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 WAAC Band from 1943

22 July 2010

This postcard photo is a good example of tangential research. That's when you are looking for one thing and find another. The band here is obviously another "ladies band" but it is unique in that it represents the first time that women became a part of the American military. The Women's Army Auxiliary Corps was formed in May 1942 and this postcard is from Jan 1943. You can't have an army without a band, so there must have been a lot of hustle to get these ladies into step. Note the overcoats.

The WAAC (which had the "Auxiliary" removed in 1943) were initially based at Ft. Des Moines, Iowa. And I believe the parade ground where this photo was taken is the same field where Jesse Orr Romig and the 11th US Cavalry Band practiced their drills in 1904. See: 11th US Cavalry Band What a strange coincidence to find two different bands from different times on the same grass!

The war efforts at recruitment were very successful and according to the Ft. Des Moines museum website, 72,000 women passed  basic training here, including the first black female officers and enlisted women. Ft. Des Moines History

There is no extra identification on this card, other than the official printed material. But note the government description at the lower left. The date seems clear but did they really do a print run of 15 million? Maybe it was part of a series. Here is a different series that I found at the Minnesota Historical Society. The band is at image number 4. WAAC Postcards from Ft. Des Moines

One of the first women's army band leaders was Joan A. Lamb and I found this great blog while searching the internet for WAAC & band. Ladies in Brass, Joan A. Lamb

During the war, the Pentagon commissioned 5 Army bands composed of women, and that is not counting those women's units of the Navy, Marine Reserve and Coast Guard. Find more history on all that here. Women's Military Bands

The changes to our culture that resulted from the global conflict of World War Two are countless. It's difficult today to imagine a musical world that was so unequal in regard to race and gender, though that was the way of the world only 70 years ago. But the inclusion of women into the military and especially the band program in 1943, clearly started an unexpected revolution in music performance and education that is outside the usual post-war history. You don't have to look very far on a concert stage or a parade field to see the results.

Herr Blomé's Berlin Meister Orchestra

18 July 2010

Music was an important part of holiday life at all the great resorts and in Britain around 1900 the biggest and best holiday destination was the seaside town of Blackpool. In the second half of the 19th century, it became the premier place for entertainment when improvements in the lives of the British working and middle classes allowed extra money to be spent on leisure time.

In 1893 the Victoria Pier (later renamed South pier) was opened as the third amusement pier along Blackpool's Golden Mile promenade. One of the featured musical groups was Herr Blomé's Berlin Meister Orchestra. They probably played popular songs and dance tunes and may have assisted in larger musical events. The Victoria Pier was marketed as being more upscale in its entertainment with concerts of symphonic and choral music. But the dance floor music was undoubtedly the draw for many holiday-goers.

This second photo with the larger orchestra is unique by including an oboe (middle row - 2nd R) and clarinets in three keys (Bb, A, & Eb). There is a horn player too (back row - 2nd R). Were these Berlin or Prussian musicians? It is possible, as many Germans immigrated to England at this time. But I found one reference to a musician named George Stewart - born in Glasgow 1870, studied music in Berlin, taught singing in Edinburgh, and toured with the Berlin Meisters Orchestra for two years. He played horn. Stewart emigrated to Canada in 1912 and made a career in music and conducting in Ontario.
The Canadian Encyclopedia - George Stewart

At some time Herr Blome must have produced some spin-off groups or may simply have changed names, and here we have his Viennese Band under a different conductor with the not very Austrian name of Garforth Mortimer. There is an oboe here too (back row - 3rd R) for class. The uniforms are similar but no hats. No doubt their specialty were the waltzes, polkas and gallops of Johan Strauss, Jr.

These postcards include no written identification and were never posted. The photographer was Y. Burns, The Studio, Victoria Pier, Blackpool. But two postcards have a curious divided back with the instruction on the left side: "FOR INLAND POSTAGE ONLY THIS SPACE MAY NOW BE USED FOR COMMUNICATIONS". The postal rules for the first postcards did not allow any message to be written on the back except the addressee. This was called the undivided back. In 1902 the rules changed in the UK to allow a message on the left side (in the US it was 1907), so a postcard with a printed instruction like this would have been produced probably in the years 1902-1905.

By 1914, and the start of WWI, Herr Blome's successful ensembles must have rushed to change their names. Even the British Royal Family changed from Saxe-Coberg to the House of Windsor. Perhaps Herr Blome changed his name too.

The Prairie du Sac Ladies Brass & Reed Band

15 July 2010

A summer day in June and Mr. Eberhart, the town photographer and jeweler, has set up his camera in Prairie du Sac's village park. The girls from the Ladies Brass & Reed Band are all assembled and ready. Today they will play a concert too and maybe march into town. They have worked hard this spring making their uniforms and hats, no doubt with some assistance from their mothers who made sure they had tucked a handkerchief into their pockets. 

Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin has about 600 residents in the village and another 650 in the surrounding rural township. With 19 young ladies in the band, this is a popular musical group. The instruments look new, perhaps silver plated too. In the front rank there is a fine double bell euphonium. That always makes a great showpiece for a good soloist, as everyone marvels at the oddity of one person being able to sound two horns at once. Of course the unique plumbing really just lets the player alternate between the longer and lower baritone sound to a shorter and higher pitch tenor sound.

Just behind the tuba stands a mellophone player, who holds her instrument with the left hand outside and on top of the bell, unlike a French horn where the left hand plays the valves and the right hand is always placed inside the bell for proper tuning.  

They call themselves a Ladies Brass & Reed band, perhaps to distinguish from the town's brass band. Men and women rarely played in the same wind ensemble, and many towns in America boasted two bands. Here there are only Bb clarinets and no flutes or even a piccolo. Sometimes even brass bands added the high pitch Eb clarinet for the solo lines. Though clarinets had always been  popular, by 1913 more bands were beginning to use the saxophone too. But always the lead instrument was the cornet. It was most unusual to find a trumpet in any band before 1915.

These photo postcards left no clue as to names, other than Mr. Eberhart. A thorough search of the census records of Prairie du Sac turned up the typical occupations, including two women, Ema Ragatz and Minta B. Foy, who worked as music teachers. Ema was 23 and single. Minta, age 33, was married to Clarence Foy who ran his own barbershop. The woman seated in the back, second on the left, seems older than the others. Could she be connected to the band leader? Perhaps Clarence Foy played cornet? Another unsolved mystery.

But perhaps the intriguing bit of trivia is that only a few miles up the road from Prairie du Sac is Baraboo, the largest city in Sauk County, Wisconsin. It is the hometown of the seven famous circus impresarios - the Ringling Brothers, and Baraboo was the winter quarters of their circus troupe from 1884 until 1919. Is there a possible connection between the Ladies Brass & Reed Band and the circus life?

The Banda Verde of Sterling IL

04 July 2010

For the Glorious 4th - a patriotic band photo. Hurrah for the Red, White & Blue!

The Banda Verde from Sterling, Illinois stands outside their town bandstand. No date or identification for this large format photo but the bass drum says enough. Behind the band, the flags and banners celebrate a reunion of union army veterans - the Grand Army of the Republic. My guess is 1904-14 for a date.

A baby in a tuba is a common gag, but a photo with two is much less common, but twice the fun! The A.F.of M. on the drum stands for the American Federation of Musicians labor union. The band name would suggest an Italian origin and maybe green uniforms but unfortunately the sepia photo doesn't give us the real hue. 


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