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 }

How to Make an Oboe

29 November 2019

"Some assembly required."
It's a familiar phrase of modern life
usually written in 12 languages
on the side of a carton of Swedish furniture.

Yet those words can apply to a musical instrument too.
In this case it is illustrated in a postcard photo
showing an oboe being newly fitted
with the complicated finger system
that enables the instrument to play different pitches.

As the caption on the back of the postcard explains,
it was a task of "seven eight-hour days
to make and mount a set of oboe keys
from 355 small castings and other bits of metal."

The skilled craftsman entrusted with this work
had been employed in the woodwind department

of the C. G. Conn Musical Instrument Company
of Elkhart, Indiana since 1906.

The oboe occupies the elite position in the woodwind section of a band or orchestra. Its French name hautbois means "high wood", and though its range is not as wide as the clarinet or as high as a flute, its soprano tone quality is so penetrating that composers have given it some of most beautiful melodies. Usually constructed from Grenadilla, also known as African blackwood, the oboe's narrow double reed and conical bore demand robust breath control from its player. And a good oboist requires fearless courage and nimble dexterity to handle this difficult instrument.

In my experience as a collector of antique photographs of musicians, images of solo oboists are the rarest instrumentalists to find among the common musical instruments. And certainly this postcard of an oboe craftsman, probably printed in the 1940s by the thousands, is an especially unique image to show a rarely photographed instrument being assembled. (One day I hope to find this same postcard with a postmark, which will make it doubly rare!)

Which is my way of introducing
two more postcard rarities of one oboist
in two different uniforms.

The first image shows an oboist
impeccably dressed in formal white tie and tailcoat.
Clipped to his nose are Pince-nez spectacles
that are attached to a small chain behind his ear.
Likewise his oboe is attached to a thin neck strap.

The second postcard shows the same man with his oboe,
but now he wears a neat military-style band uniform.
His cap has a badge marked:


The orchestra oboist stands in front
of a painted studio backdrop
with classical architectural details.
The keyboard of a grand piano is just visible to the side.
Notice that his shoes are two-tone with buttons instead of laces.

The photographer was Root of Chicago,
started by William J. Root in about 1909
and continuing until the 1930s.
The studio originally had two locations
on Wabash Ave. near Chicago's
central business and theater district.

 * * *

The second photo shows a bandsman with oboe
in a three-quarter length pose
in front of a plain dark background.
The name Philippini on his cap
refers to the band of Don Philippini,
one the many Italian bandleaders
who immigrated to America in the 1900s
as part of an infusion of Italian music into American culture.

Washington D.C. Times
10 June 1906

Philippini's band first appeared in theater advertisements in 1906. His first name was Salvatore and though he was born in Milan he claimed Spanish ancestry and marketed his ensemble as "Don Philippini's Spanish Band" even though most of the musicians were Italian. Like many of the other Italian bandmasters I've written about, (see An Atlantic City Love Story, part 2) Don Philippini had a dark debonair quality and was known for his "acrobatic and contortionate movements" on the conductor's podium. His band toured the country playing two week dates on the amusement park circuit in the summer, and the vaudeville theaters in the winter. In 1907 the Pittsburgh Press described him as Don Philippini, the emotional bandmaster, at Luna Park.

Pittsburgh Press
23 June 1907

By American standards Philippini's band of 45 pieces was large, though Italian traditionalists probably thought it was just a medium size ensemble. In July 1910 the band made an appearance in Salt Lake City, and the newspapers provided a list of the instrumentation.

Ten clarinets, one E-flat clarinet, twp bass clarinets, one oboe, two flutes, two bass strings, two bass horns, two baritone horns, six cornets, four French horns, four saxophones, five trombones, and three bass drums. 

At the opening concert of the band, an audience of perhaps 4,000 persons had assembled in the lawns of Lagoon to listen to the program, and they were not disappointed at the volume and quality of the music produced.

Salt Lake City Deseret Evening News
18 July 1910

In this era American bands did not typically use oboes, but Philippini, like the other Italian bandmasters, programed lots of arrangements of opera overtures for his band. This kind of music is filled with oboe solos, so at least one very talented oboist was required. I think my oboist is pictured in this next photo published by the Salt Lake City Herald-Republican on 24 July 1910. There is enough detail to see that the band's uniforms and caps match what the oboist in my photo is wearing.

