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 }

The Day the Circus Came to Town

23 June 2017

"Say kids, if you want to have a good time and excitement enough to beat a dime novel sky high, don’t you miss that Hagenbeck Wild Animal show that’s going to come here next Saturday.

I tell you kids, I was in St. Louis last week and my aunt she took me, at least I went with her, and she lost me, but that crowd coming home after the show wore a smile all right, all right.

You see it was like this. Uncle got up early and that put aunt in a sweet mood and she said we’d go and see the parade and when we saw the parade, gee, it was just the best ever. All the new wagons and cages full of animals what I never did see before and one kid he got so excited running behind a wagon with a tiger in it that the tiger reached out and touched his hand with his teeth and the kid near dropped dead.

Aunt she screamed out. Ain’t women pesky things? I found out afterwards there was no danger as the tiger is quite friendly with the trainer and lets him play all sorts of tricks.

Tulsa OK Daily World
02 September 1906

After I saw the parade I was just stuck on going to see that show but being as father says ‘financially embarrassed’ and as mother says ‘just a little short today,’ I had to depend on aunt taking me and I want to tell you I had the old man’s kind of a time jollying the old soul into it, too.

She said she ‘lowed the shows was great but she though she was too old to go to a circus. Then I had my chance and I laid on the salve about an inch thick and told her she looked better than she did five years ago. We had dinner early and went to the afternoon show.

We got there early so as to see the menagerie but aunt got tired so I got her a reserved seat and then ducked back to the menagerie. I spent five cents for peanuts and gave over two cents worth to the baby elephant that was just as cute as a big pig and then some feller come and stood next to me and I put some peanuts in his pocket and the mother elephant saw me do it and put her trunk in the old guy’s pocket and tore his pocket out. Laugh, I tell you these educated animals are awful wise.

Guthrie OK Daily Leader
11 September 1906

Pretty soon after that the performance started and I found aunt who was terrible worried about me, so she said, but if she was she needn’t be. There were three big rings and a great steel cage in the centre in which they put the awful savage animals they couldn’t trust. Right at the start Aunt said she couldn’t see what was going on because she l had left her glasses at home.

Now if you kids think I’m going to tell you all I saw at that Hagenbeck animal show you are muchly mistaken. If I told you all that I saw there you’d say my first name ought to be Ananias or something of that sort and then there’d be a fight.

No, kids, it was just the best ever and when you see those lions and tigers performing on the backs of horses and elephants and the man laying on top of the lions for a bed and the Polar bear wrestling with his trainer and a whole lot more, I tell you, you won’t forget it as long as you live.

Aunt she felt a bit scared, I could tell that alright, she didn’t say much but she fidgeted something terrible, and every time the trainer got through with one of his big stunts she’d sigh like she’d hurt herself. And kids, see if what I told you about the parade ain’t the candy.”

 * * *

The preceding anonymous "eyewitness account"
was published in the May 2, 1905 edition
of the Fort Wayne IN Daily News
and entitled
Fort Wayne Boy Saw It.

Fort Wayne IN Daily News
02 May 1905

 * * *

These two images of circus wagons were mounted together on black card stock. They are slightly smaller than the old standard postcard format, so I suspect they were taken by an amateur photographer with a box camera, standing at the same position on an unknown city street. The photos are unmarked and the only clue is the lettering on the clown's band wagon – The Carl Hagenbeck Co.- Trained Animal Show, which identifies it as the Hagenbeck Great Shows Circus owned by Carl Hagenbeck (1844–1913). Hagenbeck was a German animal trainer from Hamburg. In the 1870s he became a famed collector and dealer in exotic animals, creating the European fad for zoological gardens and wild animal circuses. In the U.S. he supplied circus animal acts with great success that appeared as the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, IL, and the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis.

In the 1900s a circus was the ultimate of show business productions. Hagenbeck's American circus was an expensive and lavish show with hundreds of animals and acts, but it was not considered a financial success. In 1905 the Ringling Brothers made an offer on the Hagenbeck circus but the deal fell through. In 1907 another major circus impresario, Benjamin Wallace, purchased the Hagenbeck show, including Hagenbeck's illustrious name, and turned it into the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. This new "combined" show was, for a time, the second largest circus on the American circuit. It folded up the tents in 1938.

Since the band wagons in these photos only have the name Hagenbeck and not Wallace, I believe they date from before 1907. The second wagon with the band perched on top in white pointed hats is a well known wagon called the Lion and Snake or Lion’s Bride Bandwagon. It was built in 1904 for the Hagenbeck Trained Animal Show seasons 1905 and 1906. After the show became the Hagenbeck-Wallace Combined Circus in 1907 it continued as the main band wagon until 1925. After that it was renovated, reused, and finally restored and now resides at the Feld Entertainment complex in Ellenton, Florida. It's original color was likely a red background with carvings painted silver.

In February 1905 Hagenbeck announced plans to make St. Louis the winter quarters for his circus.

