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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Music by the Seaside

01 August 2015

Why did a symphony orchestra have four harp players?
It's simple —
one harpist to keep the other harps out of tune;
one harpist to miscount the measures rests;
one harpist to distract the conductor with flirtatious smiles;
and one harpist to actually play the notes at the right time.

With all due respect to harp players, most symphony orchestras get by just fine with a single harpist. Sometimes a composer might feel a need to have two harps provide an angelic interlude within an orchestral piece. But four harps? At one time? In the front rank of the orchestra? Unheard of.

Unless you were listening to the Orchestra of the Kursall in Ostende, Belgium. Because with 120 musicians packed on top of each other in 6 narrow tiers, and with 12 double bassists stretched along the back, and with a massive pipe organ hanging on the wall behind, four harps were the least excessive section of this symphony orchestra.  

The year was 1907, and Ostend, Belgium (or Oostend in Dutch, or Ostende in French and German) was the holiday seaside destination for the fashionable people of Northern Europe. The Kursaal was an extravagant casino and concert hall built on a sandy beach of the North Sea. 

Originally a small fishing village in the Flemish province of West Flanders, Ostend took its name from its first location on the East End of an island that in the Middle Ages was reattached with dikes to the mainland. In the 19th century it became an important port when it was linked by a rail line to Brussels. The ease of travel consequently made this coastal resort popular with British tourists as well as Belgians, French, Dutch, and Germans looking for a seaside holiday.  

Kursaal, Ostend, Belgium circa 1895
Source: Wikimedia
In the 1890s the Ostend casino was considered second only to Monte Carlo for its gambling revenue. Its gaming tables were a favorite attraction for the high end society of the various European royal courts. Ostend was also the summer retreat of King Leopold II  of Belgium (1835-1909). Known as the "Builder King", Leopold spent a fortune on commissioning many grand public buildings in Belgium and acquiring several enormous private parks. Even though Belgium was a very small country and had only recently become an independent nation in 1831, Leopold became enormously rich from his personal control of the Congo Free State in Central Africa. From 1885 to 1908, Leopold profited from the rubber, ivory, and other natural resources taken from the Congo region. This devastating exploitation caused the deaths of millions of Congolese people impressed into forced labor camps. The tragic history of Belgium's African colonial era places a dark shadow behind images of Belgian society in the 1900s.

The Kursaal orchestra was arranged in a special gallery high above the main floor of the hall. The patrons sat around small cafe tables where liveried waiters would bring them refreshments during a performance. This second postcard view of the orchestra moved the camera from the floor to a higher gallery giving a better view of the hall's fantastic chandeliers and ornate columns. The orchestra's stage has at least six main risers with possibly two more shorter ones in the upper corners. All the musicians seem to be playing in this photo. Note that the harpists are the only female musicians and that they are wearing rather large hats. I think the conductor is not the same man as in the first postcard. This card was postmarked 1916 during the war but the image dates from pre-war.

The first Kursaal was built in the 1850s and then replaced in 1877 with a larger venue with a ballroom, exhibition area, reading rooms, and a concert hall surrounded with glass windows. Unfortunately the hall never had satisfactory acoustics and it was often difficult to hear the music over the clatter of coffee spoons and conversation, which might account for the need of a very large orchestra. In the 1900s the concert space was improved and remodeling added sumptuous decorations. The resort season was from May to October, but I understand the North Sea is still very cold in the middle of the European summer. The vacationers in this 1908 postcard view of the Kursaal seem more interested in watching the sea rather than attempting to wade in it, or much less swim in it.   

An excerpt from Punch magazine of August 27, 1898

There are several ways of getting through the day at Ostend, where the day is about as long as at other seaside resorts. or perhaps rather longer. The simplest plan is to sit in the morning on the terrace of the Kursaal and chatter till it is time to go to dejeuner, to do the same in the afternoon, till it is time to go to dinner, and to repeat this amusement in the evening, till it is time to go to bed. The next morning you begin again. In this way you avoid all needless exertion. 