Salt Lake City Herald-Republican
24 July 1910

By around 1911, Philippini dropped the notion of a Spanish Band, and only occasionally promoted his family's Spanish heritage. His band toured until about 1917 but in the post-war years, American taste in music dramatically changed and bands had competition. Don Philippini obligingly changed with the times and became a theater orchestra conductor. His Strand Symphony Orchestra toured the country and accompanied silent movies in the new grand cinema theaters. In 1917 he was based in New Orleans and in 1922 moved to Los Angeles to be part of the Hollywood movie industry.
Kansas City MO Times
25 May 1911

In August 1915 Don Philippini's band program included one number for an oboe and flute duet. The name of the oboist was Signor Rossi. I haven't found any proof yet, but I'd like to think Signor Rossi is the bandsman in the Philippini hat and that he moved from being an oboist in a band to playing in a theater orchestra. My guess is that his band photo is from roughly 1910 and his white-tie photo is later from about 1916 to 1922.

Anyone with soulful eyes like this has to be Italian.

I wonder if he played an oboe made by the C. G. Conn Company?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is hard at work.

Ein schönes Mädchen

23 November 2019

A photographer paints with light.
hadows and luminescence
are used like brushes
to record the subject
through the camera lens.

An artist on the other hand
deals with line,
sketching only what is needed
to afix a portrait
onto a blank sheet of paper.

And whereas a photographer
must sense just the right moment
to click the camera shutter,

an artist must rely on memory
to patiently draw 
with pen or pencil
the image they remember
of what their eye sees.

* * *

These four portraits
are the work of Austrian artist

of  Hermann Torggler, (1878-1939).
This is my third post this year
featuring his charming postcards.
Previously his art was in

Up, Up, and Away!
The Girls of Austrian Postcards.

The first postcard is entitled  In Harmonie!  and shows a young woman playing a violin with her back turned so that she is in profile. It is the perspective I usually see of a violin soloist from my position in an orchestra. She is dressed in a light Grecian-style gown with bare shoulders that gives her a timeless classical appeal.

The postcard was sent on 18 December 1899 from Austria to Monsieur Gerome Walder of Mühlhausen, Elsass which is now Mulhouse, Alsace in eastern France. But in 1899 it was part of Germany as the result of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. The message on the front is in French and conveys, "Thanks for the two pretty cards, but I have unfortunately no cards of the other series."

* * *

The second card is a charming portrait entitled Studienkopf  or head study. A young woman has her head turned in a 3/4 profile as she locks eyes with the artist. Like the others this Künstlerpostkarte, or Artist Postcard, was printed by F. A. Ackermann, Kunstverlag, München.  The artist's signature is printed next to the message in German which is unclear. The card was posted from Bavaria on 22 June 1900

* * *

The third card is captioned Erinnerung, or Memory. This wistful looking young woman is also drawn in profile as she wears a jaunty hat and a fur stole. My impression is that if Torggler was using a model, this is the same person as in the first two and possibly the last postcard.

This postcard was mailed on 30 March 1901 from Fleurier, Switzerland, a small town noted for watchmaking that is now merged to form the administrative district of Val-de-Travers in western Switzerland near the border of France. It was sent by G.B.O. to their cousin, Fräulein Leny Bossert, of Othmarsingen, Switzerland.

* * *

The last postcard is another fine profile portrait of a beautiful woman drawn in ink or charcoal pencil. Hermann Torggler entitles this portrait, Glück auf allen Wegen!, or Good luck on all roads! This sendoff, the equivalent of "drive safe", was likely not a empty wish considering that the postcard message is dated 15 Jan 1899. It was sent to Wohlgeboren Fräulein Adda Schrödter of Wien, Austria. The word Wohlgeboren, or well-born, is a form of address for the lowest ranks of German and Austrian nobility.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is in profile.

The Perrydale Concert Band

16 November 2019

Taking a picture of a large group of people
always presents a challenge to a photographer.
Should his subjects be crushed together inside a dimly lit room
or strung out in a line in the sunshine? 

The most important person,
in this case the band leader,
should be placed in the center.
But should the other people stand, sit, or crouch?
They definitely should pay attention
and not hide from the camera lens.

And if there are hats, they need to be tilted
so that there are no shadows blocking the face.
And everyone, "Please look at the camera!"

Sometimes you just do the best you can,
and hope with luck
that the shutter clicks at the best moment.
"Everyone say cheese, please."

