Thursday, March 07, 2013

Uncle Al Love's Hawaiian music class

This is a photograph that turned up at the museum last fall (when we were cleaning out the Stephens House attic to prepare it for insulation) of the sort we call an "orphan." That means it cannot be connected to a specific person and the subjects are unidentified.

But the inscription scratched into the negative from which it was produced provides clues: "Hawaiian Music Class, Chariton, Ia., A.E. Love instructor."

I can tell you something about A.E. Love, who was my great-uncle, but haven't a clue about the identity of his students. That's Uncle Al (1854-1934) at far right in the back row. I'm guessing the class was conducted and the photograph taken some time during the 1920s.

Uncle Al (Alpheus Elkanah) was a native North Carolinian who came to Lucas County immediately after the Civil War with his parents and siblings and married my grandmother Jessie's far older half-sister, Laura Prentiss, during 1873. They lived and raised their family at Columbia, just over the line in Marion County.

He was a musical savant, in the sense that he just knew it. People who play instruments "by ear" are to one degree or another in that class. It was said of Uncle Al that he could play any instrument he came into contact with, from piano to brass. But his great love was stringed instruments and he was a notable violinist, or fiddler --- Iowa's grand champion State Fair "old fiddler" on a couple of occasions late in life.

Not content just to know, he also studied on his own music theory and in that manner equipped himself to teach, which he did a good deal of --- in addition to working as a farmer, coal miner and professional photographer. A "music man," he organized town bands in Iowa and Nebraska during earlier years, gave private lessons and organized classes like this during his later years. Some of the income in classroom situations like this resulted from selling musical instruments.

His final years were spent working a musical circuit around Columbia that included the Lucas County mining towns of Olmitz, Tiperrary and Williamson in addition to Chariton. My mother could tell amazing stories about Uncle Al, partly because her family was close-knit but also because he was a regular lodger at the Miller farm in English Township while traveling from Olmitz and Tiperrary to Williamson and Chariton. He earned his board by giving all of the Miller kids music lessons and my uncle, Owen Miller, was a noted Wyoming "old fiddler" as a result.

If anyone out there has seen a mate to this photograph, and I'm guessing Uncle Al offered the family of each student the opportunity to buy a copy, let me know. We'd love to be able to identify the students.

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