What The Reviewers Say

The Peter Beemer Manuscript - Dance Music Collected in the Gold Mining Camp of Warren's Diggins, Idaho in the 1860s
Edited by Vivian Williams

When Phil Williams phoned me recently to ask if I'd consider writing a review of The Peter Beemer Manuscript, I said "absolutely." Guitarist/mandolinist Phil Williams and his fiddling wife, Vivian have been an incredible force for good in the Seattle music community for many years. As the founders of Voyager Records, they have issued innumerable LPs, and now CDs, in a myriad of musical styles. On Voyager Records one can find fiddling, bluegrass, Cajun, old time string band music, and much more. Voyager has also published some terrific books of new old time fiddle tunes - new pieces written by today's players in the old styles.

Vivian has been a national champion fiddler at Weiser, Idaho, back in the old days when they still had a separate ladies' division and, more recently, in the unisex senior division. With degrees in Northwest History and Anthropology, she knows whereof she fiddles. In the case of the present volume, she has put her considerable musical and musicological talents to work preserving a precious and extremely important manuscript.

In the mid-19th century, gold and silver were discovered in the mountains of central Idaho. Soon mining towns sprang up, among them what was then known as Warren's Diggins (today called Warren). In the 1860s, one Peter Beemer, a flutist and conductor wrote out the music for 124 instrumentals. Ruling his own music staves and writing, I would imagine, with a quill pen, his manuscript captures the music that was actually played for dances in Warren's Diggins in the 1860s.

Without a doubt, Mr. Beemer's small orchestra, in which his flute was joined by two violins, banjo, and accordion, used this very manuscript to play quadrille sets, mazurkas, waltzes, polkas, schottishes, and varsoviennes for the dancers.

We are extremely fortunate that this sole copy of the manuscript survived for well over 100 years. Currently in private hands, the Idaho Historical Society was allowed in 1961 to make a microfilm coy of the original. Vivian painstakingly reset each tune using the SCORE music engraving program. Chords were added by Phil and Vivian, with the help of John Cochrane. Most every tune has ample historical documentation, often listing composers, and, in some cases, where and when the pieces were originally published.

As someone who had done a fair share of this type of manuscript sleuthing, my hat is off to Vivian for doing an absolutely outstanding job of preserving this manuscript. For anyone interested in exploring that actual music that was being played just under 150 years ago, this book is a must-have. (Paul Anastasio - Fiddler Magazine)

*****

Peter Beemer Manuscript - Boise State University acquired the Peter Beemer manuscript in September. The manuscript has been called "one of the most significant music manuscripts ever discovered of music actually danced to in the Far West during the 1890s and early 1870s." Musician and miner Peter Beemer transcribed music for approximately 124 instrumental tunes and arranged them for a small performance group in Warren in 1864. The music manuscript contains handwritten scores on paper sewn into a canvas binding. The manuscript has already been the subject of 2 master theses and a book. (Newsletter of the Northwest Archivists)

*****

I am fascinated by the relationship between what we might call more "traditional" tunes and those drawn from manuscript music of the time includng classical composition, opera, and popular tunes (e.g. Stephen Foster material). How did a band leader at the time, in the far west, get access to relatively new European compositions, and how would they know what would be appealing to dance audience. Did such material wither away as the number of trained musicians declined?

Of course, once the railroad was completed in 1868, there was no problem in learning about or purchasing contemporary music. Until that date, the gold and silver must have gone down river to Portland and then by ship the easters US What a story!

The publication of this collection a a great and significan service not only to fiddlers but also to historian, musical or otherwise. Dennis Coelhue)

 

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