St. Louis Mo Post Dispatch
26 February 1905

The 1905 Hagenbeck Circus tour began in St. Louis on April 24-29. The kids of Fort Wayne, Indiana saw the show on May 6. Carl's son, Lorenz Hagenbeck (1882 - 1956), was listed on the Circus Route Book as the Assistant  General Manager. Route books were a popular circus souvenir as they list all the performers, staff, ring crew, and workers who traveled with the show. In 1905 The Hagenbeck circus played in 96 towns and cities in Missouri, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. In total, from its start on April 24 in St. Louis to its finish on October 7 in Lebanon, PA, the circus covered 7918 miles following the railway lines. The longest leg of the tour was 167 miles., but most sections were less than 100 miles, roughly averaging about 30-40 miles between towns. When the circus ended for the season, the animals and trainers traveled 608 miles by train back to the show's winter quarters in Carthage, OH.

The show toured with 16 four-horse drivers, 6 six-horse drivers, and 2 eight-horse drivers, along with 8 blacksmiths, a Buggy Man, and a Wagon Greaser. The Hagenbeck menagerie required 22 animal handlers with 6 additional unnamed Singaleese Mahouts for the elephants. There were five clowns, the same number atop the first wagon. Morris Davis was the head clown, and his fellow funny mend were Ed. Esberger, Chuck Howard, H. Aldean, and Rube Ryan. 

The bandmaster was Prof. A. V. Cicio. The musicians are not listed, perhaps because the band members changed over the season. The website for the Circus Historical Society  is a treasure trove of information on the golden age of the circus world. I found an article called Circus Windjammers,
by Sverre O. Braathen which appeared in the May-June 1971 edition of the Bandwagon journal. The article quoted descriptions of circus band life from musicians who worked in shows like the Hagenbeck Circus. Here's an excerpt of what a bandsman experienced in a circus.

Edward J. Heney played clarinet and saxophone with both the Sells-Floto and the Al. G. Barnes Circus bands and with the Arthur Pryor band and for some years saxophone soloist with the Sousa Band. In comparing circus and concert work he has written: "So far as circus bands were concerned when I traveled with them, I should say that 'trouping show band experience was mandatory. Endurance, musically as well as physically, speaking was most necessary in circus bands. Without these two a circus musician could not stand up under the daily grind. In those days we were on the bandwagon for the usual two hour morning parade in the towns and cities. The main performance was always preceded by an hour concert in the ring. The big show lasted two to three hours during which time we played constantly, only resting during the clown frolics. In addition, we had to play the 'after show' or wild west performance - and collect tickets for same in the bleachers. All the foregoing twice a day from 8 A. M. to 11:30 P. M. - on the go the entire time.

"Concert band experience plus the ability to stand long transcontinental tours yearly and a general idea of solo work before the public were the 'certain something' a Sousa bandsman had to have. Playing in different towns every day, some times two communities a day (one in the afternoon and one at night) resulted in some strenuous living, playing and traveling.

"To conclude and to answer your pointed question, I should state that considering everything, the most difficult band jobs in those days were the circus bands."

Cleveland Dayton of Ottumwa, Iowa, was a trombone player with the Barnum & Bailey Circus for a number of years and served as assistant director under Edwin H. "Ned" Brill. On leaving the Barnum Circus at the close of the 1915 season, he took over the direction of the Ottumwa Municipal Band and has held this position ever since. His comment regarding the playing in circus bands: "There was no harder work for musicians than a big circus band during my time. Parade at 10:00 A. M., two hours at least. Into the big top at 1:30 for the concert and program until 4:30. Back at 7:00 for the concert and program until 10:30, and very little rest did you get during that time. There were no silent acts. That should explain why it was so hard to hold musicians."

Another musician with both concert and circus experience wrote: "The quality of musicians was good and bad. The old timers were pretty rugged and could hold their own with any one. Most of the one year boys couldn't take it. The grind was terrific. I have seen a number of excellent musicians go to pieces as a result of this tortuous grind. That was one reason why so many musicians remained in the circus business for only one year."

Life on the road with a circus was tough work.
Yet for a ten year old kid from Fort Wayne,
the allure of the Big Top
must have seemed
like the biggest
and bestest adventure ever.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where no one ever lets a parade pass them by.

Boys with Sticks 2

15 June 2017

An Orchestral Rehearsal.
“Are you ready, Shentlemen?”

Addressed to Master Ray Elphick
of 18 Cliffe
Lewes (Sussex)
and posted from Tooting on April 25, 1911

Dear Ray
I thought you
would like this
for your album, my
fond love to Cyril
& yourself from
E. M. R.

An Orchestral Rehearsal.
“You 2nd Fiddles! Vill you please make
zat pizzacato more marked?”

Posted on April 29, 1911

Dear Ray,
Many thanks for
very interesting p. c.
I received this morning
how well you wrote
it, my fond love &
kisses to Cyril &
E. M. R.

