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 Ladies' Orchestra

31 December 2009


Here is a well dressed ensemble from around 1910. A typical women's orchestra of the early 20th century with a gentleman as the director. Note the horn player standing next to him. There are no clues as to the identity of this group but they seem like a professional group, covering all the strings, most of the woodwinds and brass, and one tympanist too.


In the late 19th and early 20th century, women had just begun to establish their musical credentials and these ladies' orchestras were mainly from the centers of artistic culture and musical education, such as Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Cleveland. Since major orchestras excluded women at this time, the ladies formed smaller ensembles that toured the country performing on the Chautauqua Circuit. Almost all were led by a man, perhaps to demonstrate a group's respectable and chaste character compared to vaudeville and theater performers.  You can learn more about the unique history of the Chautauqua here: traveling-culture/essay.htm 

I like the relaxed and slightly informal quality of this photo. It was printed in Canada as a postcard, probably between 1904 and 1918, and no doubt used for promotion of the group. Perhaps these are Canadians? By their dresses and the formal wear of their conductor, I'd date them around 1910 - 1915. The percussion is interesting too, as tympani are uncommon in photos but tubular bells are often found. What music used them? Perhaps they were more for demonstrating a "sophisticated" orchestra.

Best dressed orchestra

21 December 2009


Here is a good example of my theme of timeless moments. I have no clue who these gentlemen are, nor where or when this was taken. And yet the photograph captures a time when music and musicians had a special place in our culture. This group of seven men is most likely from the U.S. and judging from their suits they date to 1890's or maybe even 1880's. My guess is that they are members of a theater or dance orchestra.

The Boys in the Band

19 December 2009




The real "little rascals" from a 1909 postcard. Sent from Malta, Ohio to Jefferson, South Dakota. The hats and the dog make this photo a perfect timeless moment.

The photographer wrote the title on what was probably a promotional postcard for the town. Malta-McConnelsville is a two part village in Ohio split by the Muskingum River. It's only a few miles from Caldwell, OH which had a celebrated "Caldwell Kid Band" from 1906 to 1913. And only a few miles in the other direction was the Boys Concert Band in Pike Township, Perry County, OH, dating from 1908.  I wish I could have heard them, they look confident and assured for such young lads.



Addressed to Miss Eva Rusk of Jefferson, S.D.   R.F.D. No.2

This is the band that
gave the concert, a program of which
I enclose in your letter. Show it
to your brothers  —  WS Connor



Many of these boys' bands were started as an extra activity for the local youth, but were usually not connected with any school. Instead it was exactly as depicted in "The Music Man". Some entrepreneur would come up with the instruments and begin a program to provide an activity outlet for boys; promote a community; and perhaps more importantly, give employment for the music teacher/leader.  At a time when little league sports and school arts programs did not exist, it's amazing that there were so many of these bands for boys. And girls too, as you will see soon.

Men with Hats

18 December 2009

West Riding Imperial Orchestra

Top Hats. Where have they gone? A musician today (at least a gentleman) wears a special formal suit that has changed little from the early 19th century, and yet we got rid of the hat. Why? They must have been a lot of bother keeping them clean, storing them away backstage. What were the rules? Bowler hat until 5 and top hat after 5? No hat taller than the leader's? Did the tradition stop altogether at one time or were there some holdouts?


This dapper bunch, the  Imperial Orchestra, are from West Riding County in Yorkshire, England. I have found very little to identify the time but perhaps pre-WWI. The postcard was printed in Leeds. There was an Imperial Copperworks in Yorkshire which started a brass band in 1936, but this group is a wind ensemble with oboe, bassoon, and string bass. And the mustaches and frock coats seem from an earlier time. Note the horn in the center, another piston valve instrument which was very common in Britain until the 1950s.

The Biehl Family Orchestra

17 December 2009


This is a photo of the Biehl Family Orchestra. The distinguished gentleman is Anthony Biehl of Davenport, Iowa. With him are three daughters - Lucy the oldest, on clarinet, Leona on the horn, and Grace the youngest, on cornet. I don't believe the other young ladies, the drummer and trombonist, are related.


Tony, as he was known, was born in Pennsylvania in 1860 and his daughters were born in Davenport in 1883, 1885, 1889 respectively, so judging from their apparent ages, this photo was taken around 1902-1906. Tony has A.F.M. (American Federation of Musicians) embroidered on his collar so he considered himself a proud member of the musician's union. He owned a mandolin factory in Davenport and was a popular performer and teacher of music. His wife, Lulu, is not pictured but she was a musician as well on saxophone. Grace Biehl became an important promotion as a young cornet soloist, but Leona is most unusual to play the horn at this time.