Another plan is, in the morning to stand in the sea. If you are very brave you go in up to your waist, and if you are very strong you splash a little water on your chest, but you never wet your head for fear of hurting your hair. You may wear a straw hat as a protection from the sun, and, if you are a German, you may add a pair of spectacles. The only disadvantage of this plan is that about four thousand people want the four hundred bathing machines. If you are a woman, you flounder about on wet sand and never get a cabine at all. If you are a man, you take off your boots and socks, wade in up to your knees, and pursue the machine in the water. The chasse aux cabinet is fine exercise, but it is hardly luxurious. 

By standing in the sea you begin the day comfortably cool. In the afternoon you stand on the racecourse, the pigeon shooting ground, the pier, or the promenade, or you can sit down if you like. These pastimes make you considerably warmer. In the evening you have a choice of two places to stand in. One of them is the dancing room of the Kursaal, where the temperature is about ninety degrees. You can dance if you wish. The other is the gambling room, where the temperature is about one hundred and fifty degrees. You stand here in a dense crowd, reach over the heads of the few who have obtained chairs, and lose as many louis as you like.

A third system is to linger over your café-au-lait till it is nearly time for dejeuner, to prolong your dejeuner with coffee and liqueurs until about the time of the fivocklock, when you have a glass of port, or a scherry gobbler, and, beginning dinner soon after seven, to go on with this till half past ten, or later, when all the other diners have left the restaurant, and the weary waiters have piled all the other chairs upon all the other tables. But this system will ruin your system after a time.

It is believed by some that there are excellent concerts in Kursaal every evening from 7.30 to 9. But to hear them at an impossible time one must go without dinner altogether, which no one can do. In fact, there is reason to believe that no one ever did get to these concerts. Once when VANDERBLANK and I had rather hurried over our coffee and cigarettes in his véranda – the vérandas of Ostend are very pleasant in hot weather – we  arrived at the Kursaal just in time to see some men with violins disappearing from the orchestra. Since then I have considered myself rather an authority on the Ostend concerts, having been as near hearing one as that.


The previous card was sent by Carlo from Ostend in August 1908 to Miss KatieWexzel of London. The profile of King Leopold II is on the stamp.

Ostend provided activities like sailing regattas, horse racing, pigeon shooting, and golf during the season. There were theaters and dancing halls, as well as fine dining, and of course a promenade along the waterfront, but the Kursaal did not develop into an amusement park of thrill rides and carnivals games. This was a holiday place for genteel society. 

Source: Musica, Paris
September 1906

The celebrated orchestra of the Kursall in Ostende was put together from the best musicians in Belgium, France, and Germany. Many were music professors at the conservatoires and held positions in prominent orchestras of Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Germany.  And clearly a harp quartet was a popular feature of the orchestra. By my count there were over 120 musicians perched on the perilous stage of the Kursaal. By comparison, in 2015 the New York Philharmonic can boast of only 101 musicians (with just one harp) and the London Symphony Orchestra has a mere 87 musicians. Very few symphony orchestras carry more than 8 double basses. Only opera orchestras retain larger orchestras, and then such musical force is used only for grand musical spectacles like those of Wagner and Verdi.

This image came from Musica, a Paris music journal of 1906. It lists dozens of famous pianists, violinists, opera singers and composers who appeared in concert with the orchestra. There were two performances each day at 2:30 and 7:45. The organ was featured in two recitals each week. The music ranged from arias of light French operettas to scenes from Wagner's operas, from the tuneful waltzes of Johann Strauss II to the dramatic tone poems of Richard Strauss. Many leading composers like Camille Saint-Saëns visited Ostend to have their music performed. In 1908 Sir Edward Elgar was honored by the Kursall Orchestra with a festival of his music which he conducted.    

