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 }

Der Musikwagen

25 October 2019

We can see it in their smiles.
It was a bond of friendship
born of war
but made through music.

The men wear the regulation uniforms
of the Imperial German Army
with the curious brimless soft cap
for enlisted men.
But on their shoulders they also have
the distinctive "Swallow's nest" epaulets
of a German military bandsman.

Only the tuba, next to the band's Musikmeister, is visible.
The other musicians clutch their instruments,
wrapped in soft leather cases,
as they perch precariously
atop a farmer's hay wagon
being pulled by two heavy horses,
who patiently wait for a tap of the driver's whip.

The 18 German army bandsmen
loaded into farm wagon are outside a farm or inn
decorated with a wonderful pierced wood gallery.
The image comes from an unmarked postcard,
but is almost certainly from
the war years of 1914-1918.

It's a serene photo with a rustic charm
that carries little of the horror
and tragedy that was the Great War.
But there are little elements that provoke questions.

This was just one band of the Imperial German Army.
How many bands served?

I have not yet found a clear answer,
but in 1914 Germany mobilized 435 infantry regiments
and finished the war with 700 regiments,
and that's without counting artillery and cavalry regiments.
Not every regiment had a band,
but it seems safe to say that the Kaiser's army
deployed several hundred musicians
who served as bandsmen
on both the Western and Eastern Fronts.

How did soldiers move around
along the very long lines of battle in the Great War?

Of course there were trains
and some under-powered motor cars
and small lorries too,
but the principal means of transportation in 1914
was walking.
It was good fortune to ride in a wagon
because most of the time bandsmen marched,
as did all ordinary soldiers.
It was the main purpose
of a band or drum and bugle corps
to play music that kept the troops moving at a steady cadence.
It's a concept that Napoleon understood well.

Notice too that the music master
and one other musician
have swords at their side.
Perhaps only for show
but it's a detail little different from the soldiers
of Napoleon or Charlemagne's time. 

The horse drawn wagon was also
no different from wagons in those ancient wars.
So how many horses were used in the war?

I found the answer at an excellent website
on military history, The

One and a half million horses served in the German army during the Great War. According to veterinary reports over one million died - approximately sixty-eight percent. More died of starvation, exhaustion and exposure to the elements than due to enemy action. Seven million horses were treated for ailments (i.e. each horse approximately five or six times). One and a half million serious sickness cases were treated at one of the 478 special horse hospitals. By contrast, the French lost approximately eighty-five percent of their horses, the British seventy percent.

The statistics of the Great War beggars belief.
But I think simple photos like this
which illustrate just a small portion
of unimaginably large numbers,
can sometimes better tell the story.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone's on the wagon this weekend.

The Bassic Baby Carrier

18 October 2019

The bass helicon makes a brassy big noise,
yet blown soft and sweet it can be a great joy.

But when stuffed with a child
the sound's much reviled,

 as the music's too muted
       and the cries just annoy.

* * *

This postcard of an unknown babe
and its helicon player father,
or grandfather or even uncle,
is part of my continuing series
on babies used as tuba mutes.
For more on the subject read:

Another Tuba Baby
Tuba Babies.

I think it may be the same kid.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where babies ride free all weekend.

The Sanford Mills Band

12 October 2019

They look like musicians.
Drummers, trombone players,

clarinetists, and cornet players.

They wear sharp looking band uniforms
with music lyre badges pinned to their military caps.

In the center is a drum major
wearing a tall bearskin hat
and holding a shiny baton.

The bass drumhead even tells us their name:
the Sanford Mills Band
of Sanford, ME

But music was not the principal occupation
of these 23 bandsmen.
They are were employed as
weavers, winders, warpers,
burlers, combers, crimpers,
dyers, mixers, finishers,
spinners, spoolers,
twisters, tearers,
block printers, loom fixers,
bobbin setters, robe cutters, wool sorters,
and at numerous other jobs
at the Plush and Worsted Mills of Sanford, Maine,
manufacturers of Mohair Plushes,
Automobile Robes,
and Horse Blankets.