An Orchestral Rehearsal.
“Very goot! Very goot!!”

Posted May 6, 1911

Dear Ray,
I hope Cyril &
yourself are still
quite well, am
sending you another
card for your album,
the little boy looks
quite pleased with
himself does he not?
my fond love & kisses
to you both.
E. M. R.

An Orchestral Rehearsal.
“Stop! Stop!! Stop!!  Zat is 'horrible.”

Posted May 17, 1911

Dear Ray,
I hope Cyril &
yorself are quite
well, my fond love
& kisses to you both,
E. M. R

An Orchestral Rehearsal.
“Hush-sh-sh, Piano, Pianissimo.”

Posted May 31, 1911

Dear Ray:
Another p.c to let
you know I have
not forgotten you
my fond love & kisses
to Cyril & yourself.
I hope you are both
quite well.
Your affectionately
E. M. R.

An Orchestral Rehearsal.
“Grand Finale”

Posted June 17, 1911

Dear Ray,
I am very sorry
I did not see you
on Sunday, but hope
to do so on Thursday
next, fond love to
Cyril & yourself
E. M. R.

* * * *

This set of six charming postcards of a temperamental Wunderkind orchestra conductor was published in London by J. Beagles & Co, whose founder was John Beagles (1844 – 1907). His company both before and after his death, was known for postcards of royalty, theatrical artists, London street scenes, and humorous novelty sketches like this series. However this postcard originated much earlier in 1903 with a German printer, Paul Bayer of Dresden. The boy conductor's image is identical to second card of the set, but the print quality is noticeably inferior.

Der kleine Kapellmeister

Stopp, Stopp, was ist denn da blos los,
Da setzt der Bass nicht ein,
Die erste Geige spielt auch falsch,
Dir Flöte stimmt nicht rein,
Das Pizzicato, bitte sehr,
Markiren Sie doch etwas mehr,
Es hört sich sonst so leirig (leidig) an,
Was ich nun mal nicht leiden kann.
Ich bitte auch um mehr Gefühl, –
Na, überhaupt - es fehlt noch viel.
The little Conductor

Stop, stop, what's going on,
This is not the bass,
The first violin also plays wrong,
Your tone, flute, is not pure,
The pizzicato, please very
more marked a little,
It sounds otherwise so annoying.
What I do not like.
I also ask for more feeling, –
Well, overall – there is still a lot left.

It was posted 2 December 1903
to Herrn Ernst Hapfelel (?)

The six images of the boy conductor, age five or six maybe,
are humorous parodies of what adults would recognize
as imitating the capricious demands of noted Germanic orchestra conductors.
I've posted other stories about similar postcards of young maestros,
Boys with Sticks, in September 2013,
and Le Chef d'orchestre, in July 2013.
which, I am embarrassed to say, was an unintentional repeat,
of A Young French Maestro from September 2011.

All of these postcards are just clever young boys
pretending at conducting music for the photographer's camera.
There were however,  quite a number of actual boy conductors
who were marketed as real musical "geniuses" of the orchestra baton.
So stay tuned for another sequel in the future:
Boys with Sticks 3  (or even 4)

* * * *


The English set was sent to Raymond Elphick of Lewes, Sussex, England. As 1911 was a census year, it was easy to find his family in the archives of Ray Elphick was then age 6, and his brother Cyril was age 1. Their father was Samuel Elphick, 31, a Corn & Seed Merchant. His wife was Edith Elphick, 32 and at that time they had just two sons. Their household at 18 Cliffe, Lewes included a sister-in-law, Samuel's widowed mother, an aunt, and a domestic servant.

It's impossible to know if the original photos came from Germany or Britain, but the score on the boy's music stand attracted my attention because the title was deliberately obscured by the printer with whiteout. However the other cover lettering is clear and we can see:

The Only Complete Edition,
Price Half-A-Crown
London & New York
Novello, Ewer & Co.

The back page on the left has a catalog list;
Cantatas and ...? for Female Voices.

The composer's name is hidden, but this is not some symphony score. The whiteout was added by the photographer or printer but enough of the letters are visible that with a little digital adjustment the letters stand out better. They are capital letters – LIEDER OH.. W..RTE.

I believe it spells LIEDER OHNE WORTE, a collection of works for piano by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. It translates as Songs without Words, and some pieces were often arranged as instrumental solos with piano accompaniment. Here is another cover of an edition by Novello, Ewer, & Co. The only reason I can see for obliterating the title would be to dodge copyright issues, or disguise the title as an orchestral score.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where a gardener's hope springs eternal.


A recent comment by a reader offered a link to an image of a real conductor, the great Austrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler. It was published in 1914 but created before 1900, so not it's impossible that it was known to the producer of the German boy conductor's postcard series. Following the variety of gestures used by a conductor to cue orchestral and opera music is part of the fun for music patrons. But when done to excess, a conductor's flamboyant movements become a real distraction to orchestra players who prefer not to watch. Just show us where beat ONE is!

