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 }

Two Brass Trios

13 March 2021

 A trio of brass instruments makes a nice sound together.
Music for three offers a better range than a duo,
and is not as dense as a quartet,
or as intricate as a quintet.


When the two top instruments are the same type,
their voice lines can weave
a melody between each other,
while the lowest instrument
provides a sturdy accompaniment.

Strictly speaking a brass trio
is neither a band, nor an orchestra,
and not really a complete brass section
of either ensemble.
So a photo of a trio of cornets and tenor horns
may be nothing more than a picture of three friends.

Or maybe brothers.



The first image comes from a cabinet card photograph of three gentlemen with two cornets and a bell-up tenor horn. It's an uncommon pose having the two cornetists play a fanfare while the tenor horn player sits on a fake rock and looks directly at the camera. They are dressed in dapper three-piece suits, the two cornetists wearing striped trousers. It's an attire better suited to an orchestra rather than a band. The young men appear close in age, somewhere around 20 - 25. Certainly they are friends in music, but their features are not too dissimilar, so perhaps brothers too.  

The photographer was John D. Strunk of 730 Penn St. in Reading, Pennsylvania. The card mount's decorative scalloped edges was a feature popular in the 1890s. From my experience collecting vintage photos, Mr. J. D. Strunk was one of the more prolific of Reading's numerous photographers, as his work is very common to find. Back in the day, Reading was an important railway hub and many travelers stopped their on the way to somewhere else. In 1889 its city directory listed ten photographers, seven with addresses on Penn St. within a block or two of each other.
Source: The Internet
For some years now, as an aid to dating old photos, I have compiled a digital archive of images of dated photographs that I find on eBay. The now faded back stamp on J. D. Strunk's cabinet card of the three musicians is no longer very clear. But sometime ago I came across another cabinet card that used the identical engraving of a painting of a mountain landscape resting on an artist's easel . That photographer was Kibbe of No. 6 W. Main St., Amsterdam, New York. 
Penciled in the top corner is the photo subject's name and the year 1887. Photographers usually bought their special card stock in bulk from paper dealers who offered designs printed in Germany or England which left a space for photo studios to print their individual name. Mr. Kibbe and Mr. Strunk obviously used the same supplier's catalog. Note that this card mount did not use the  scalloped edges which first appeared roughly in 1888 and continued to 1900. 
 * * *

My second photo shows three bandsmen dressed in fancy uniforms with flat-top shakos, frilly epaulets, shiny belt buckles, and several rows of brass buttons. One man has a tenor helicon over his shoulder and the other two have cornets. All three men hold small folios of their sheet music which would be held by the lyre clips attached to their instruments.

This brass trio stands in front of a realistic paper mache tree and a painted backdrop of a grand gateway. The cabinet card photograph was taken at the studio of R. E. Green of Portland, Michigan. Mr. Green used a simple logo on the front of his card stock and left the back blank. But unlike 98% of my anonymous cabinet photos, one of the musicians decided it merited his name. A descendant filled in the names of the other two, his brothers.

On the side is a penciled note:

Return to J. E. Platte.

And next to it, written in ink:

John E Platte
Joe Platte
_? Platte, Ferd's dad)
Ferd Platte
(Norm + Aloy_
? Pl dad)

Portland is a pretty small town in south central Michigan, in between Grand Rapids and Lansing. In the 1890s it had a population of 1,678 citizen, including, I suppose, Mr. R. E. Green, the photographer, though I couldn't find his name in the census records. The Platte brothers are not there either, but it didn't take long to find them in the next county in the village of Westphalia, Michigan, about 9 miles northeast as the crow flies. In 1900 the three brothers lived on adjacent farms, neatly listed in the census like a genealogist's ideal family tree.
1900 US Census, Westphalia MI

John E. Platte, age 27, born May 1873 was head of the household which included his mother, Mary A., age 67, and his father, Ferdinand Platte, age 67. Next was Ferdinand J. Platte, age 29, born June 1870, and his wife, Catherine, and two children, Anthony and Mary A. They were followed by Joseph Platte, age 35, born Jan 1865, and his wife, Mary, and daughter, Caroline. John, Ferdinand Jr., and Joseph were farmers. It would seem that their father, Ferdinand Sr., was no longer working on the farm. He and his wife, Mary A. were both born in Germany, or Prussia as noted in the 1870 census, had been in the United States since 1836. The three brothers had several other siblings, as their mother had given birth to 12 children, 8 surviving to 1900.