Leon Rinskopf (1862-1915)

The principal conductor of the Kursaal Orchestra was a Belgian musician, Leon Rinskopf (1862-1915) who became its music director in 1891. It was due to his artistic leadership that the orchestra was renown for its high quality musicians and refined programing. He introduced audiences to the latest symphonic music and was responsible for promoting many Belgian composers. He took the orchestra on tours to Berlin,  St. Petersburg, and London where they received tremendous acclaim. 

In August 1914 Ostend's music and high society life came to an abrupt halt as the army of Kaiser Wilhelm marched through Belgium on the way to Paris. The Great War would close the resort for four long years.

* * *

The Times of London
July 25, 1919

Rinskopf and his orchestra managed to leave Ostend safely for exile in Paris. Meanwhile Ostend as a port city became an important base for German submarines and the Kursaal was converted into a military headquarters. It was the target of British bombing raids during the war. 

The Kursaal Orchestra played a benefit concert in London in February 1915 where many Belgians took  refuge during the war. All the music was by contemporary Belgian composers It proved too much for Leon Rinskopf who would never see the Kursaal again. A few months later he died in Paris in June 1915.

In July 1919, Ostend re-opened its seaside resort. People all over Europe certainly needed a holiday, but Ostend was never the same. And of course in 1939 there was a reprise of German occupation, this one more terrible than the first.

In 2015 the Kursaal Oostende continues to operate as a modern venue for touring theatrical shows and orchestra concerts. But the facility is no longer the grandiose cultural center of 1908.

And today it is probably very rare to see four lady harpists on stage with 120 men.

* * *

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone has gone to the coast for the summer.

Music on the Beach

25 July 2015

Why do people go to the seaside for their vacation? Is it to bask in the sun? Frolic in the surf? Listen to the music? For the people pictured on this vintage postcard, the highlight of their holiday at the ocean might have been the concert at the Band Stand and Beach of Long Beach, California.

On a small stage a wind band of about 25 musicians plays to an audience dressed in the fashion of the 1900s. People sit on deck chairs arranged casually on the sand. Ladies hold umbrellas for shade protection from the summer sun. Some people have walked out to the ocean to watch the waves, though no one is swimming. Music is the reason they have sand in their shoes.

Long Beach, is the Pacific port city of Los Angeles, CA.
Yet somehow this card was posted from an Atlantic port in New Jersey.

The postcard was sent on Oct. 28, 1916 from Elizabeth, NJ to W.H. Lewis of Manchester, NH.

Thanks for fine cards
will try to get your
cards of Lambertville
Yes I would like
3 each of the ones you
have sent from  my
list and 6 of the
other all except
the old man of the
Mountain of I have several
doz (?) of it am geting some
more Cards in        H. M. Vaughan (?)

It's a curious message for a holiday postcard. The writer's tone makes the purpose of the card more for business than friendship, so I think H. M. Vaughan (?) was a postcard collector or maybe even a postcard seller in Elizabeth, NJ, which is across the Newark Bay from Staten Island, NY. Lambertville is a small town in New Jersey, a short distance up the Delaware River from Trenton. The Old Man of the Mountain is a famous rock formation in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Unfortunately I was unable to find a good match for either Vaughan or Lewis in the online archives. 

Perhaps it is not unusual for someone in New Jersey to have a spare postcard of a popular resort in California. What percentage of holiday postcards actually make it to the post office anyway?

The publisher of this Long Beach postcard was a San Francisco businessman named Edward H. Mitchell, (1867-1932), who began selling sepia tone postcards in 1898 when they were originally called Private Mailing Cards and usually printed in Germany. Mitchell's souvenir enterprise survived the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and expanded for production in the US. Though he later shifted to a career in the oil business, over the next two decades Mitchell's company printed thousands of colorful postcards that depicted the scenic sites of America's west coast. By 1923 when he closed his presses, his postcards numbered in the millions and are arguably responsible for framing how many Americans came to view not only California, but the other western states, Mexico, and the Hawaiian islands too.