Gustav Mahler, Silhouette
Böhler, Otto ()
Dr. Otto Böhler's Schattenbilder
Vienna, Austria: Wilhelm Lechner, pp. 20, III
SOURCE: Wikimedia

Cornets and Bicycles

09 June 2017

The owner of a long brushy mustache
lives with emotions hidden
under a perpetual shade tree.
Whether a frown or a smile,
it's all the same to the rest of the world.
This gentleman's face might convey
anxiety or annoyance
as easily as elation or delight.
Who can tell?
But I think there's
a hint of pride
beneath that brush
of a man pleased with his new bicycle.

He's dressed in a working man's shirt and trousers with a homburg hat cocked at a jaunty angle on his head. His bicycle is of a simple design without gears, chain guard, or fenders. But there is a bell on the handlebar and a tool bag under the top bar. It's an early safety bicycle, but more on that later.

His name is James C. Keeran which is written neatly in ink on the back of his small cabinet card photo. There is no photographer's logo, but the dealer from whom I purchased it identified the location as Shawnee, Kansas, a town in Johnson County and now part of the greater Kansas City KS/MO metropolitan area. 

Mr. Keeran also appeared in another photograph from the same lot, standing at the back of a brass band posing on the steps of an octagonal bandstand. It's either late fall or winter to judge by the snow on the ground, but perhaps not too cold as the men are dressed in ordinary suits without overcoats. In the background are some houses or shops with a horse and wagon on the right.

Six have mustaches and they all wear hats, but James C. Keeran is easy to spot at the back. The hat tilt is the same, though whether he is smiling or grimacing is hard to say.

There are ten musicians with snare drum, bass drum, a small tuba, two baritone horns, two tenor horns, and at least two cornets, with maybe a third hidden at top right. It's a typical American town brass band usually called a Cornet Band.

The photo is a large format albumen print and quite faded. It was part of several photos identified as coming from Shawnee, KS, and in fact a copy of this this photo is in the Johnson County Kansas Museum collection. But their photo doesn't have the names of the musicians written on the back in green ink.

On 26 January 1888 the Olathe Mirror, the official paper of the county, reported that: 

The Shawnee band is progressing finely under the management of James Keeran and Fritz Sauter. We think we have the best band in the county according to the town. The membership is composed of the following ames: Chas. Douglas, James Keeran, Fritz Sautter, Chas. Hollenback, B. F. hollenback, Chas. Loomis.

There will be a dance at the hall next Friday evening. Everybody invited. For the benefit of the band.

Olathe KS Mirror
26 January 1888

The earliest report of the Shawnee Band that I've found was from November 1887 when they were said to be progressing finely under the instructions of Mr. Johnson of Kansas City. So in only a few months they became proficient enough to give public concerts. Of the six members then listed in the band, four are names on the back of my photo.

According to the 1880 Kansas Agricultural Annual Report, the population of Shawnee was 2,477. In the 1890 report, the population surged to 2,612 making Shawnee the second largest township in Johnson County after Olathe. Of course the big city was Kansas City, Missouri which was actually a bit closer to Shawnee than Kansas City, Kansas which was north of the Kansas River. 

A cornet band provided a town with more than music. The band boys functioned as ambassadors to state and county fairs. Every town celebration from the 4th of July to a school graduation required a brass band. Politicians on the stump always engaged a band to energize their constituents. Funerals, weddings, store openings, church picnics, and fraternal society dinners were big public events for a small town and they all needed music to make the occasions memorable.

Olathe KS Mirror
25 April 1889

In April 1889 the Olathe Mirror published an audited account of Johnson County's expenditures. Listed were nine of the ten names on the Shawnee Cornet Band. Each man received 80¢ (except for two who got 90¢) for being witness before county attorney. It seems too coincidental that they were all members of the band so I suspect this was a fee for furnishing music at some civic event. I also think the list dates the photo to around 1889-1890.

Of course these men were not really professional musicians, but just ordinary town folk.

James C. Keeran (top row, left) was born in 1848 and would be about age 41 in 1890. He was a blacksmith, married to Amanda Keeran and by 1900 had six children from age 21 to 5.

Ben Hollenback (top row, center) or B. F. Hollenback was born in 1836, occupation Groceryman.

Charley Douglas (top row, right) was a farmer, born in 1867 and brother to Henry.

Pete Wortz (3rd row left) was Peter Wertz, a Prussian immigrant born in 1833 who was a farmer and also ran a dry goods and grocery in Shawnee. For a time he was town clerk and treasurer.

Harvey Maloney (3rd row, right) was born in 1869 and became a physician like his father who kept a practice in Shawnee.

Ben Earnshaw (2nd row, left) was born in  1869 and became a farmer. In 1900 he was the Shawnee enumerator for the US Census. Based on his handwriting in the census, I believe it is his handwriting on the back of the photo.

