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The Peter Beemer Manuscript
One of the most significant music manuscripts ever discovered of music actually danced to in the Far West during the 1860s and early 1870s. Suitable for historians of mid-19th century popular dancing in America, Civil War dance re-enactors, and musicians in general who are interested in music from this period in American history.
124 Tunes in Standard Music Notation, with suggested chords. History of the manuscript and the band that played dances from it, annotations about the tunes, etc.
Edited and typeset in SCORE from the original hand written manuscript by Vivian Williams.
112 pages, 8.25 X 10.75 inches, soft cover, perfect bound.
The Story of the Manuscript
In 1862, gold was discovered on Warren Creek in the mountains of central Idaho, at that time a part of Washington Territory. Miners from the East, South, California and other places in the West flocked to the new diggings. Since it was the time of the Civil War, the miners established two separate camps: Camp Richmond for rebel sympathizers, and Camp Washington for Union sympathizers. Ironically, Camp Richmond was soon torn down because it had been built on top of a rich vein of gold and the miners of both factions moved in together to form the town which eventually became known as "Warren's Diggins," and soon became simply "Warrens." Today it is officially named "Warren." At its height in the 1860s and early 1870s Warren had a population of about 4,000 white miners and 1,500 Chinese miners who were allowed to buy or lease mining claims of their own.
In the mid 1860s a Warren miner and musician named Peter Beemer wrote down music for a hundred and twenty four instrumental tunes, and arranged them for a small dance orchestra. He ruled his own music staves and wrote out tunes that he and other musicians knew, and added to the collection by having other area residents whistle, hum, or sing their favorite dance tunes for him to write down. Some apparently came from published sheet music, some are traditional, some are opera airs adapted for dancing, some are popular songs of the day. There are mazurkas, polkas, a polka-mazurka, waltzes, quicksteps, schottisches, varsoviennes, longways set dance tunes, and quadrilles.
Mr.Beemer (or Beamer), who may originally have come from Pennsylvania, played flute and led the band. The violinists were Charles Bemis from Connecticut and Rube Besse from Massachusetts. Nate Jenkins, also from Massachusetts, played banjo; both he and Besse made their own instruments. The accordionist was Charles Brown, who may have been from England.
For the dances in Warrens, Charles Bemiss saloon, which normally offered Pure Whiskey, Wines, Liquors and Cigars, was converted to a dance hall. So that respectable ladies could attend, the bar was closed and covered with a canvas, the pictures were turned to the walls, the tables and chairs were stacked out of the way, and smoking or drinking were forbidden. On a typical Saturday night seventy-five to a hundred people would attend, about five men to each woman. At midnight the ladies served a buffet supper, after which the dancing resumed and might continue until dawn. This was a typical pattern for community dances in pioneer settlements.
The manuscript that has survived is a melody part that also includes some flute duets. It was written on standard ruled foolscap paper commonly used for writing tablets and ledgers, and sewn into a canvas cover which may have been from an old account book.
Long after the orchestra disbanded Charles Bemis continued to play dances from Peter Beemers manuscript. In the early 1890s Charles and his wife Polly (a famous Idaho historical figure in her own right) took a young boy named Taylor Smith into their home. Charles taught Taylor how to play the violin, and eventually passed the manuscript on to him. Taylor also played dances from it for many years. In 1961 he allowed the Idaho Historical Society to make a microfilm copy, and wrote a brief history of the manuscript for them. He then sold the manuscript to a private collector, in whose family it remains today. The manuscript has never been published and even its existence is known only to a few.
Nineteenth Century Music and Dancing in the Pioneer West
Dancing was an important social and recreational outlet for people in mining communities in the Far West, as it had been in their home communities. Like other immigrants to the West, the miners attempted to re-create the society they knew back home, to the best of their ability. The community dance helped instill some civility into the rough and tumble mining camp environment. As mining camps developed into towns, dance halls often were among the first buildings to be constructed.
The dances done included square dances, or quadrilles, by far the most popular dance in the pioneer West, as well as the other fashionable ballroom dances of the era: waltzes, polkas, schottisches, mazourkas, varsoviennes, other couple dances, and longways set dances. At Warrens there was probably a prompter for the quadrilles, and there may well have been a dance instructor available. As in many other pioneer communities, the scarcity of women sometimes forced the male dancers to improvise by dancing with each other, with the gent dancing the womans part often tying a bandanna around his arm.