The print number 181 on this postcard of the Long Beach Band Stand is from his early series, so the original photo dates several years, even a decade, before 1916.  

This next postcard was mailed in August 1907 and shows the identical Long Beach scene but from slightly farther away. Like the first one, it was also colorized, but there are very subtle differences in the way the publisher's artist altered the original black and white photo. See if you can spot them. Apparently the Pacific Ocean had a variable horizon even before climate change became a global crisis.

The card was marked No. 6005 printed in Germany and published by Newman Post Card Co., Los Angeles, Cal. and Leipzig. 

In the 1900s, amusement parks and seaside resorts offered regular employment for thousands of band and orchestra musicians. As electronic amplification and recorded music were still several decades away, music had to be live to be heard. Parks built concert stages with a shell shape that used a parabolic effect of acoustics to make the band sound louder. If you look closely above the ladies in the center, a clarinetist is standing for a solo.

The band shell was located at the end of The Pike which was the name of the Long Beach boardwalk which opened in 1902. Just beyond the concert shell was a roller coaster built on pilings over the ocean shoreline. This amusement promenade was a mile long with numerous restaurants and a roller skating rink which undoubtedly also employed musicians to furnish entertainment.

The large building in the background of this 1910 postcard was the Virginia Hotel. Originally called the Bixby Hotel, it was the site of a tragic accident during its construction in November 1906. Eleven workers were killed when wooden forms were removed too soon from some concrete spans which led to the sudden collapse of the structure.

In the center of the Pike was the bath house called The Plunge. Inside was a large swimming pool where bathers could enjoy the salt water without the bother of sun and surf. The water was also heated to alleviate the Pacific's cold temperature.

On the other end of the Pike was a long pier and auditorium. The pier had two decks, the upper one for fishing and pleasure strolls, and the other for commerce, as this was Long Beach's Municipal Pier where freight and passenger ships linked to Los Angeles. The train station was just beyond the left side of the photo.

The auditorium was Long Beach's civic center. It was built in 1905 and had a capacity supposedly for 6000. It was used for concerts, lectures, religious services, and other similar events. Like the pier and the roller coaster, it was built on hundreds of pilings sunk into the sand.

This view of the East End of the Auditorium, Long Beach, CA
was mailed in October 1907 to B. Crouch of Fowler, CA.

Buford look behind the door in Sam's room and
then behind the blue cupboard – Mrs Yost
lots of girls
down here

It is eather in the
Kitchen or in our
room – Leave for
the Island today
but will be back in two days
Phil (?)

What was Buford looking for? Did he ever find it?

Inside the auditorium was another concert stage not unlike the band shell on the beach. To my eye this does not look like a 6000 seat theater. Unless there are risers hidden below the camera, I think this hall had only 900 to 1000 seats at best. The folding chairs suggest the floor was sometimes arranged for banquets and dancing.  

During the first years of the amusement strip, professional bands were usually engaged for a few weeks at a time, though some might play for the entire season, June through December. During the 1906 - 1908 seasons, Long Beach made an arrangement with an Italian Band led by Marco Vessella to present regular concerts in the city. Vessella was typical of many Italian conductors of this era who were notorious for their charismatic and flamboyant baton style.

(This 1906 photo from the Los Angeles Herald has Vessella's name captioned with an incorrect spelling.)
Los Angeles Herald
February 04, 1906

I have found no evidence to prove it, but I have a hunch that the band performing in the band shell on the beach was this same Italian Band. Though his musicians played to success with the public, Vessella failed to persuade the Long Beach city council to pay them what he thought they were worth. The contract was terminated in 1908 when the new mayor advocated for an all-American band.

The following year in 1909, the Long Beach city council, encouraged by the growth in tourism, decided to raise taxes to support a full time band. The first band director was Eugene H. Willey who created a first rate musical ensemble that became the ambassadors for the rapidly expanding city of Long Beach. In addition to playing two regular concerts a day on the waterside, Willey arranged concert tours that promoted not only  the ocean front recreation but also the many new business opportunities in southern California.