Henry C. Douglas (2nd row, center) was born in 1862 and also became a farmer.

Fritz Sautter (2nd row, right) was Earnest F. Sautter born in 1864, occupation groceryman. In 1900 Suatter, Maloney, Hollenback and James Keeran were all neighbors living on the same street.

Homer or Omer Hughes (1st row, left) proved too elusive to find in the census records but he is likely the brother to Norman Hughes (1st row, right) born 1868 and a nurseryman in the 1900 census.

* * *

Olathe KS Mirror
09 December 1886

The cycle rage hit Kansas in the mid 1880s when the high wheeler or penny-farthing, was the bicycle to have. Early bicycles often promoted inventive engineering for the times. Alber Ott, bicycle agent for Olathe, Kansas in 1886, advertised a Quadrant Tandent Tricycle stretching the rules of geometry. The high wheel bicycles were stable once in motion but were prone to accidents when speeding down hills. In Kansas though, that was not likely a problem.

Olathe KS Mirror
10 October 1889

Olathe KS Mirror
24 May 1888

James Keeran's cycle was a "safety bicycle" which was more like a modern bike. However there were some differences. Propulsion came from pedals moving a heavy chain over a single gear, yet the safety bicycle still had no brakes. Stopping required a rider to use the same back-pedal force as on the high wheelers, but without the assist from modern coaster brakes! The tire are pneumatic but Mr. Keeran probably kept several rubber patches in his tool kit to mend blowouts. And based on the bicycle and horse incident reported in the Olathe Mirror, he had a good reason for that bell on the handlebars.

The safety bicycle was the image used by bicycle dealers adverting in the late 1890s. The Monarch Cycle Mfg.Co. of Chicago-New York-London offered a model very similar to Mr. Keeran's. I think his photo dates from this decade, perhaps 1897 to 1899, and he looks a decade older than in his band photo.

Parsons KS Daily Sun
15 August 1897

The Shawnee Band's last report in the Olathe Mirror was in 1891. It may have continued on under a different direction and name, or maybe the men just moved on with family and business concerns and were unable to keep the band going. But James C. Keeran liked bicycles and cornets and they kept him going strong. He died in 1935 at age 87.

"All the World Loves A Winner"

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where there's always another box of old photos.

A Bassoon from Down Under

27 May 2017

Subject, Place, and Singularity.
Those are the qualities that make
a premium collectable photograph.
The unusual subject here
is a gentleman holding a bassoon,
an instrument rarely seen
in cabinet card portrait photos.

The curious singularity
is his magnificent long mustache
curled like the bocal on his instrument.

But it is the unexpected place
where the image was taken
that makes this a unique photograph.


The man sits in a relaxed pose,
cross legged on a low chair,
gazing to his right.
He is dressed
in formal white tie and tail coat,
with a boutonniere on his lapel.
His oiled hair is short
and carefully groomed,
and his imperial style mustache/beard
gives him a debonair almost rakish air.
His bassoon lays diagonally
at rest across his thigh
showing the double reed, bocal, and keywork
but not the bell.

It is the work of a skilled photographer,

Instantaneous Portraits
496 George St. Sydney.


There are countless cabinet card portraits from the 1880s and 1890s of gentlemen with impressive hair styles. But very few of those men also played bassoon. And even fewer lived in Sydney, Australia's largest city. This musician's photo wins the trifecta of exceptional qualities for a collectable photograph.

In the 19th century Australia did have very fine photographers in the big cities like Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Perth, and  vintage Australian photographs can be found on the American antique market, though not in any great number, usually dozens rather than hundreds. This musician's portrait was taken by Melbourne-born photographer Henry Walter Barnett (1862-1934) who trained in London. In 1887 he returned to Australia and opened Falk Studios on George Street, Sydney where he became renown for his photo artistry, and expensive fees. Ten years later Barnett left for London again to establish an upscale portrait studio at Hyde Park Corner where his customers included the royal family and prominent members of English society. With Barnett's studio work so well documented, it seems safe to date this gentleman's cabinet card in the decade from 1887 to 1897. Yet clearly he paid handsomely for a quality photograph from a leading Sydney photographer.

There is no marking on the photo's back. No studio imprint, no name or date. If the man played the violin or cornet it would not be an unusual photo, but it is his bassoon, the bass instrument of the woodwind family, and the fact that he is in Australia that makes this a remarkably rare vintage photo. Australia is a very big place, but in the 1890s its population was proportionately very small, and well-dressed bassoonists could only be a very, very small fraction of that number.

So how many bassoonists got their name in an Australian newspaper?

In the 1890s? 
Not surprisingly, very few.
But curiously one bassoonist
was mentioned more often than expected.

