The Calathumpian Band and its horse-fiddle, great trombone and gyastacutas

Slightly off-topic, but irresistible, from Henry Hiram Riley‘s pseudo-ethnography, Puddleford and its people (New York, 1854):

Another amusement, frequent in the country, was the turn-out of the ‘Calathumpian Band.’ … No one knew exactly who its members were; but they were always on hand, soon after a wedding, in full uniform, with all their instruments in order…

One of its instruments was called the ‘horse-fiddle;’ another the ‘giant trombone;’ another the ‘gyastacutas.’ The ‘horse-fiddle’ was two enormous bows, made of hoops, heavily stringed and rosined, with a beef-bladder, fully inflated, pushed between the string and the bow. The ‘great trombone’ was a dry-goods box, turned bottom-side up, and was played upon with a scantling eight or ten feet long. The edge of the box and the scantling were rosined, and it was worked by two men sawing up and down. The ‘gyastacutas’ was a nail-keg, with a raw hide strained over it, like a drum head, and inside of the keg, attached to the centre of this drum-head, a string hung, with which this instrument was worked by pulling in the string and ‘let fly.’ Besides all these, the band were supplied with dinner-horns, conch-shells, sleigh-bells, and sometimes guns and pistols.

It assembled, usually about eleven o’clock at night, around the quarters of the newly-married couple, and within a day or two after marriage. Its members were dressed up like an army of scare-crows. Some wore their shirts outside, some their coats and vests buttoned behind, and some were attired in female dress. Its leader marched and countermarched this strange medley, and announced and conducted all the music. The band never moved without orders–it was thoroughly disciplined.

The instruments were first put in tune. The trombone gave out a low and heavy growl–the ‘gyastacutas,’ a bung! the horse-fiddle sullenly replied–a chink-chink from a few pairs of bells, and a toot-e-toot from the horns and shells, showed the blast was near at hand.

And such a blast. The infernal regions could not equal it. It roared and echoed for miles around. It fairly tore out the inside of one’s head. The cows bellowed and the dogs barked, honestly believing that the dissolution of all things was at hand. The whole surrounding population roused up, for no person pretended to sleep when the Great Calathumpian Band was assembled.

The reader must not suppose that this band was a mere congregation of boys. Not by any means; it was one of the institutions of the country–one of the public amusements of the day, and was patronized by young and old. Men had lived and died members of the Calathumpian Band, and are remembered in Puddleford for this, if nothing else.

If only it existed.

An encore from John Davis, The Historical Records of the Second Royal Surrey: Or Eleventh Regiment of Militia (1877):

The roads were so bad that the Regiment marched up to their ankles in mud. A trombone-player in the band had to be fished up out of a bog into which he had sunk up to his waist.


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