In the 1910 census, they list their occupation as vaudeville actors. They were one of many family groups touring the small mid-west "opera houses". After WWI these entertainments brought their own setups and were known as tent shows, and the Biehl family joined the Dubinsky Brothers Stock Company, which ran several touring tent productions. The whole family acted in comedies and melodramas, and played music as well, mostly out of Jefferson City, Missouri. The daughters married other performers and after their father's death in 1929 they kept the production going as the Biehl Sisters Orchestra at least until 1937 or even later.

The best band in Iowa

16 December 2009


Here is a great postcard photo of the band from Orange City, Iowa described as the "Best Amateur Band in Iowa". It's unique for having two horns, an uncommon instrument in brass bands of this time. Both are piston valved instruments similar to Adolf Adel's instrument (see The first post). The leader's military style uniform along with the background of flags suggest the photo was taken on a patriotic day celebration. I found reference to the band playing at G.A.R. events (Grand Army of the Republic, i.e. the Union Army). Here are two examples from newspaper reports of the band.

from the Sioux County Herald 26 June 1895
Orange City Wins the Band Contest.

Hundreds of Sioux county people atended the old soldiers' reunion at Le Mars last week and Orange City furnished her share. Only words of praise for Le Mars for the manner in which the visitors were entertained could be heard and it is hard to see how better treatment could have been given either to tho old soldiers or the other visitors. The weatherwas line and this fact contributed largely to the success of the event. Most of our people were present on Friday, being attracted by the band contest and Henry Watterson's address. The contest was held in the morning and the Orange City band was an easy victor, clearly outclassing its competitors, the Newell band and the ladies' band from Marcus. There is probably no band in the state made up as ours is of home musicians that can play better music. The people of Sioux county as well as those of Orange City have great pride in the organization. The first prize was $100.  


and from the Sioux County Herald 29 Jan 1896
Our Band

From conversations with some of our citizens, I am led to believe that there is a wrong idea in the minds of many regarding the concerts our band is giving. Although we have been given a fair patronage, yet the small fee charged nets only small sum, and without conceit, we believe we can claim the entertainment to be worth all asked for it, and more too. The band is out of debt with all instruments and uniforms paid for in full. We are making an effort to raise enough to make an exchange of our French horns, which are not suitable for band use, and bought because cheap, for proper makes of the same horns, and also to exchange a couple of clarinets for better ones. Every cent of subscription and earnings has gone to the equipment and running expenses of the band. No obligations are incurred unless we see the same can be paid out of the immediate receipts. This has necessitated the purchase of some of the cheaper instruments. Good instruments and a presentable uniform makes a good band, and a good band is a credit and an inspiration to our town and the unselfish motive of the boys should appeal strongly to every loyal citizen in Orange City. The band has averaged about two rehearsals per week, and this entails much hardship and time. Those who may think too much time is given to band purposes, please compare our work with that of any other non-professional band you know, and I venture to say you will admit, this has not been in vain and that you are proud of every success we deserve. We will be pleased to see you at the next concert, Friday evening, Jan. 31st, and thus lend  your inspiration to a good cause, and at the same time aid in the better equipment of the band for future work.   

F. J. Long 

Self-promotion and civic booster-ism was an important part of band activity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Orange City is in the NW corner of the state and was originally called Holland and later changed it's name to honor the Dutch royal family. Since this photo was taken only 30 some years after the founding of the town, these bandsmen would likely be of Dutch decent. But with so many immigrants moving to the Midwest at this time, it's also possible that Adolf moved here from Sweden, too.

The first post.

14 December 2009



This is a photo of Adolf Adel, a "Waldhornist" with the band of the Hälsingland Regiment of the Swedish Army. The name and information were written in ink on the back of this small photo and it is dated 1896. I think Adolf is no more than 15 years old and perhaps as young as 13. His instrument is a piston valve horn similar to the French style horns used at this time. Note that he has sword at his side.




The photographer is S. Petterson from Söderhamn, which is in the east central province of Hälsingland, Sweden.

Searching the web brought up a site devoted to Swedish military uniforms and there I found a similar period photograph of a regular soldier with the same crest on the shako. The regiment's motto is "Solidity, Ability, Confidence", a good slogan for a musician.

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