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
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No Smiling, Please.

24 September 2021


 A very tiny photo nano-story.

As they clustered together in the parlor like a flock of chickens, George, the photographer, told them severely, "There will be a flash of light and it might make you blink. So don't look at the camera!". He fiddled with the camera lens. "And no smiling, please," he added with a grin. "Light may reflect off your teeth. "

The group dutifully followed directions. They were all musicians who played by the book. George pressed his camera's shutter switch. Myrtle sneezed.

This small ensemble of eleven musicians is pictured on a small photograph rather than a postcard, though it does have the same proportions. It was taken with a camera that had a special feature on the back, a small, rectangular shuttered window that allowed the photographer to write a caption using a stylus that would be recorded directly on the film negative. The group of eight men and three women is identified in white block letters on the right edge of the photo as The Miles Concert Orchestra. It's a mixed instrumentation of five strings and six wind instrumentalists, with two too many cornets for such a small 'orchestra.'

But unlike the smart phone cameras of our century, this camera did not register time nor place. So this photo could date from roughly the early 1900s, judging by the garment fashions and hair styles, but the location of the parlor might be anywhere in North America.
They have the look of a church or school group more than a professional orchestra. However after searching through the new!dapper archives, I found them in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where the Miles Concert Orchestra played at the Jonas Long's Sons department store on 6 October 1906. The Scranton Republican ran an  advertisement for the store promoting its selection of men's French ties,  women's broadcloth walking skirts, Billy Bounce, a new book for children, and an evening concert by the orchestra.
Scranton PA Republican
6 October 1906

Saturday Evening Concert
7:30 to 9:30, by
Miles Concert Orchestra
  1. "An American Heiress" ... Herbert
  2. Selection, "Happyland, or the King of Elysia" ... DeKoven
  3. (a) "Calico"  — Rag.
    (b) "Os-Ka-Loo-Sa-Loo" ... Sawyer
  4. Selection, Cornet Solo, Prof. Miles
  5. Selection, "Moonshine" ... Hein
  6. (a) "Bill Simmons" ... Spink
    (b) "Waiting at the Church"
  7. Intermezzo, "African Dreamland" ... Atwater
  8. March, "The Free Lance" ... Sousa
This is a superb musical organization. Their playing attracts and holds your attention
to the last sweet note.


I found no other reports of the Miles Concert Orchestra in Scranton's newspapers so its performance history was likely very brief in just 1906. Were they employees at the Long department store? We will never know. It's a shame that they didn't get a better photo, but at least it had comical qualities that make it memorable a century later.


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where a frown is just an upside down simile. 



Barbara Rogers said...

A rather sober looking ensemble...loved the instructions given by the photographer, and you are probably right on the nose about that. Great to find a small orchestra to match the prompt.

La Nightingail said...

An interesting & informative post as always. I really enjoy your novel comments Re: the photos you use. "Myrtle sneezed" is a perfect example! :) Good thing they weren't in the middle of a virus pandemic. One does have to wonder, though, why the photo was taken of them that way? With two of the men looking seriously off to their left, and the fellow in back looking up perhaps thinking "Oh good Lord!", and everyone else trying to appear detached from whatever is happening over there, you have to wonder what WAS maybe happening over there? :)

kathy said...

I didn't know about the ability to write on film. Clever. Makes you wonder why the photographer took this photo with no one "ready," but I am guilty of the same.

NancePG said...

Those unsmiling faces and averted gazes are fascinating. The Miles Concert Orchestra may have been short-lived, but Thomas Miles had quite a career in Scranton, showing up regularly as a cornet soloist. His main gig was with Bauer's Band, where he was prominently advertised as soloist from 1896 until 1903. He assumed the title Professor during his time as bandmaster of the Thirteen Regiment Band 1898-1899.

Molly's Canopy said...

Perfect match to the prompt and actually a very interesting photo. Instead of the usual studio props, there is the ornate wallpaper, drapes here and there, a crochet doily on a side table, a chest of drawers with an oval mirror, a couple of chairs -- even a photo/artwork on the wall. You wonder if this was taken at the store, in a hotel room or in someone's home. I have a few photos like this of my family, taken while everyone was getting into position right before I yelled "smile" -- we always get a big laugh out of them.


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