Sydney Morning Herald
10 October 1891

In October 1891 the Sydney Morning Herald ran an advertisement for a Grand Invitation Matinee Concert given by Signor Angelo Casiraghi, cerrtified teacher of Violin and Harmony from the Conservatoire of Music, Leipzig. The afternoon concert included violin solos by Signor Casiraghi, several vocal numbers, a few works for orchestra, organ and harp, and two bassoon solos. performed by Mr. Phil Langdale (late Soloist of the Cowan Orchestra). The titles, "Lucie Long" and "Carnival de Venise" were arrangements made by Mr. Langdale of popular tunes set with variations.

The National Library of Australia is a wonderful historic archive with a free searchable newspaper database. Between 1888 and 1896 there were over 225 citations of "Phil Langdale, bassoon". Even for a noted violinist or pianist of this era this would be an exceptional amount of newspaper coverage.

But Mr. Langdale played the bassoon.

Melbourne Argus
16 October 1888

The reference to "late Soloist of the Cowan (sic) Orchestra" was to the orchestra employed for the 1888 Melbourne Centennial Exhibition. This event was organized to celebrate a century of European settlement in Australia. It was held at the Royal Exhibition Building which was built for the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880–81. For this earlier world's fair the western nave of the main building had a specially built orchestral platform complete with a grand pipe organ, and enough choir tiers for 700 to 750 voices.

Event organizers for the 1888 Centennial Exhibition anticipated that this concert feature would be a major attraction, so in 1888 they engaged the services of Frederic H. Cowen (1852-1935), a well-known British pianist, conductor, and composer. In 1888 he had just been made conductor of the Philharmonic Society of London, succeeding the famous composer Arthur Sullivan. His fee to go to Melbourne for the Centennial Fair was £5,000, an amount considered at the time especially extravagant for any musician. His terms included the hiring of 15 principal musicians from Britain for the Exhibition Orchestra. One of those musicians was the bassoonist Phil Langdale.

On the 15th October 1888 a smaller group of the orchestra presented an afternoon recital of solo pieces. On the program was an Air, with variations for bassoon, by F. Godfrey and played by Mr. Phil Langdale. Most of these fine solo performances were re-demanded and repeated, and the whole musical performance was found to be full of interest.

* * *

Melbourne Australasian
4 August 1888

The Centennial International Exhibition opened in Melbourne on 1 August 1888 and continued to 31 January 1889. Frederic Cowen's exhibition orchestra numbered 73 musicians, including Signor A. Casiraghi in the first violins and P. Langdale, principal bassoon.

Orchestra musicians roster for
the Centennial International Exhibition Melbourne: 1888-1889
Source: Official Record 

The 15 principals imported from Britain with Mr. Cowen were paid £10 per week. The exhibition commission also agreed to defray the cost of a second-class ticket for the steamship voyage to Australia and a return ticket, if desired. In 1888 the estimated travel time from London to Sydney was 50 days. The remainder of the orchestra was hired from musicians resident in the Australian Colonies. Their salaries varied from £3 10s to £12 per week. The 708 men and women in the Exhibition Choir sang for gratis - without pay, though they got free passes into the Exhibition.

Orchestra musicians' pay rate for
the Centennial International Exhibition Melbourne: 1888-1889
Source: Official Record 

The Exhibition ran for a bit over 26 weeks during Australia's spring and summer seasons. Over the course of the festival the orchestra and choir performed for 211 Orchestral, 30 Grand Choral, and 22 Popular concerts under Mr. Cowen's direction. This is in addition to many vocal, piano and instrumental recitals, and countless concerts of military bands that provided music throughout the rest of the exhibition area and amusement park.

Concert hall and grand organ for
the Centennial International Exhibition Melbourne: 1888-1889
Source: Official Record 

Among the Grand Choral works were two performances of Beethoven's Choral 9th Symphony; four of Händel's "Messiah" oratorio; two of Haydn's "Creation" oratorio; four of Mendelssohn's "Elijah" oratorio; two of Rossini's "Stabat Mater"; and  twelve performances of Cowen's choral music, his "Ruth" oratorio, "Song of Thanksgiving", and "Sleeping Beauty" cantata.

List of choral works performed at
the Centennial International Exhibition Melbourne: 1888-1889
Source: Official Record 

The orchestral concerts included the remaining eight Beethoven symphonies; Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique; Brahms' Symphony No. 3; Liszt's "Les Preludes"; Mendelssohn's Sym. No. 3 "Scotch"(sic), Sym. No.4 "Italian", and Sym. No. 4 "Reformation" Symphonies; two Schuber symphonies; and three Schumann symphonies. Nearly all were performed more than once. Beethoven's 6th Symphony the "Pastorale" was played five times. The programs also included an astonishing number of overtures, 91 opera overtures including nearly all of those by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Rossini, Schubert, Wagner, and Weber. There were also a few violin concertos and several piano concertos, along with numerous incidental pieces, opera selections, songs, ballets, marches, rhapsodies, ballads, and serenades. 