This photograph, 7" x 5", a bit larger than a postcard, is of the Perrydale Concert Band from Polk County, Oregon. Perrydale is an unincorporated community about 50 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. In February 1911 the people of Perrydale organized their own town band under the direction of Mr. J. P. Caldwell who quickly worked his musicians to a performance level sufficient to give their first concert in May of that year. Ticket sales at 25¢ apiece, children under five admitted free, would benefit the band to pay for new uniforms. The program included two marches, two waltzes, a polka and a Schottische, several vocal numbers, a cornet duet played by Mr. and Mrs. Caldwell, and finished with a patriotic medley.

Polk County OR Observer
09 May 1911

By a quirk of fate, the Perrydale Band director, J. P. Caldwell or Julius Perry Caldwell was best known by his middle name in the village where he was also music director of the Church of Christ. This may be the church with the classic spire in the background of the photo, which I found on the internet identified as the Perrydale Christian Church. It was built in 1866 by some of the early pioneers of the Oregon Trail who settled in this farming region.

The church is now called the Valley Baptist Church. Its location at the intersection of Perrydale Rd. and Amity-Dallas Rod. lets Google Maps gives us a modern perspective very close to the position of the camera in 1911-1915. There's been some remuddling on the spire, but the roof shape and foundation are the same.

* * *

* * *

The Victorian house in the left background of the photo has also survived into the 21st century. In Google maps' streetview it is hidden by trees but if you "walk" to the left you will see it behind a row of trees. The Oregon Historic Photograph Collection has an image of the house from 1958 showing a level of deterioration that almost seems terminal.

Victorian house in Perrydale, Oregon , 1958
Source: Oregon Historic Photograph Collection

Here is the same house today after restoration.

Victorian house in Perrydale, Oregon , circa 2018

* * *

By good fortune I have acquired two other photos,
both unmarked postcards,
of the Perrydale Concert Band
which were taken closer to the same church building.

This time the photographer had chairs,
and Mr. Caldwell was placed front and center.

There are 26 bandsmen plus leader in this photo.
The uniforms are the same as the first photo
but many of the faces are different,
and several are young teenage boys.
In June 1912 the Perrydale band
participated in the Elks' carnival in Portland, OR.
and their picture appeared in the newspaper.
(incorrectly captioned as the top picture)

Portland Oregon Daily Journal
14 June 1912

Portland Oregon Daily Journal
12 June 1912

Just two days before on 12 June 1912 the Portland Oregon Daily Journal ran a report headlined:

Perrydale Band is Young, Enthusiastic.

Under the leadership of J. P. Caldwell the organization of 35 members was one of the first bands on the streets this morning, and dispensed all sorts of music, both classical and semi-classical, and lots of ragtime.

   In their neat blue uniforms streaked with white braid they made a very good showing and attracted much favorable comment as they marched through the streets. The uniforms of the Perrydale contingent were formerly those of the Journal Carriers' association [band.] The band proper has only been organized since last October, although several of the members had played in various organizations prior to that time.  

   "It's just a little country town band," said Director Caldwell, "but I believe that we have demonstrated what we can do. Our band has done a lot to advertise Perrydale."

   Perrydale is about 56 miles from Portland in Polk county and has a population of 200.

_ _ _

The second postcard of the Perrydale Band
is nearly identical as the other
except for one item of apparel. 


I suspect that the first photo of the band
out on the road in front of the church
was taken about the same time as these postcard photos.
The occasion was probably a town concert
or possibly just before getting on the train to Portland,
so roughly 1911-1914.

{For best effect click the GIF image above to enlarge it}

The bandleader, Julius Perry Caldwell was born in 1875 and in the 1900 census was single living with his parents, John and Margarie Caldwell and his older brother, William Caldwell. Their home was in Dallas, the county seat of Polk County where Perry worked as a Dealer, Agricultural Implements while his father was a Dealer in Mill Feed. Interestingly his brother William was a music teacher.

Having already seen army service during the short Spanish-American War in 1898, J.P. Caldwell was too old to join up in 1918, and it seems that by that year the Perrydale band had about run its course. After a stint of leading the band for about 5 or 6 years, Caldwell, now married with two children, moved to La Grande, OR, about 320 miles east of Perrydale, where he found work as a machinist in a railroad shop. He died in September 1945. Yet despite having left western Oregon thirty years before, his obituary in the Salem, OR newspaper made note of his past leadership of the Perrydale band.