Sanford Mills advert
1919 Sanford, ME city directory

The Sanford Mills was an industrial complex of about 7.5 acres in Sanford, ME. It was developed by Thomas Goodall, an English immigrant, in 1867 on the site of earlier mill industries. His Sanford factories produced coarse woolen blankets for horses and mules; warm robes for drivers and passengers of automobiles which had no heating; and decorative plush mohair fabrics used in commercial upholstery. The seats in Pullman railway cars were covered in this heavy material. The next postcard image of the Sanford Mills suggests a quiet, pastoral landscape which was probably very far from the reality of a large factory employing hundreds of workers.

Sanford Mills, Sanford, ME c. 1919
Source: Wikipedia

The men in the Sanford Mills Band were predominately young. Only one cornet player, seated center on the floor, looks to be 40+ in age. Most of them worked at the Sanford Mills in either one of the jobs listed above or in some other capacity like a clerk, electrician, carpenter, plumber, etc. These skilled trade occupations were attached not only to the census records but to names listed in the city directory too.

Some of the bandsmen may have been employed in other Sanford industries like the lumber mill or shoe factory, but all of them certainly lived very close to the mills and either walked or took a trolley line to work. The reason the mills were located in Sanford was the water power from city's Mousam River. The town counted 9,049 inhabitants for the 1910 census. Sanford. ME is about 35 miles southwest of Portland, ME and 35 miles north of Portsmouth, NH.

The band was organized around 1909-10 and may have been sponsored partly by the mill owners. For some company bands, the rehearsal space was at the workplace, and the band would rehearse and perform during the factory lunch hour. This may have been the case for the Sanford Mill Band early in its history but by 1924 the band kept a rehearsal space on the top floor of a downtown building next to a city park which was a short 5 minute walk from the mill. Company bands were very much a part of the worker's community and the band would perform for all kinds of civic events. American small towns loved parades, and the tall drum major at the back of the band is evidence that the Sanford Mills Band was a marching band. With only three clarinets and seven cornets they were also more of a brass band than a wind band. 

My first simple search for the Sanford Mills Band turned up the most useful information. In July 2015, Vic Firth, the celebrated timpanist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra passed away at the age of 85. He was a very talented percussionist who won this position when he was only 20. In his memorial tribute, he attributed his start in music to growing up in Sanford where his father, Everett E. Firth, was a music teacher and director of the Sanford Mills Band from 1910 to 1954.

Having a name made it easy to find more details on and I found Everett E. Firth listed in the 1913 city directory as a shoeworker and conductor of the Sanford Mills band. He was also living at home with his father Joseph E. Firth, a clerk as the Hotel Sanford. At the time he was only 19 years old.

1913 Sanford and Springvale, ME city directory

Unfortunately the internet archives have not digitized any Sanford newspapers, but sometimes Sanford's community news were published in Boston newspapers and the band got a brief mention. In January 1915 it was reported that the band had elected officers and Everett Firth was appointed as conductor of the band. Between 1917 and 1919 his name was not in the directory, as according to his draft card he was employed as a weaver at a cotton mill in Lowell, Massachusetts. When the United States entered the war in 1917, Everett was one of hundreds of musicians who were sent to France where he served as an assistant band leader for the 303rd Field Artillery band. On his return he moved back to Sanford and was listed in the 1920 census as Musician, Theatre. In the 1923 city directory he was again identified as conductor of the Sanford Mills band, while his father, Joseph, worked as an operative in the Sanford Mills.

In the photo, one musician's hat is different. It's the cornet player seated right. He has an insignia that is difficult to read as the focus is not clear, but with digital correction it looks like:

F. 1st Regt.
of K O S M

He is also the only musician with a bow tie which stands out because of the high collar on the uniform jacket. I've been unable to figure out the meaning of the initials, K.O.S.M. or H.C.S.M.?, perhaps it's a fraternal society, but 1st Regt. does suggest a quasi-military group. In any case, though I don't know the answer to this puzzle, I think this young man's dress statement marks him as the band leader. And I believe he may be Everett E. Firth.

The photographer of this large 9.5" x 6.5" photo was Fred C. Philpot who operated a studio in Sanford, ME beginning from at least 1893 to 1923. Philpot died in 1925 at age 69, so the band's photo was certainly taken before that. I believe the photo's style and the possible identification of its leader dates it from around 1914-16.

