May’s band of brothers
U 4.525-6: Morning after the bazaar dance when May's band played Ponchielli's dance of the hours.
Technically Don Gifford (Ulysses Annotated, p. 81) is right to say that May’s band was a band ‘maintained and supplied by May & Co., music sellers and professors of music and piano, 130 St. Stephen’s Green West in the southeast quadrant of Dublin’. Well, almost. It was ‘May and Sons’, not ‘May and Co.’, and that leads us into the talented May family.
Molly met Boylan at the dance on 29 May 1904, and the bazaar referred to is likely to be the Mirus bazaar, Dublin's big fundraiser of June 1904 (see Gifford, p. 187). Joyce shifts the date on which this bazaar opened from 31 May to 16 June, but there were plenty of related fundraising events before and after the official period of the bazaar.
By reviewing the history of the various bands supplied by May’s of Stephen’s Green we can follow the history of a firm the Joyces would have known well. As the contemporary newspapers over the years linked the bands closely with the brother who led it at the time, perhaps we will be able to determine who was leading the band on that evening on May 1904.
May’s was established by Theodore Charles May in 1860 (according to later advertisements), and in the 1860s it traded from 79 Marlborough Street in Dublin. Theodore’s wife Agnes ran an employment agency for the household staff of the ‘nobility and gentry of the town and country’ from the same address, and rooms were let out to bring in additional revenue. Theodore was supplying bands for evening parties in the 1860s. Here are two typical advertisements for the May businesses at the time:
Their eldest son (Theodore) Oscar May was born in 1863/4; Alfred Victor May on 8 May 1865; and Ernest Lindehl May on 15 August 1867.
All three sons shared their father’s love of music: Oscar was the most proficient player, it would seem, being an accomplished pianist and double-bass player often in demand as a young man for public performances; Alfred was the commercial brother, who took over the business in the late 1890s when the boys’ father died; Ernest performed on and taught the violin.
Theodore May paraded them in support of his business:
If Joyce’s reference to the band had dated from the early 1880s, then there is little doubt that he would have been referring to Theodore May’s band. As Theodore took a back seat, Oscar came to the fore. He is reported giving many performances (public and private) from the late 1880s until the early years of the twentieth century. Typical examples are:
As the last quotation says, Oscar’s band was available for bazaars. In the closing years of the nineteenth century he and his band were in great demand – at the Ierne bazaar in 1895, the Mi-Careme Carnival and the Cyclopia Fete and Bazaar in 1896, at the Lucina Fete of 1898, the Tektonian bazaar and Calaroga ‘grand bazaar’ of 1899, for sports clubs, quadrille clubs, and almost as a fixture at the Pillar Room of the Rotunda.
Like Oscar, Albert attended the Royal Irish Academy of Music (R.I.A.M.) in Dublin. He starts to make an appearance under his own name on the public stage around 1897. There was clearly trouble in the family after the death of Theodore in January 1895. Albert took over the company at 130 Stephen’s Green, and Oscar and Ernest seem to have been edged out (forming ‘May Bros.’ for a while at a different address). There follows a period of detente between the brothers, with barbed advertisements appearing in the press. Albert leads, and Oscar and Ernest respond:
By now Ernest is concentrating on his teaching, at the Loretto Academy in Rathfarnham – where he has been putting pupils up for the official examinations alongside his fellow teachers and performers Signor Esposito, Signor Papini, and Herr Bast. By 1902 Oscar’s pre-eminence is on the wane. Albert begins slowly, in less prestigious venues, but his talent for advertising both his business and himself wins through:
By early 1904 Albert May’s band is the dominant one, though Oscar’s was still to be seen from time to time. The balance of probability, though, would make Albert’s band the one referred to in passing by Joyce. Ernest does not seem to have led his own band.
After 1904 Albert appears very frequently in the papers, advertising the shop and his band. It is noticeable, though, that while Oscar received plaudits on his own account, Albert mostly supplies the newspapers with copy in the form of advertisements and notes of his engagements. Oscar plays occasionally, but the standard of venue drops – it is more likely to be an out-of-Dublin sports club than a central location. While Albert’s family thrives, Oscar is shown in the 1911 census separated from his wife. A sad notice appears in the Irish Independent two years before his death (four years after Albert’s):
His playing, his composing, his fishing, his youthful athletics – all came to an end. His brother’s family carried on the old music business in St. Stephen’s Green until the early 1970s and the death of Albert’s son Cedric. By then it was selling records as well as sheet music and instruments, and probably no longer supplying string bands for the entertainment of the people of Dublin.
A closing sidelight on the Mays: Ulysses pinball
The Dublin of Joyce’s era was a small place. In much the same way as we can follow Bloom around the streets of Dublin in 1904, meeting his friends and acquaintances and going about his business, we can track Oscar May’s intersection with the some of the characters of Ulysses through chance mentions in the newspapers.
Oscar May was a young man in his early twenties on the day of the Irish Artisans’ Exhibition in Dublin of 14 September 1885. He was taking part in a ‘Grand Miscellaneous Concert’ starting at 8 p.m. in the evening. On the same bill, but at 4 p.m. in the afternoon, there was a piano recital by the talented Miss Callanan. This is Mary Ellen Callanan, daughter of Ellen Flynn (a relative of Joyce’s) and Matthew Callanan, who appears as the only niece of Aunts Julia and Kate in ‘The Dead’.
Oscar and his brothers were not only talented musicians. They were also talented athletes. They ran for the Dublin Metropolitan Harriers. Oscar was the most successful. Here they are in July 1884 at the Abercorn Athletic Sports:
On this occasion Oscar came second in his heat, Ernest won his, and Albert was unplaced. But Oscar improved, and in 1886 he and Ernest were running in the Irish Athletic Championships. And here he comes up against someone who was to become one of Ireland’s greatest sprinters of the day, Tommy Conneff (U 12.181). Conneff was born in Clane, Kildare and by 1887 was going to make his mark in England and America. In 1888 the Birmingham Post was saying of him:
The Irish Times sports journalist was astounded by Conneff’s performance. For us it is more surprising to see the music-seller’s son keep pace with him for a while:
Dr Collisson’s concert of early March 1891 brings Oscar on to the same stage as another name from Ulysses, Miss Du Bedat:
And in the following year Oscar and Ernest are performing with Thomas Goodwin Keohler, mentioned in Ulysses (2.258). Although he was later a published poet, and company secretary to Hely’s in Dame Street, Keohler’s first love was music:
And just two years later Oscar appears at the Arcadia bazaar with Madame Noir (Jessie Noir: U 17.426: see Freeman’s Journal, 15 August 1894 ). 1895 sees Oscar alongside Vincent O’Brien (U 15.1953):
Oscar was continually in contact with the Leggett Byrnes (Mrs. Legget Byrne: U 15.4043) – who were also in the business of promoting (children’s dance, for the most part). The Leggett Byrnes were involved with most big bazaars, including Mirus:
There are connections from end to end in Dublin. It was probably Albert Victor May who led the band that played the evening Molly met Blazes. But it was Oscar May’s talent that brought him into contact with a number of the theatrical characters of Ulysses.
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