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The sound of music in rural Bluffton

This quartet played the mandolin, zither, accordion and guitar


This photograph may change our impressions of rural Bluffton-Pandora life of the early 1900s.

Taken by Samuel Amstutz, the young men photographed from left are, Elmer, Noah and Jake Hochstettler, with Ward Sumney on the far right.


Does this picture reveal one thousand words? Let’s see.


This scene dismisses the myth that farming was all work and no play. It confirms that our Swiss rural ancestors had time for leisure activities, enabling them to purchase musical instruments, allowing time in learning to perform them and affording the ability to get together and play in small groups.


Three of the four instruments are unusual, if not rare. On the left is a potato bug mandolin, a zither and accordion. The guitar on the right is the most common instrument of the four.


Not only are these expensive instruments, but the musical abilities of the performers must have been pretty astounding. Did they perform solo, or as a quartet? Perhaps both.


Who reading this column can pick up a mandolin, zither or accordion and play it? We know Richard Bucher is an accomplished accordion player. But, no one comes to mind who can perform on a zither. How many persons reading this feature have even seen a zither? How many would know how to hold it upright when performing with it.


The photograph does not show musical scores, although we know that these were needed when learning this instruments. Were these four skilled enough to perform as a quartet? What music did they play?


We can answer the question, “where were these instruments purchased?” Bluffton News advertisements from this era reveal that at least one, perhaps more Main Street Bluffton businesses sold these instruments. Advertisements and photos blow tell us this.


Certainly with a Main Street music store in Bluffton, private music lessons must have been available.


Beyond the musical ideas this photo presents, the clothing of these young men is worth mentioning. Wearing stylish suits with modern ties, hats and shoes, one might wonders if these young men even lived on the farm.


Unfortunately recording devises were not available when this photo was taken. We’d have loved to hear even one musical number by these four local musicians.








1890s - Bluffton News advertisement from N.C. Herr showing musical instruments for sale

N.C. Herr's musical store, shared with Hauenstein's drug store

Today Twisted Whisk Cafe and Coffee Shop


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