Company bands were more than just a recreation for workers. They were an organization that represented an entire community without connection to church or politics. Factory towns like Sanford, at the beginning of the 20th century proudly promoted the promise of the new industrial city. Here are two postcards to illustrate the Sanford Mills where these men worked and made music.

Sanford Apr 13
Dear Father and
Mother  I got here all right and work this after
noon  it is awful cold and
my room is cold so I am going to bed
I am well  will write soon
C. W. W.

The postcard was sent to Mr. G. H. Willey of Newfield, Maine
on April 14, 1908.
Newfield is about 17 miles north of Sanford
and in 1910 had a population of 620 people.
The photographer was Philpot,
the same studio that took the band photo.

This second postcard is not a photo but an etching of a large factory complex with impressive smoke stacks.

I am sorry but
I cannot exchan
ge souvenir spoons
of magazines
with your for
they are too ex-
pensive for me.
You know I
have to work
pretty hard
for a living I
am alone to
work with one
of my sisters to take care of the house and my dear old
mother and father.  so it makes it quite hard for me.
Hope you will find someone else to exchange with you.
Mary Menard.

The back of the postcard has no stamp or address, but like the previous postcard is "undivided" to be used only for the address. In the United States this officially changed in March 1907 when a sender was permitted to write a message on one half of the address side of a postcard. So Mary's note likely dates from before 1908.

The Sanford Mills Band disappeared from the city directory in the late 1920s, but evidently it continued performing for various civic functions like fairs and mill employee picnics. Eventually it became the Sanford community band which still continues the tradition of band music in Sanford.

In 1953 the Goodall family sold its Sanford Mills to the Burlington Mills Corporation which closed the mill operation in 1955. After many years of vacancy and decay, the remaining buildings were finally scheduled for demolition by the property owner. But concern over losing an important piece of community history motivated the city of Sanford to intervene. Arrangements were made to sell the land to a developer which then cleaned up the existing environmental contamination and rehabilitated the property. Using the remaining brick shell of the main mill building, 36 income-restricted apartment units and 22,000 square feet of commercial space were created.

In June 2017, one of the largest building of the old Sanford Mills was destroyed in a terrible fire.  Fortunately the buildings were unoccupied at the time, but two days later three boys, two 13-year-olds and a 12-year-old, were charged with felony arson. Demolition of this site began in September 2018.

Fire at Sanford Mills, Sanford, ME 23 June 2017
Source: Wikipedia

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link to find more good yarns.

Army Brass

04 October 2019

They're made of brass.
o achieve consistent accuracy
they require regular target practice.
Special training on the breechloaded action
s necessary to keep it clean
and prevent misfire.

They come in several caliber sizes
that mark different ranges.
With the proper ammunition
they can be very loud
so hearing protection is advised.

So it's no wonder that military bands
appreciate the saxophone.
Musical instrument or versatile weapon?
Why not both?

These four bandsmen are the saxophone section
of a United States army band.
From left to right are
baritone, tenor, alto, and soprano sax.
The soldiers' breeches and coats
are the military uniform style used prior to 1918,
but the canvas leggings date them a few years earlier
as this gear was changed to leg wraps or “puttees”
when the American Expeditionary Force went to France.

This postcard photo accompanied a letter
there is no address or postage stamp
on the back is a short message written in ink,
and above it is an annotation
in pencil.

Fort Barranacas  Florida
8th Band, C.A.C.    XV

the four of us pay(sic) togeather for
dances and Beer parties and shure
have a good time  I wish I knew
Joe McClaries adress   I belive I would
send him and Bill. O. Williams one
see if Johnie cand find me on this

Fort Barrancas is a military base established in 1839 near Pensacola, Florida on the remains of a Spanish fort built in 1698. It is now a National Historic Landmark. Two decades before World War One, the Unites States Army formed the Coastal Artillery Corps, or C.A.C., to garrison a series of fortresses situated in strategic positions along the coastline of the United States. In the age before aerial bombing, rockets, and cruise missiles the greatest military threat to America came from foreign naval power in the form of the dreadnoughts, or battleships. The Coastal Artillery Corps was formed to defend potential invasion from the sea by operating batteries of heavy 12 inch guns capable of firing 1,000 lb. shells. However Fort Barracas was not equipped with this type of artillery but functioned as a post for the 8th company of the C.A.C.