It must have been a good band.

<^> <^> <^>

Earlier this year I published another version
of the Perrydale Band story based around the two postcards,

A Band with Hats — and No Hats. 

Since the time I acquired the first photo
of the band posed out on the road in front of the church
and in this post reworked their story in order to show
the contemporary views of the house and church.

<^> <^> <^>

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday.
Hop on over for more stories about old photos.

The Bell Hop Orchestra

08 November 2019

You got to have a hook.
In showbiz as in fishing,
you can't catch the big ones
unless you lure them in with a good hook.

For a dance band it might be
doubling or tripling the instruments
with multiple saxophones, trumpets, and banjos.

A band also looks pretty good
dressed in a snappy outfit.
The gals really go for a man in uniform.

Matching hats also make a great statement
about the kind of high-class music
an audience can expect.

And if you've got a sousaphone,
put it up front, bold and brash.
Because who doesn't love a big bass horn?

When it came to hooks,
the Bell Hop Orchestra
had them all
and more.

Arranged on the small set of photographer's studio,
are eight musicians dressed
in the formal livery of hotel porters
and standing behind a pyramid of musical instruments.
Around the painted head of the trap set's bass drum
are two trumpets, a trombone and sousaphone,
two banjos, a guitar and ukulele,
five saxophones, and two clarinets.
There are also small cone-shaped megaphones
for a vocal quartet.

Written on the bottom
of this large 8" x 10" photo is a date.

December 1929
Best Luck
The Bell

On the back is another note.

Mr. Frank Carr

Some of the band members
have signed their first names.
The three on the right are readable.
Emmet, Bonner, and Frank.
The man standing far right
is presumably the leader,
Frank Carr.

The band's name, The Bellhop Orchestra,
seems a bit grand for the number of musicians
as their instrumentation is more suited
for a pop band than a string orchestra.
But it was all part of a novelty band's hook.
Mr. Frank Carr's Bell Hops
took the once well-known occupation
of a hotel steward, or bell hop,
to add a dashing brio to their band's image.

Six years earlier in 1923
the Daily Republican newspaper of Monongahela, PA
printed a flashier picture of a similar pop band,
the Yerkes Bell Hop Orchestra,
who were appearing at a dance
put on by the Elks Club at the State Armory.

Monongahela PA Daily Republican
27 September 1923

The earliest reference of Frank Carr and his Bell Hops was in a notice for a semi-private dance at a business college in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. There might be a connection between this group and the Yerkes Bell Hop Orchestra, as Yerkes, PA is a small village only about 90 miles south of Wilkes Barre. And in between is Freeland, PA which was the hometown of Frank Carr.

Wilkes Barre PA Times Leader
06 October 1928
After World War One, show business in America went through seismic shifts. Vaudeville theatrical circuits still followed the rail lines and amusement parks still put on concerts of Italian bands, but American youth turned away from their parent's old entertainments and jumped onto the new pastimes of the 1920s Jazz Age. First there was the spread of inexpensive gramophones, followed by the proliferation of radio, and then the invention of sound films. Together they produced a tsunami wave of popular music that changed American culture.

Pennsylvania seemed overwhelmed with a dance craze. Club rooms, church halls, school gymnasiums, and civic armories around the state advertised weekly dances, tickets for ladies always discounted. These dances fed a mania driven by the infectious syncopated beat of jazz bands competing for audiences and challenging each other to come up with novel music or clever productions. Bell hop caps were really no different than cowboy hats. Catching the attention of fans who bought tickets was the ultimate goal.

Mount Carmel PA Item
17 October 1931

Hazelton PA Plain Speaker
11 May 1943

The Bell Hops added two more musicians in the 1930s and continued playing at dances around Pennsylvanian and the northeast region, but disappeared from newspaper ads around 1935.

Frank Carr, born in 1899, listed Laborer, Coal as his occupation in the census records for 1920, 1930, and 1940. Though he was in his 40s and single when the US entered WW2, he was drafted and assigned to one of the army bands. In 1943 the Hazelton, PA Plain Speaker reported that he took part in a mass band concert in a large unnamed Australian city where "the attendance was so large, that several hundred people were forced to stand outside the municipal building in order to hear the program."

Probably almost as thrilling as a gig by the Bell Hops.

* * *

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where novelty is rule number one.


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