* * *

At some time around 1910-1912, the Long Beach Municipal Band posed for their own souvenir postcard. There were 41 bandsmen, with a large woodwind section. The brass even included three French horns, which was the hallmark of a sophisticated band. Like many ensembles of this era, they proudly display a rank of tubular chimes at the back, as church bells were a favorite device in the music programs.

The Long Beach Municipal Band traveled to many fairs and expositions, often to places that were a good distance away from the ocean, like Salt Lake City, UT and Reno, NV.  In May 1913, they appeared in Bakersfield, CA, 140 miles north of Long Beach. The Bakersfield newspaper announced their grand concert and added a photo of the band which was also taken in front of the Long Beach library. This was a musical action shot with director Willey standing in the center and his musicians ready to play.

Bakersfield, CA Morning Echo
May 08, 1913

Amusement parks thrive on novelty, so the Pike was constantly changing with new diversions. This view of the Auditorium and Pleasure Pier at Long Beach, Cal. shows an alarming spiral ride that was not present in the other postcard image. Like many seaside resorts, the Pike was famous for thousands of electric lights that illuminated the pier and boardwalk for the nighttime crowds. 

The postcard was sent by J. D. French on Sept 10, 1913 to Mr.  Chas (?) L. Boli (?) initially at the Ottawa Beach Hotel in Ottawa, Michigan and then 5423 Lincoln St., Chicago, IL. It is interesting that c/o Orchestra is added for the Ottawa address. Could Mr. Boli be a former member of the Italian Band? The message directs attention to a mark on the front of the card.

Long Beach Cal
The arrow on the
other side points
to were 40 were killed
about a year ago.
J D French

New York Evening World
May 24, 1913

On Saturday May 24, 1913, thousands of people had gathered in Long Beach for Empire Day, an event celebrating the many nations of the British Empire. The center piece was an event at the Long Beach auditorium and pier. As more and more people moved onto the pier the weight became too great for the upper deck which suddenly collapsed. That extra stress then caused the stage floor to collapse to the sandy shore below the building. Over 35 people perished and hundreds were injured in the calamity. Most of the fatalities were women, and because of the nature of the observance almost everyone was from England, Scotland, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand.

The tragedy made headlines all across the nation. Unfortunately, it competed for the public's attention with other events of that Saturday: the wedding of German Crown Princess Luise, Kaiser Wilhelm's only daughter; the sinking of the Turkish-American steamship Nevada which struck an underwater mine in Turkish waters and led to 40 lives lost; and the sudden death of heavy weight prize fighter, Luther McCarty, who took a bad hit in the solar plexus in the first round of a championship boxing match.

* * *

The Long Beach catastrophe made the newspaper in Anaconda, Montana
where the editor used a postcard view to illustrate the accident.

Anaconda, MT Standard
May 25, 1913

The Chicago Sunday Tribune ran a photo taken from out on the pier looking back at the auditorium.
They added an X to mark the position of the pier collapse.

Chicago, IL Daily Tribune
May 25, 1913

The Oakland Tribune also used some Long Beach postcard images of the auditorium
to better describe the tragic event.

Oakland, CA Tribune
May 25, 1913

Oakland CA Tribune
May 25, 1913

On that weekend in May 1913, the musicians of the Long Beach Municipal Band were still on tour and had just played concerts in Oakland. They were next traveling to San Francisco for performances at the Exposition before returning to Long Beach.

O. C. Foster, assistant director of the band, said this afternoon upon hearing of the disaster, that he could not figure out how the accident could take place.

"It may have been that the piling was rotten in places and that the extra weight caused by the large crowd was more than it could stand. During high tide there is several feet of water underneath the entire building and at low tide it even extends out on the water."

* * *

As ever in show business, "The show must go on". By June 1913 the city of Long Beach announced that the auditorium was to be razed. In the 1920s a new civic auditorium was constructed of brick and stone on solid landfill east of the old pier. In order to protect it from storm damage a grand semicircular breakwater causeway called the Rainbow Pier was built around it. Eventually the water inside was filled in too.

Later that summer, the Long Beach Band got new uniforms with white duck trousers that had fancy lace-up splits on the legs. In June 1914, the papers reported on the band's concerts for the grand opening of the Long Beach summer season. In 1923, the virtuoso cornet soloist and former assistant conductor for the John Philip Sousa band, Herbert L. Clarke, retired to Long Beach to take up the position of music director of the Long Beach Municipal Band. He led the band for the next 20 years, including during the horrific 1933 Long Beach earthquake.

The Pike amusement area of Long Beach went into a long decline over the next several decades. In the 1950s it had over 200 amusements but faced stiff competition from nearby Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm. It's reputation was no longer a family friendly place, and band concerts were no longer the highlight of summer vacations at the beach.

In 1969, the waterfront's name was changed to the Queen's Park when the city of Long Beach opened a new tourist attraction and hotel with the historic ocean liner RMS Queen Mary. Nonetheless, most locals continued calling the area The Pike. The ship lost money and closed in 1992. 

By 1979 Long Beach's ocean front property had little remaining value for tourism, so the land was turned over to redevelopment.

* * *

Today the Long Beach Municipal Band continues as a professional musical ensemble and recently celebrated its 114th anniversary. Despite struggles for funding, the band performs numerous concerts throughout Long Beach during the summer months. Sadly they don't have a band shell on the beach anymore and must resort to amplification. 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone loves the sights and sounds of the beach.

This is my contribution to Ssepia Saturday

The Morcan Gornet Band

17 July 2015

In the old days, sign writers didn't have spell check.
Apparently neither did the musicians of the Morcan Gornet Band,
who played in a cornet band in Morgan, MN.

Maybe no one cared about correct spelling in this town.
The postcard was sent from Morgan, MN on Oct. 3, 1908
to Miss Clara Krienke, Janesville, Minn.

Hallo Clara
how are you
geting a long I did
not hear from you
so long and Eda
is ofly slow in
wrighting dis time
I wish she wood not
be so slow and I
had bade lock
yestarday so I hope
to hear from you soon
from Minna, E. H.

In the background the building with the steep stairs has an unusually high and octagonal foundation, and the trees nearby are planted in a row. So I think the 15 musicians of the Morcan Gornet Morgan Cornet Band have assembled for the photographer behind a band stand in their city park. I was unable to find many references to this band, except for a note that they once serenaded a newly married couple from Morgan in 1898. In the 1900s, there were other cornet bands with the name Morgan that played in Texas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Maryland. Perhaps that explains this band's unusual spelling. Or maybe not.

Morgan, Minnesota is a town in Redwood County, southwest of Minneapolis, about halfway between Redwood Falls and Sleepy Eye. It was established in 1878 and today has a population of about 900. Somehow it missed getting one of Minnesota's 1000 lakes.

Morgan, Minnesota

Courtesy of YouTube, here is Newberry's Victorian Cornet Band from Maryland led by Elisa Koehler on solo cornet at the 2010 Vintage Band Festival at Riverside Park in Northfield, MN. The tune seems an appropriate one for this week in celebration of Bastille Day on July 14. But how would the boys from Morgan, MN spell La Marseillaise?

* * *

* * *

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where pigs wish they could fly.

A Parisian School Orchestra

10 July 2015

South Paris.
It's right next to Norway,
which is east of Sweden, and northeast of Denmark.
Take the road through Poland and Oxford to get there.

Go too far north and you could end up in West Paris.
Or maybe Peru.
Or even the Unorganized Territory of South Oxford

That's Maine, alright.
Places are never where you expect them to be.

This unmarked 4"x6" photo of
the high school orchestra of South Paris, Maine.
has no date but is probably from the 1920s. 

* * *

* * *

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more class portraits


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