There is nothing primitive or unsophisticated about the music in the Beemer manuscript. Many of the tunes are challenging and require a high degree of musicianship to play. In the pioneer West, a good dance fiddler often understood both classical and fiddling techniques. The music and playing style usually came from Northeastern US and from Europe. Music teachers traveled around the pioneer communities: there was at least one in Central Idaho in the 1860s.The Transcriptions
There is nothing authentic about the chords in this book; no chords were written in the manuscript. They are merely suggestions, added by Vivian Williams, John Cochrane, and Phil Williams, according to their own preferences, in order to make the tunes more immediately accessible to casual players. Musicians should feel free to alter them according to their own taste and skill level. Many tunes have been given very simple chords, suitable for traditional style guitar accompaniment. Others have more complex chord settings, more likely to be used by piano players. Even where there is 19th century sheet music available for a tune, the melody in the manuscript is sometimes so different from the original that the composers chords do not work.
Since Beemer wrote down many of the tunes from memory and aural transmission, rather than copying them from sheet music, some differ significantly from published versions. This has made it difficult to identify some of the tunes with certainty. Some of the mystery tunes may have been original compositions of the contributors. It has not been practical to make an exhaustive search for the probable source of every single tune: there is room for much more research on this subject.
Following is a listing of the tunes in the book, preserving Mr. Beemer's original names and spellings. The tune names in brackets [ ] were not in the original manuscript, but were discovered by research by the editor. The book includes research notes with the original names of the tunes and their source, where known. Some of the tunes appear in tune books of the 1840s and '50s, some were identified from collections of sheet music of the period and personal knowledge of the editor. Most are relatively unknown to contemporary fiddlers and dance musicians.
Quadrille No. 1
Dixie Sett No. III
Figure I [Few Days]
Figure II [Old Gray Mare]
Figure III [Billy Patterson]
Figure IIII Jig [Dixie]
Sett No. IIII
Jig [Such A Getting Upstairs]
No. 5 Sett of Quadrilles
Jig Ricketts Hornpipe
Sett of Quadrilles No. 6
Figure III [Captain Collins]
Jig Stone Point
No. 7 Sett of Quadrilles
Figure II [Ocean Wave Quickstep]
Jig Freemounts Reel
Dartmouth Sett No. 8
Sett No. 9
Figure I [Boatman Dance]
Figure II [District Quickstep]
Jig [Huntsmans Hornpipe]
Sett No. 10
Figure II from Lucia de Lammermore
Jig [Greencastle Hornpipe]
No. 10 Sett of Quadrilles selected from others [by] Louis Gazelli
Figure II Polka from Sandersons Violin Instructor
Original Arkansas Traveler
No. 11 Sett of Quadrilles selected by Louis Gazelli
Figure II New Daughter of the Regiment
Figure III Lucie Long
Durangs Hornpipe [Mountain Hornpipe]
| Cheat and Basket Sett
Figure I Cheat
Figure II Basket [Life Let Us Cherish]
Figure III Girl I Left Behind Me
Darkie Sett of Quadrilles
Figure I [Dearest Mae]
Figure II [The Meeting]
Figure III [Oh Susannah]
Figure I La Dorset
Figure II Lodoiska
Figure III La Native
Figure IIII Les Graces
Jig [Les Lanciers]
LONGWAYS SET DANCE AND QUADRILLE TUNES
Schottish from S. Strongberg, Camp Washington Idaho Warrens Diggins
QUICKSTEPS & MARCHES
Sample pages from the book in PDF format: (Click on an image below to view the page full size.)
CORRECTIONS AND ADDENDA TO ORIGINAL PUBLICATION. Since the book was published, additional research and proofing has revealed some additions and corrections. To see these, click on the following link: Peter Beemer Manuscript Book Addenda. We will continue to update this Addenda page as more information about the manuscript and the tunes come to light. Purchasers of this first edition should monitor this Addenda page, print out the latest version, and insert it in the book.
CD of TUNES FROM THE PETER BEEMER MANUSCRIPT Voyager has released a CD of 25 tunes from the manuscript recorded with dance ensembles typical of the mid-19th century. For more information about this release, please click: CD374
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