A record-breaking evening
About a mile and a half ago I mentioned an ancient phonograph record of Brahms, and two-three happy addicts wrote to doubt it. How'd they get Brahms on a 48 r.p.m.? On a 48 r.p.m.! Gracious! this Brahms of my boyhood was on a cylinder, not a disk, and I don't know its speed, but it played for two minutes. Maybe they stopped when the time was up; maybe they left out the middle. It was recorded by Victor Herbert's orchestra, and he retired from conducting in 1904 to devote his time to composition. I think Victor Herbert did all the old cylinder Brahmses. These people who think there was no music before today's bang-bang-bang have my sympathy.Skip to next paragraph
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I have several of the machines and perhaps a thousand of the cylinder records , but I am not exactly a ''buff.'' Neither am I a hobbyist or a dealer. The stuff just chanced to accumulate in my presence; I never bought, but either had or was given. And I'm sad that the only player and records for which I would have any special sentiment were lost to me by the clumsiness of my grandfather, who loved good music but couldn't carry a tune in a handbasket. He had a phonograph and a bushel basket of cylinder records in the old farmhouse, and along with a stereoscope they cheated idle time and rainy days for me when I went to visit Gramps. That's the machine and these are the records I'd admire to have, but. . . .
Ours was a remote and uncultured family. Great-grandfather built the house when he came from tidewater to be a farmer, and for over a century there was not heard the sound of cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, or any kind of music to adorn the dreary lives of those who subsisted in it, except for a hired girl in the 1850s who could whistle hymns through her teeth. Lizzie. Then there came a time my grandfather lived there alone, and one day he was at an auction sale over at West Bowdoin, hoping to find a corn-sheller he could pick up cheap. He was looking the goods over and came upon some children playing an Edison phonograph on the piazza, and as he didn't know there was any such thing he was suitably enthralled, enchanted, and captivated. He bid the thing, with its bushel of records, in for $1.75 and thus the world of beautiful music dawned at our old farmstead. Crank the spring, fit on a cylinder, lower the reproducer cautiously, push the starting lever, and out would come two full minutes of, ''Don't Go Up in That Big Balloon, Daddy'';''Corn Huskers' Hornpipe''; and even Brahms. What will they think of next!
Ada Jones was a favorite of Gramps, as she was of millions besides. He had ''I'm in Love With the Slide Trombone'',''John Took Me 'Round to See His Mother'', and ''Just a Little Rocking Chair and You.'' Miss Jones was a chanteuse of quality and wallop, and some of her cylinders will stack up today with the best of our modern breed of electronic vocalists. Miss Jones, of course , was an elderly woman before she ever heard of a microphone, and her recordings were about like singing into a dishpan. Gramps also had a good assortment of Cal Stewart - ''Uncle Josh at Punkin Center.'' I have others, but Gramps' was the machine I'd like to own today. But . . . .
The old farmhouse burned on a quiet July night, and nobody knows how the fire started. Tinder-dry, it was embers in the cellar in little more than minutes. A boy who had walked his girl home from Grange discovered the flames on his way back. He knew Gramps lived alone and he knew which room he slept in, so his yells got the old man up and he escaped. Gramps leaped from his feather bed into prompt and methodical action. The surprise of fire usually promotes panic, but not with him. He proceeded in complete cool. First, he hove his feather bed out the window. Then he started for the Governor Winthrop to get his strongbox with papers, money, and bankbooks, but he noticed the Edison phonograph with its big morning glory horn all ready to be cranked and played, and it had brought him so much pleasure that he tossed it and the record out onto his feather bed. The feather bed took up the shock and nothing was damaged. Then he got his strongbox , and with the flames lapping the tail of his nightshirt he jumped out the window and smashed the phonograph and the records all to flinders. Alas.