Quite a lot of this music was new and unfamiliar to both musicians and Melbourne's audience. For example Brahm's 3rd Symphony only had its premiere in December 1883. Over 50 musical works programed on concerts at the 1888 Centennial International Exhibition were first performances for Melbourne and probably for Australia too.  

Concerts were scheduled twice a day at 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm, six days a week except on Sunday. Presumably mornings were reserved for rehearsals. That's roughly 7 to 8 hours of music making each day, or 36 to 48 hours a week not counting individual practice time. In comparison, modern orchestra musicians typically work a 20 to 24 hour week.

List of orchestral works performed at
the Centennial International Exhibition Melbourne: 1888-1889
Source: Official Record 

The Melbourne Exhibition Hall was modified to seat 2,500 people. Over the six months that the exhibition was open,  an average of 1,915 tickets were sold for each concert, making a total attendance of 467,2999. Of course, there were many other non-musical activities and sights for the public to see at the Melbourne exhibition park. but the musical arts were the chief attraction. It made for a daunting, if not exhausting, marathon list of music for any musician. For bassoonist Phil Langdale it meant easily a half dozen difficult bassoon solos to master each day. Only a well trained musician could survive that level of intense music. Someone who knew how to wield a bassoon as a defensive weapon if the music so demanded.

Someone who had been a member
of Her Majesty's Cold Stream Guards Band.

Dublin Irish Times
13 April 1875

Philip Langdale was just 20 years old in 1875 when he performed a Bassoon Solo (with variations) in Dublin's Exhibition Palace as a member of the Band of the Coldstream Guards. He was born in 1855 in Sevenoaks, Kent and probably joined the band at around age 16. His instrument, the bassoon, had long held a place in military bands, providing a sonorous bass voice that was also capable of great musical agility. 

The Coldstream Guards Band had a long musical tradition that dated back to 1785, and it held a reputation as one of the best in the British Army, which had a great number of military bands. This band provided music for any ceremonial duties to Queen Victoria, as well as for other military events. But by the 1870s, military bands also were an important unit for the British government's public relations, traveling the country performing at innumerable flower shows, exhibitions, and civic affairs. Between 1873 and 1881 there were over a hundred newspaper references to Mr. Langdale's bassoon solos (with variations) at concerts by the Band of the Coldstream Guards. The band's programs were regularly published and Langdale's bassoon received much praise in the reviews. The music that the band played included an immense number of popular overtures, songs, and solo instrumental works arranged for wind band from orchestral scores, as well as the standard military marches. This disciplined musical training would have given young Philip Langdale a good grounding in all the current styles of European music.

After 1881 his name appears less often as he seems to have left the Coldstream band for civilian life. In July 1883, Mr. P. Langdale appeared at London's Adelphi Theatre playing a bassoon solo "Lucy Long".  In February 1885 another Langdale bassoon solo was advertised by Her Majesty's Theatre where an orchestra of 100, assisted by the Band of the London Rifle Brigade, played a concert of various opera overtures, solo vocal pieces, dances, and a Descriptive Fantasia: "A Voyage in a Troop Ship."  In July 1885, Mr. Langdale demonstrated a bassoon made of ebonite, a man-made material, at a musical instrument exhibit of the Rudall, Carte, and Co.  

But the only thing that this research proves
is once upon a time a talented British bassoonist
could boast of a surprising prestige
on the Victorian era concert stage.

It doesn't convincingly establish that
the bassoonist with the wonderful curled mustache
is Mr. Phil Langdale, the late bassoon soloist
of the Melbourne Exhibition Orchestra.

If only there was another photo.

* * *

The 1888 Melbourne Centennial Exhibition was an international exposition attracting elaborate displays from all around the world as well as Australia. Thousands of representatives of industry, trade, and the arts booked space at the exhibition to demonstrate their newest and best products. The planning also required hundreds of contractors and staff to operate the fair's activities. Concerned about maintaining security the Melbourne Exhibition Commission decided to have individual photo portraits compiled of all persons employed at the exhibition. Many of these identity photos survive in the archives of the State Library of Victoria.

The musicians of the Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition Orchestra worked 6 days a week through the entire event, so of course, they were photographed too. The State Library of Victoria has a souvenir collage of the orchestra with 68 musicians' ID photos surrounding a photo of their music director, Frederic H. Cowen. There are no instruments and no names, but the archive offered a high definition image to download.

1888 Centennial International Exhibition Orchestra
Paterson Bros., photographers
Source: State Library Victoria Archives

The musicians' photos, all men of course, illustrate the amazing variety of mustaches, beards, and hair styles that were the male fashion of the 1880s. This era might better be called the golden age of barbers. 

The faces of many men were easily eliminated as too old, too, fat, etc. But a few grainy images made promising matches. These two men, center row, 2nd and 3rd from right bear a good resemblance to my bassoonist, and the one on the left has a similar impressively long mustache.

This man, third row from bottom, 2nd from left, has a similar imperial style beard and a receding hair line.

