This is a black and white photograph—faded to a creamy beige after a hundred years—printed on the front of an unmailed postcard. Four men of various ages, from early adolescence to late middle age, face the camera. They are seated in a photo studio, posed around a small piano or organ. One is positioned as the player of this instrument, while the others hold a clarinet, a violin, and a cornet on their laps. They are dressed formally, wearing dark suit jackets and stiff collars typical of early twentieth-century attire. The oldest man wears dark glasses, indicating that he is blind. Below the group, the words Taylor Concert Company have been added as a caption.
Howard H. Taylor (1851–1920) is the man in dark glasses. He was born into a farming family in the village of Middle Musquodoboit in Halifax County, Nova Scotia. At the age of fifteen he was blinded by an accident with a hot piece of steel. He entered the Halifax Institution for the Blind (later the Halifax School for the Blind) in 1873 at the age of twenty-two, the fifteenth student to enroll. By the time he left three years later, Taylor was a qualified pianoforte tuner, but he pursued this field only briefly. By 1883, Taylor had inaugurated what would become an annual concert tour of the province for the next three decades. The Taylor Concert Company was composed of a varied and revolving complement of entertainers, singers, and multi-instrumentalists, both men and women. These included fellow graduates of the School, Taylor’s wife Georgina, and later their children (the two youngest men in the photo are their sons).
I first learned about Taylor while doing research on the cultural history of rural communities in Nova Scotia. Brief references to the Taylor Concert Company appeared year after year in the local columns of rural newspapers, revealing that the group performed to “delighted audiences” and “enthusiastic encores” in small towns and villages across the province. When I found this postcard at an antique store in Nova Scotia, eighty kilometres from where Taylor lived, I knew it was significant—offering tangible evidence of both a vibrant rural culture of itinerant performance and a unique perspective on the history of disability.
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