Survey to mine musical nuggets: Information, examples sought from Church's pioneer past

Hoping to uncover historical nuggets in a musical vein, the University of Utah is undertaking a survey of musical instruments that are a part of the LDS pioneer legacy.

"Unfortunately, much of our pioneer musical history remains locked in attics and in the memories and traditions of families and individuals who may not recognize the importance of what they have," noted Roger L Miller, associate professor of musicology."The University of Utah's Musical Instrument Survey is an effort to recover as much of this unusual musical heritage as possible," he explained. "Just as there are pioneer diaries and manuscripts still in private hands, we believe that many of these old instruments have survived. People often have objects and/or information concerning our pioneer past that are more important than they realize."

Dr. Miller noted that the survey's intent is only to identify the present location and ownership of as many such musical instruments as possible and to document their type, make and history as it relates to the pioneer past.

"And then if there were instruments that we felt had historical or museum quality, we would make the owners aware of that."

A member of the General Church Music Committee, Dr. Miller said the survey is undertaken with the committee's endorsement as well as that of the Museum of Church History and Art.

"There are two immediate things we would like to try to ferret out," he said. One is the provenance - or history - of instruments in the museum's collection.

"In the process of relocating the Church museum in several different locations, often records either were not kept at all or were not kept very well. So it would be interesting to know if there are people who have some tradition or some family history that could help to uncover or straighten some of the information pertaining to the museum instruments."

The other immediate goal, he said, is to add richer detail to a history that is being prepared for the centennial of the state of Utah in 1996.

"What we hope to do in that history is not only include the bright lights but also write about some of the ordinary people who under other circumstances wouldn't have made the history books.

"And a lot of times, the lifeblood of these pioneer communities was the arts. That's what kept them going. Had it not been for the fact that there were musicians, painters and people who love drama, there wouldn't have been enough cohesion in the community to perpetuate it. The people would have gotten discouraged and left. That happened plenty of times as it was, but it would have happened a lot more had there not been people who made the otherwise desolate life bearable."

Not only did they make it bearable, he said, but in many instances, beautiful.

As an example Dr. Miller related the story of the George and Mary Ann Bramwell family. The couple joined the Church in Yorkshire, England, in the 1840s. They came to Zion in 1855, bringing their first-born son. A second son was born to them soon after their arrival, and they settled in Brigham City.

Disenchanted by events and circumstances in the Rocky Mountain Zion, they returned to Yorkshire in 1857. A third son was born en route.

They served faithfully with the Saints in Yorkshire for the next 12 years, but again felt the call to come to Zion and find their place with the Saints in America. This time, with four additional sons, they traveled by railroad, bringing with them a full set of brass-band instruments and the music for each.

They settled in Plain City, near Ogden. George's son Claudius remembered in a written account that Plain City had a brass band formed from the instruments and music the family brought from England.

"All the towns around had a brass band and a baseball nine," he wrote. "Each ward furnished their own amusements and fun by having a dance or drama each week.

"Our team and brass band would visit a town, play our opponents an afternoon baseball game followed by a dance in the evening [with music furnished by the baseball players.T

Claudius recalled that the Plain City baseball team and brass band once charted a railway car for a trip to Logan. While they were there, the bodies of two LDS missionaries, killed by mobs in Tennessee, were brought back to Logan. The Plain City and Logan bands walked to the depot and met the train, then both bands marched at the head of the funeral procession down Main Street.

"We didn't hold a dance that night in Logan," he wrote, "but spent the time looking around and listening to harmonica and guitar bands which were numerous, and their music sounded beautiful at night."

Reflecting on the account, Dr. Miller said it is hard now to imagine a world in which every note of music, if there was to be any music at all, had to be made by the people themselves.

"No wonder they treasured their instruments and the people who played them," he commented.

Moreover, one wonders about the eventual fate of such instruments as those carried across the ocean by the Bramwells, he said.

"Treasured instruments have been passed down through families, some in good repair, others moldering away forgotten and unused, or long since sold to persons unable to appreciate their historical value. In many cases, instruments have been donated to museums without full documentation, their often poignant stories lost or misunderstood. Sometimes people have information or access without realizing that what they know could be useful to others."

He said anyone having potentially helpful information is invited to call toll free 1-800-316-6837 (1-800-31-NOTES), or write to the Department of Music, c/o Dr. Roger L Miller, 204 David Gardner Hall, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112.

"The respondent need only give a name and address or phone number as a point of contact," he said. "A member of the survey team will then contact the respondent for complete details."

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