As they posed left to right wearing their splendid uniforms, Ferdinand, Joseph, the oldest brother, and John E. Platte, the youngest, look like they belong to a military style band. In the 19th century many communities in America maintained regiments of state militias that regularly assembled each year for military training. Since soldiers always have to practice marching, there had to be a band playing march music. So it was common for a civilian brass band, to be hired as the "regimental" infantry band for a few weeks. 
The three Platte brothers were very likely members of a such a "military" brass band, possibly from Portland, but maybe from the larger city Lansing which was only 23 miles to the southeast. A small village band could rarely afford expensive uniforms like these. Maybe the photo was made during a special event celebrating Portland's heritage, or maybe just the occasion of getting new band uniforms. I think the youngest Platte brother, John E., looks about age 18-20 in this photo, which, based on the useful 1900 census information, would date their photo to about 1893.

Source: Wikipedia
The small community of Westphalia, Michigan was established in 1836 by German settlers from the province of Westphalia in northwest Germany, and the Platte family were part of that early immigrant group. The father of the brothers, Ferdinand Platte Sr., was honored as one of those first German pioneers, with an obituary in the Detroit Free Press on his death in 1902. The Wikipedia page for the village includes a photo of a sign in the village which tells a short history of the settlement that includes two members of the Platte family.  Since Ferdinand Sr. was only a child when he arrived at Westphalia, the music making in the Platte family was likely taught by the previous generation. With such a large family, there might have been enough to make their own band too. 

In 1890 the population of Westphalia was only 350. This Michigan farming community has not grown much in 130 years with only 933 residents today. Google maps show a Platte Farms just two squares east from the Westphalia's center crossroads. It's a place where all  directions are measured in right angles. 
Do you suppose Joseph, Ferdinand, and John ever practiced their brass trio by marching down the straight roads into the village?


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where two is company,and three's a charm.



Mary-Alice said...

What an interesting post, and one that offers so much information - the different horns pictured, how groups of instruments sound depending on the number, the uniforms, etc.!! I learned a lot and enjoyed reading it. Beautiful photographs - so clear and defined - very much like the farmland pictured. Did the Platte brothers have TIME to practice on those straight roads?!?

kathy said...

Hurray for descendants who provide names so we can enjoy learning more about their family and family photographs! And hurray for bloggers like you, Mike, who look for those stories to share with us.

Barbara Rogers said...

A most enjoyable trip into Michigan lives and music! So wonderful to have names attached to images, and then you were able to fill in more about the musicians. Congrats on having some answers, though of course there are still more questions.

Liz Needle said...

Another fascinating post. I am in awe of your knowledge. How big is your photo/postcard collection. You seem to be able to cover any topic thrown at you. Thanks for sharing .

La Nightingail said...

Handsome fellows all, and as always, you provide additional information about them through diligent research - including the photographers' identification marks on the backs of their photos! I thought those were singular to each photographer, but apparently not always - except for name and address. Interesting.

ScotSue said...

I knew you would have no issue coming with musical trios from your large collection, and combined with your industrious research, it made for fascinating reading. I particularly liked the lovely stamp illustration for identifying the photographer. I have visited Westphalia in Germany and had no idea it had a much smaller namesake in the USA I do likehow immigrants kept their homeland in their minds by using place names for their houses or community in their new landand I have come across names ofScottish Borders villages and rivers in Canada, the USA and Australia.

Molly of Molly’s Canopy said...

Well researched post, including the census entries and historic marker on Platte family. And thank you for the information on the Kibbe photo. I have several of his photos in my collection of my Stoutner ancestors from Gloversville, N.Y. and your 1887-1888 time frame helps me date my photos.

Wendy said...

About "Ruth" Platt - consider Robert or Robt as abbreviated.

Susan said...

Those striped pants sure are dapper. Wonderful photos.


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP