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For many years, Utah had an isolated existence in the American West, where cultural traditions could develop independently from those held by the rest of the nation. Folk music was no exception, and today the Beehive Band presents a somewhat unusual branch of old-time American music, which developed in the Latter-day Saint communities of Utah. Although rare, its strains can still be heard in the Beehive State today. The Beehive Band is exceptional for maintaining this musical style, and for a repertoire constructed from a well-documented genealogy of tunes and interpretations passed from generation to generation. That repertoire was bolstered with the discovery of a long lost manuscript that ties their music to the musicians who participated in Utah's frontier settlement.
Utah's heritage of old-time music is inseparable from the state's cultural history. In 1846, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began their monumental trek across the western plains and Rocky Mountains to find a new homeland in the West. It was on the trail that their leader, Brigham Young, learned the importance of music and dance in reinforcing the bonds of community. Journals recount that the pioneers walked up to twenty miles and then gathered to sing hymns of inspiration, or dance to the strains of a single fiddle or concertina, in the glow of burning campfires. In territorial Utah, Brigham Young encouraged social dancing. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, dancing to old-time music was the most popular form of recreation.
In Utah's rush to modernize in the twentieth century, many of the old ways were neglected, under-appreciated and sometimes forgotten. However, some rural communities and families kept the traditions alive, passing the stories and songs down through the generations. It was this love of heritage and tradition that brought the members of the Beehive Band together.
Paul Rasmussen and Cliff Butter independently followed their own interests in the heritage of New England and British Isles tunes, building their skills over the years by playing with old-time musicians and Celtic bands in Salt Lake City. Mark Jardine grew up immersed in the religion and culture of the Latter-day Saints in Utah and his earliest memories include the songs his mother and great-grandfather sang. During the years when the folk music revival swept across the United States, Mark looked inward to his own heritage for cultural grounding and for personal inspiration. As a fiddler, he sought out musicians who could help him understand the influences in the music that were a part of his Mormon heritage, and he traced the development of hymns and tunes to some of the earliest forms that the pioneers handed down to their descendants.
Folklorist Elaine Thatcher writes that a turning point came when Mark was given a copy of "The Parowan Manuscript." "The manuscript, which consists of hand-notated fiddle and dance tunes, was found in the attic of an old stone house being renovated. Upon studying it, Mark found that many of the tunes were written by early settlers of Parowan, a small town in southern Utah. He also noticed because of his years of study of fiddle tune collections, that a majority of them seemed more British or Scandinavian than American." Other research led Mark to discover melodic antecedents to popular Mormon hymns, and the richness of ballads and dance tunes that continue to be performed throughout the cultural region of the Mormon West. In this spirit, members of the Beehive Band add to the repertoire by composing new pieces for performance.
Mark Jardine writes: "The Beehive Band perform hymns, songs, and fiddle tunes of the Utah pioneers, emphasizing primarily the initial period of the Mormon migration west (1847 - 1869), or the period before the railroad came to Utah. Many of the early converts to Mormonism came from Europe and brought with them their own cultures. Early Utah traditional music became a collage of many styles and cultures, with the glue being the common religious experience. The traditional dance music often included tunes of Scandinavian, Scottish, Irish, English, and Welsh origin. It was typically played on the fiddle, and accompanied by the organ, cello, bowed bass, wooden flute, and accordion. The songs had their roots in old ballads and early hymnody (west gallery and shape note singing)."
"The members of the Beehive Band all have roots that tie them to the early Utah pioneers.They have played traditional music together for well over 30 years."
The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to "preserve and present American Folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs, and training. The Center includes the American Folklife Center Archive of folk culture, which was established in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world. Please visit our web site.
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