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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An English Flautist

22 February 2010


This fine looking gentleman is unknown but gives every appearance of being a professional musician. His instrument looks like a piccolo, similar to today's modern instrument in African blackwood. But I have since looked at some websites with historic musical instrument collections and found that the lower key does not match piccolos of this time, which were about 12.5 inches long. On the other hand his instrument doesn't seem to be 24 inches long for a standard wooden flute in C either.

Then I found this example of a flute in F, also called a soprano flute, that measures 20 inches. The flute was made by Joseph Riley & Sons of Birmingham 1859-1894 and it seems to match this one very well, maybe exactly. The website at the Birmingham Conservatoire also includes a few recordings of this flute performing characteristic tunes. This is a celebrated Mozart melody played on the Joseph Riley flute in F by Lisa Beznosiuk.

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Still I wasn't certain, so I sent a question to Martin Perkins, the Instrument Curator of the excellent Birmingham Conservatoire historical instrument collection found in the link above. He says that by 1880 professional flutes and piccolos would have had keys and that this is a one-keyed flute in F used in military bands and flute bands. An internet search for flute bands, produces something very different than the fife and drum bands of America. They continue as an active musical sub-culture in Britain, Ireland, and Scotland relating to the heritage of various fraternal, religious, and political groups. Below I've added some examples from YouTube.










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So I have reconsidered my idea that he is a professional musician. Because he chose to be photographed with an instrument and sheet music, I thought it strongly suggested he was displaying his professional trade or artistry. A bandsman would be in uniform, and an amateur would likely hold a more common C flute. But perhaps this is a photograph of a gentleman celebrating some other musical interest, maybe connected with a Loyalist flute band, or maybe he was a composer of flute tunes. More questions that may never be answered.

This is a Carte-de-visite or CDV about 2 3/8 inch x 4 inch. It has gilt edges and embossed script of the photographer's name - J. Joyner of 408 High St., Cheltenham. The photograph is very clear and was likely preserved by being kept in an album. But unfortunately the back is plain and missing the typical photographer's logo and any other identification.

John Joyner had his studio in Cheltenham which is in Gloucestershire, England, just to the west of Oxford and above Gloucester. I have found other examples of his work which date from around 1859 to 1901. The style of heavy card stock with the round gilt corners puts this gentleman somewhere around 1890 to 1897. Much of this information is gleaned from an excellent website devoted to the photography collection of Roger Vaughan http://www.cartes.freeuk.com/index.htm. His collection defies measurement and it includes other resource material that greatly helps dating photographs such as this.

As to our mystery gentleman, I can only imagine that he was part of that great wave of music that began in Queen Victoria's Britain. Music that included the composer Edward Elgar from Worcester,  just a very short distance to the north of Cheltenham.

Ruby's Orchestra

20 February 2010

A studio portrait of an anonymous orchestra from somewhere in America at the end of the 19th century. Unfortunately there is no photographer's stamp on the print to give a location. I've called them Ruby's Orchestra because the one woman in the group reminds me of my grandmother whose name was Ruby. She is the best clue for dating this, as her hair and especially her wonderful dress seem close to the fashion styles of 1895. At first I mistakenly thought 1880's but I have since found a few websites devoted to women's fashion and the big leg o'mutton sleeves are later. I didn't know that they were held up by a weave of horse hair! Instead of an instrument she holds a paper roll of music, which indicates a pianist. She may even have been the leader. Perhaps an orchestra for a church musical soiree, or a town opera production. I imagine the sleeves looked very impressive at the keyboard.

The other clue for a date are the wonderful mustaches! Barbers did pretty well in 19th century America, but styles change and by 1910, handlebars are out. Like the White Tie Orchestra earlier, they also are arranged so that some gaze directly into the camera and others off into the distance. Seated on the floor is a horn player holding a French style piston horn, most likely in F judging by the crook size. There was almost enough clarity in the bell reflection to capture the image of the photographer's studio! Studios at that time used natural light from windows instead of flash light, so that may account for the glare on the horn and the white dress.

This is a large format photograph with a curious cut-out design perhaps intended for some artful frame or scrapbook. Scrapbooks were another feature of the 19th century leisure time and many people kept collections of photos, personal cards and letters. Who kept this photograph?

Keota Ladies Band

16 February 2010


The Keota Ladies Band of Keota, Iowa from a postcard mailed in 1909, in their fine hats and uniforms. Note the modern font style for Keota on the drum, and those are mellophones and not horns carried by the ladies on the left.

Here they are from around 1911-14 wearing what I think must be the summer fashion. The postmark on this card is difficult but it's a few years later because written on the back is "Bess Holmes and Stella Fish are missing." The writer is Pearl, whom I believe is Miss Pearl Warrington the cornet soloist, first row left in the first photo and in the second photo, seated to the right of the director. He is Professor O.W. Glass.

I know all this from finding a 1909 Iowa newspaper on the web which had a marvelous civic booster article for Keota. It included a print of the first picture and all the band members' names, along with a detailed description of all the civic and business culture for this small town. Here is an excerpt and I include the bit on the horses because I think it is interesting that so many horses were imported and exported from this little place in Iowa -  

The Muscatine Journal, Muscatine, Iowa
from December 16, 1909.

Keota, The Home of Booster's and Booster For Home
(BY ROBERT H. WILEY)
Its International Business in Fine Draft Horses, Its Splendid Residences and Its Two Widely known -Bands.  But a Few of the Remarkable Destinations of This Thriving Keokuk County Town.

Iowa's most musical town, population considered, is Keota. The town claims to have an array of local talent unequalled anywhere else in Iowa, among the smaller towns and has two excellent band organizations to back up the claim. Twenty-five young women of the town, constitute the membership of one which is known as the Keota Ladies' band, which was one of the most popular features of the Columbus Junction chautauqua last year and which is known all over the state. The Keola "Koncert" hand of 35 pieces, is also a home organization with home talent exclusively. The townspeople are enthusiastic for music and when; either of the musical organizations play at public functions, they are given a rousing reception. The members of both bands are versatile musicians, many of them being able to play several instruments; and several of the young women arc vocalists of more than ordinary ability. The Ladies' band was organized a year ago. There are a row among the members who were unable to play wind instruments when the band was organized and the rehearsals were the means by which they learned to play.

White Tie Orchestra

10 February 2010

Another group of anonymous musicians, that I have called the White Tie Orchestra. I believe they are likely a theater or church orchestra from around 1895-1905. There are no clues on this fine studio photo which is roughly 6" x 8". The photographer imitates the painting style of the 19th century by having his subjects looking off in different directions. Note the fur rug. It was a common pose for this period, but by mid-20th century when people are all aligned in straight rows facing the camera, the group photo becomes less interesting.

Since there is so little to say about this photo, I'll comment on general photography history. The technology of photography has evolved over the many years since the first daguerreotype. During this early period when cameras and equipment were expensive and complicated, not to mention the hazardous chenicals, photographs were almost always taken by professionals. Even when methods of making cheaper prints came about, it still required professional processing.

But with the advent of roll film and cheap hand-held box cameras at the end of the 19th century, the art of the photograph changed. Every amateur could now preserve time for posterity. While that has its virtues too, what also changed was the concept of the pose. You can see the same change today with video cameras, as every modern gadget seems to include a digital camera, but the modern taste of going for the candid shot has diminished the finer art of group portraiture.

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