* * *

This second quartet of U. S. army saxophones
are lined up the same way,
E♭ baritone sax, B♭ tenor, E♭ alto and B♭ soprano,
but the bandsmen are inside a room, perhaps the band's barracks.
The musicians wear an older style dress uniform
with dark blue jacket and trousers with a broad stripe.
This is an unidentified cabinet photo
which I believe dates between 1895 and 1905.

* * *

The saxophone is the newest instrument
added to the wind band ensemble.
Invented in about 1840 by Adolphe Sax,
a Belgian instrument maker who moved to Paris,
the saxophone was adopted
by French, Belgian, and British military bands.
Being made of metal it was more durable
than other woodwind instruments
like flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons.
Yet the single reed attached to the conical brass tube
creates a strong sonority that was then missing in brass bands.

By the 1890s most professional American bands
included at least a quartet of saxophones
but military bands, being military,
were more conservative

and slower to change.
Yet in mobilizing for war
the army brought out the big brass reeds.

This group of army saxsmen
begin with the alto saxophone and then the tenor.
Saxophone were designed in nine different sizes
to cover the full spectrum of musical pitches.
The top Sopranissimo and bottom Subcontrabass sizes
are more theoretical than practical and are rarely used.
The first is a frighteningly unstable musical weapon,
and the second is far too large for a marching military band.

But the bass saxophone is manageable in a band
and with a second tenor and a baritone
a quintet of saxophone with a bass makes a BIG wall of sound
that can drown out dozens of clarinets and flutes
and put trombones and tubas to the test too.

This quintet of U. S. army bandsmen
are also from the WW1 years
because they wear the A.E.F. overseas caps and puttees.
The American commander, General John J. Pershing
recognizing the importance of military band music
for maintaining good morale within his troops
and establishing American prestige with the international allied forces
brought dozens of army bands over to Europe.

This 5" x 7" photo has no markings
and the camera focus is too unclear to identify their unit.
It looks like a photo made in the U.S.
and was maybe one of several
produced for each section in the company's band.

* * *

If five saxophones are better than four,
then six must be better!

The E♭ baritone sax is on the right
with a single B♭ tenor and one E♭ alto to the left.

Continuing to the left are two more altos
and one B♭ soprano saxophone in the classic saxy shape
rather than the more common straight form.
Next to them is a redheaded band conductor dressed in all white.
What makes this an unusual photo is that it is in color.
Sort of.

Until the invention of color film,
most photographers offered a service
that added realistic color to sepia tone images.
But these hand painted photos are not common,
perhaps because the photo artistry cost extra.
I think this was produced by a military photographer
to commemorate a now forgotten occasion.
The painted pink foliage has a tropical look
but this band might be stationed
in the Philippines, Panama, Cuba, Hawaii, or even California.

The photo is unmarked
except for a note under the soprano player.

Grandpa ↑

I'm also not entirely convinced that this saxophone sextet
is from a U. S. army band.
The bandleader's white uniform and the two-tone canvas leggings
with leather on the instep, may indicate they are
musicians in a band of the United States Marine Corps.
However I still think the photo dates from pre-1918. 

I make fun of the saxophone because I really love the sound
and sometimes wish that
in fourth grade
I had chosen an alto sax to learn
instead of the horn that I now play.
(I thought it looked too complicated.)

A consort of saxophones,
whether 4, or 5, or more
can make beautiful music
with a rich timbre the envy of any string quartet
and a fantastic dynamic range that rivals any brass ensemble.

To demonstrate that sound,
here is video of the saxophone quartet from
the U. S. Army Field Band

playing an arrangement
of J. S. Bach's "Little" Fugue in G Minor, BWV 578.
Each fugal entrance goes from
soprano to alto, tenor, and baritone sax.

Their uniforms are pretty sharp.

* * *

* * *

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where a rising tide lifts all boats.


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