I enjoyed reading about the sheet music. A reflection of the times, yes? Perhaps mother or father played these pieces.

Molly's Canopy said...

Once again I am amazed at how you are able to unpack a photo to capture and research every detail -- in this case right down to the sheet music and audios! I remember those method books, too -- I think mine was for piano. A great way to learn basic music skills while mastering an instrument.

Barbara Rogers said...

You leave no stone unturned in looking at a simple photo...thanks for the trips down the various musical trails!


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