Liner Notes

CD 374 The Peter Beemer Manuscript

In the mid 1860's at Warren's Diggins, a mining camp in the mountains of central Idaho, a miner and musician named Peter Beemer organized a six piece dance orchestra. He ruled his own music staves and wrote out tunes that he and the 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 and arrange for the orchestra. The musicians were Peter Beemer, flute and conductor; Charles Bemis and Rube Bessey, violins; Charles Brown, accordion; Nate Jenkins, banjo; and an unidentified sixth musician. Whatever the sixth instrument was, it had to have been small enough to be brought in on the back of a mule, since there was no wagon road to Warrens at the time.

For the dances, Charles Bemis's 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 cloth, smoking and drinking were forbidden, the tables and chairs were stacked out of the way, and (most important of all!) the pictures were turned to the walls. 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.

Long after the orchestra disbanded Charles Bemis continued to play dances from Peter Beemer's manuscript. In the early 1890's 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 copy, and wrote a brief history for them. The tunes from this manuscript have been published in a book entitled "The Peter Beemer Manuscript." This is the only collection of tunes actually played by a band for community dances in the Pioneer West that has so far been published.

The manuscript contains a hundred and twenty-four dance tunes. Some are traditional, some apparently came from published sheet music, some are opera airs adapted for dancing, some are popular songs of the day. There are mazurkas, polkas, waltzes, quicksteps, schottisches, varsoviennes, longways set dance tunes, and quadrille sets. A quadrille set (or "sett," as it was often spelled in the 19th century) is a series of square dances, called "figures" or "changes," done one after another with only a brief pause in between, by the same groups of dancers, and with contrasting music for each change. In those days a quadrille sett usually consisted of five figures; the setts in the Beemer manuscript have only four. Beemer calls the last figure of each sett the "Jig," which was common terminology at the time. For this figure he always uses a reel rather than a 6/8 tune.

1. German Waltz. An 1820 edition of this popular waltz is entitled "The Favorite German Serenading Waltz Arranged for the Piano Forte by W. Dubois at his Piano Forte and Music Store."

2. Polka from Sch. Barnhard of Florence. Florence was a nearby mining camp with a reputation for violence, gambling, sleazy saloons, and disreputable dance halls. Gold was discovered there a year before it was found at Warren's Diggins. Sch. Barnhard is probably a mis-spelling of Chas. Barnard, a violinist and music teacher who traveled to several Idaho mining camps, including Florence, Idaho City, and Warrens. The harmony part to the polka is from the manuscript.

3. Dartmouth Sett No. 8, Figure 1. We like to call this tune "Charles Brown's Jig," after the accordion player in the orchestra. It resembles an English box tune, and the 1880 Idaho County census includes a miner named Charles B. Brown who was born in England. Who knows, this may be our man! The tune appears as the second figure of the "Dartmouth Set" of cotillions written by George Saunders and published in his Complete Violin Instruction in 1847. Since several uncommon tunes in the manuscript are in the Saunders book, it is probable either that there was a copy available in Warrens, or that one of the contributors to the manuscript had learned these tunes from it.

4. Dartmouth Sett No. 8, Figure 2. This appears as the first figure of the "Dartmouth Set" in the Saunders book. It would have been more difficult to play on the one-row accordions of the day.

5. Dartmouth Sett No. 8, Figure 3. This is also the third figure of Saunders' "Dartmouth Set."

6. Dartmouth Sett No. 8, Jig. A good player could have played this tune on a one-row box. It is not in the Saunders book.

7. Banquet Waltz. The manuscript notes that this tune is "by Mr. Georg King, Angels California." Many of the early gold and silver miners in Idaho had previously been in the California gold rush. Angels Camp is where Mark Twain wrote his "Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Mr. King also contributed a mazourka, a polka, and another waltz to the manuscript.

8. Schottishe from Henry Redberg. Beemer consistently spells "Schottische" without the last "c," and sometimes without the final "e" as well.

9. Polka Mazourka. This popular 19th century couple dance consists of step-hop footwork reminiscent of the polka, done to music of the mazourka.

10. Evening Star Waltz. Viennese composer Joseph Lanner, whose popularity rivalled that of Johann Strauss, wrote this waltz. It appears in many sheet music editions published in America in the 1850's.

11. Seven Up Schottish. This is a German/Austrian folk dance called the Siebenschritt or Seven Step, which is still common in North Dakota and Saskatchewan.

12. Dearest Mae. This popular minstrel tune appears in the manuscript as "Darkie Sett Figure 1."

13. The Meeting. This is Figure 2 of Beemer's "Darkie Sett." It is Figure 1 of "The Engagement Quadrille" published by Henry Kleber in 1851.

14. Lucy Long. A popular minstrel song first published in 1842, which appears in the manuscript as Figure 3 of Quadrille Sett No. 11.

15. Fi Hi Hi. Another minstrel song, entitled "Jig" in the manuscript, but not attached to any quadrille sett. Several versions of this tune, including a polka and a quickstep, were published in the 19th century.

16. New Russian Mazourka. The mazourka is a couple dance of Polish origin, characterized by stamping feet, clicking heels, and improvised steps. Along with the waltz and the polka, it became a popular ballroom dance in America in the middle of the19th century.

17. Coral Schottishe. This tune was published by H. Kleber in 1852. The harmony part is in the manuscript.

18. Secreto from the opera of Lucretia Borcia. The aria "Il Segreto Per Esse Felice" from Donizetti's 1840 opera Lucretia Borgia was published as "Lucretia Waltz" in America.

19. Versouvian No. 3 from Mr. Bellow. Usually spelled "Varsovienne" or "Varsoviana," this dance was very popular in the mid 19th century. There were many tunes for it, but only one, "Put Your Little Foot," is still familiar.

20. Quadrille Sett No. 1, Figure 1. This tune is almost identical to the first two parts of the fourth figure of the "Knickerbocker Set" of cotillions written by George Saunders and published in his Complete Violin Instruction. The harmony arrangements for Figures 1 and 2 and part of Figure 3 of this quadrille sett are in the original manuscript.

21. Quadrille Sett No. 1, Figure 2. This unusual tune is reminiscent of a Mexican polka.

22. Quadrille Sett No. 1, Figure 3. With a bit of editing, we have used this tune for contra dances, and re-named it "Bemis' Jig" for one of the fiddlers in Beemer's band, who was also the owner of the saloon in which they played.

23. Quadrille Sett No. 7, Figure 3. This may be related to the traditional British Isles tune "Blue Bell Polka," or to the familiar "Flop Eared Mule." The first part also resembles "Flying Cloud Cotillion." Since it's a lively reel, it makes a suitable finale to go with the first three figures of Sett 1.

24. Kate Karny Waltz. The traditional Irish air "Kate Kearney" has been much improved by this arrangement. In the manuscript it is marked "as plaid by Mr. George King of Angels Cal."

25. Medley of Quicksteps by A. Draper. The manuscript includes seven quicksteps arranged for flute duet. Quicksteps were sometimes used for dances such as galops or quadrilles, or these may have been marches played for ceremonial occasions such as the Fourth of July. This is a medley of Quicksteps Nos. Four, One, Three, and Six.

Instruments used on this recording:

Violin: The violin was the most important dance instrument of the 19th century. Vivian's violin was made in the mid or late 19th century in Markneukirchen, Germany, by Christian Wilhelm Seidel, and restored by Hermann Bischofberger of Seattle.

Banjo: Allen Hart made the fretless, gut-strung banjo he plays on most of the tunes on this recording. It is a reproduction of an 1845 Boucher instrument. On the German Waltz he plays a Cole's Eclipse from 1890.

Flute: On most of the tunes Paul plays a keyless Cooktown ironwood D-flute made by Skip Healy, in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. On the German Waltz and the Varsouvian he plays a modern open-holed Gemeinhardt silver flute.

Button accordion: This type of diatonic accordion is known as a "melodeon" in the British Isles. On most of the tunes Phil Katz plays a two-reed Hohner "Erica" model D/G melodeon made in Germany in the 1980's, restored by Arralde Accordion, Kent, WA. On the German Waltz he plays a two-reed G/C "L'Imagineire" handmade in Brittany, with the mechanism rebuilt by Spano Accordion, Des Moines, WA.

Melodeon: The "American melodeon" is a type of reed organ with a foot-operated vacuum bellows. They were popular in the pioneer West, as they were more portable than most other keyboard instruments. This one was made by the O. C. Whitney Company in Meadville, Pennsylvania, between 1845 and 1865, and restored by Jeremy Kammerer of Seattle. Oddly enough, the original pitch for this instrument is A 452.

Guitar: Guitars were available in the 19th century but were rarely used for dance accompaniment. Phil Williams plays 3 guitars on this recording: a 1944 Martin D-28, a 1949 Martin D-28, and an M model which he made himself.

Flageolet: The flageolet/ tin whistle that Paul plays on Quadrille Sett 7, Figure 3 is a brass D-whistle made by John Sindt, of Nyack, NY.

Concertina: This concertina is an 1849 Wheatstone, restored by H. Crabb of London.

Mandolin: Small round-back mandolins were popular with entertainers. This one was made in Naples by Marco Rebora in the 19th century.

Cello: Cellos were often used for bass parts, since they are far more portable than string basses. The one used on this recording is a Kay 7/8 size.

Vivian Williams: violin, cello
Phil Williams: guitar, mandolin
Allen Hart: banjo
Paul Englesberg: flute, concertina, flageolet
Phil Katz: button accordion
Terry Wergeland: melodeon

Cover art by Shera Bray. Liner notes by Vivian Williams. Recorded and mixed by Phil Williams. Thanks to Fran Widener of Riggins, Idaho, who brought the Beemer manuscript to our attention, to John Cochrane of Boise, who did considerable research on music in early Idaho mining camps and located the original manuscript after it had disappeared, and to Edith Walden, former owner of the manuscript, who graciously allowed us to photograph it.

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