But the man pictured on the bottom row, 4th from right, made the best match to my bassoonist.
His mustache may lack the twirled extensions but it has the same shape.
I think his hooded eyes, high forehead, thin hair, and cheekbones
  makes him a ringer for the man in my photograph.
The two men also share an inclination for rumpled suit coats.

The bassoonist Philip Langdale declined the Melbourne Exhibition Commission's offer of a steamship ticket to return to England, and instead stayed in Melbourne working as a professional musician. He played bassoon solos in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, and even New Zealand that were commended in reviews for their wit and musical facility. Then as now, the sound of the bassoon is associated with musical humor, even though it is very capable of producing many other profound and beautiful emotions.

But as time passed the Australian audience's acclaim was not enough to meet a musician's financial challenges. By 1894 Langdale was evidently struggling to keep afloat in show business and hinting the he would soon leave for Britain.

Melbourne Table Talk
23 March 1894

Mr. Phil Langdale's "benefit" concert on Thursday night last, at the town hall, drew a fairly large and, as his many good qualities deserve, a sympathetic audience. Mr. Langdale has, ever since his first appearance here with Mr. Cowen been consistently a public favorite, and this quite as much on account of his amiable disposition and the ready sympathy he has always shown to his fellow artists, as on account of his mastery over his instrument. 

He had certainly no reason to complain of the warmth of the greeting offered to him when he first appeared upon the platform, nor of the applause that followed his first solo, the "Carnival de Venice." And of the floral tributes offered to him nothing could have been more appropriate than the one woven in the form of a bassoon. The warmth of feeling shown him should be a guarantee to Mr. Langdale that he bears with him the best wishes of his friends and admirers. 

But the programme was inordinately long, and was not, on the whole as readily carried out as usual. Apart from the performance by Mr. Langdale, who was naturally the central figure of the evening...

* * *

Langdale managed another year in Australia
before finally making his farewell concert in 1895.
A Melbourne wag wrote an amusing tongue-in-cheek tribute
that says a lot about Langdale and the friendships he made in Australia.

Melbourne Punch
11 July 1895

Mr. Phil Langdale, the eminent bassoon player, who is leaving the colony for England almost immediately, is doing so in consequence of the small demand for bassoon playing in this country. He attributes this lack of interest in the instrument to the political management of the colony. It would be worth while for him to clearly explain what sort of political administration ought to prevail in order to make bassoon playing popular and profitable. 

What is there that is anti-bassoonical in our present politics? Wagner, if we remember rightly, called the bassoon the "clown of the orchestra," on account of its appropriateness for producing comic effects. There are so many clowns in politics that we should have expected them to take a fraternal interest in the instrument, if they had any inclination to interested in any instrument of music whatever. 

We are, however, really sorry Phil Langdale is going, and hope that the state of politics, of which he complains will bas-soon altered.

* * *

This photo detective has tried to connect an unmarked portrait of a musician with a name that has no likeness, but regrettably it is not conclusive proof of identification. However, circumstantial evidence sometimes is sufficient too. So I'm convinced that a musician like Phil Langdale, whose talent on the bassoon was so frequently recognized during his years in Australia and whose wit and charm had endeared him to many friends, would very likely invest in a handsome photograph like this as a gift for his admirers. It the sort of thing one does when taking leave of a place and setting out on a long voyage to a distant land.

* * *

The following year, December 1896, Phil Langdale was on stage in London as a bassoon soloist with the Inns of Court Orchestral Society. His name appears much less frequently than when he was with the Coldstream Guards Band, probably because he was working in theater orchestras and seaside pier bands. In around 1900 he begins touring England with the "London Wind Quintette", an early instance of a professional wind chamber group. During the war years his novelty bassoon solos were occasionally worthy of note in newspaper reviews. The last mention of his name was in 1921 as principal bassoon of the Tonbridge Orchestral Society.

I've left out his family history mainly because it was never mentioned in the Australian newspapers and is not pertinent to my case. However I have documented his name in the UK census and other records and know that Phil Langdale, born in 1855, married Selina Campbell, age 19, in 1885. Whether she accompanied him to Australia, I do not known. They had two daughters, Nina, born in 1887 and Phyllis, born in 1903.
Philip Langdale, bassoonist, died on 22 October 1929 at age 74.

Curiously his name appeared
in the 1933 U.S. official catalogue of copyright entries
for a bassoon solo with pf. acc. (pianoforte accompaniment)
It was entitled
We won't go home till morning;
by Phil Langdale;
©Feb. 7, 1933 by Hawkes & son (London) ltd.

1933 United States Catalogue of Copyright Entries

As a special musical homage
for his story

let's listen to a rendition
of one of Phil Langdale's favorite bassoon variations.

This video comes from a March 25, 2012 concert
at Edinborough Park, in Edina, Minnesota
featuring Alex Legeros on bassoon

with the Edina Sousa Band, playing "Lucy Long."



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the batter is up and the basses are loaded.


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