Journals from Mormon pioneers in Parowan, the mother settlement of southern Utah, suggest that dance bands were a typical source of cultural expression, and that local residents regularly composed music and played musical instruments in public forums.
Dances were usually held in church buildings, accompanied by the fiddle or organ and featuring the cello, bowed bass, wooden flute and accordion.Initially, music aroused controversy among many Mormons. Even Brigham Young recalled, "I never heard the enchanting tones of the violin, until I was 11 years of age, and then I thought I was on the highway to hell if I suffered myself to linger and listen to it."
But years later, he reversed his feelings and said, speaking of the hereafter, "Every decent fiddler will go into a decent kingdom."
Fifteen years ago, the locally popular Beehive Band obtained a copy of a handwritten musical manuscript of 19th century dance music in Parowan. Featuring more than 100 fiddle tunes, it revealed that a typical Parowan dance included tunes of Scandinavian, Scottish, Irish and English origins.
Eight of these selections are included on a new melodic Beehive Band double compact disc, titled, "Hymns, Songs and Fiddle Tunes of the Utah Pioneers." The CD evokes images of pioneer dances and songs with the sound of waltzes, quadrilles and schottisches played on fiddles, concertinas and other instruments common in the 1800s.
Band members include social worker Mark Jardine on fiddle and concertina; CPA Stephen Jardine on concertina and tin whistle; banker Stan Jensen on wooden flute, tin whistle, banjo and banjo-mandolin; and attorney Mark Jardine Williams on guitar, piano, portable preacher's pump organ and harmonicas.
Musical performance to them is a sidelight, although Mark Jardine has a bachelor's degree in music, and Steve Jardine, his brother, holds a master's degree in Irish folk music.
Williams, who works in the courtroom when he is not performing, is a cousin to the two Jardines. Although not a blood relative, Jensen, who specializes offstage in Oriental studies and business, is a longtime close friend to Williams and the Jardines.
The four have a strong personal bond that adds a positive, optimistic accent to their music. They started playing together in junior high when Peter, Paul and Mary dominated the folk scene.
By the time Stan joined the group, they were calling themselves "Tenpenny" and doing folk music from the British Isles. For 25 years, they have entertained in numerous venues in the Salt Lake area.
They have always preferred esoteric as opposed to commercially successful music - in other words, home-grown music that British, Scottish and Irish people wrote and sang to entertain themselves.
They love shape note singing, early American Christian music played and sung with European influence. Each note in the shape note format was accorded a pitch, based on its shape, whether square, triangular, rectangular, oval or diamond.
They examined the most popular shape note songbooks of the 19th century and found that many of the selections in the first Mormon hymnals were rooted in those traditional folk melodies.
Sometimes, they found words to existing Christian hymns were adapted to fit the Mormon experience and doctrine. For instance, the shape note hymn, "The American Star" was the inspiration for W.W. Phelps' famous Mormon hymn, "The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning." Similarly, "All Is Well" was William Clayton's impetus to write "Come, Come Ye Saints."
As Mark Jardine says, "Early Mormons took music they knew and swapped out the parts that didn't fit and swapped in the parts that did."
Often the text of a song was sung to a number of commonly known melodies. Eliza R. Snow's hymn, "O My Father" was first sung to the Stephen Foster melody of "Gentle Annie," and later to a number of other melodies, including the one on the Beehive CD, "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing."
As the band members read many old Mormon journals, they came to a better understanding of their own Mormon culture, as well as pioneer reliance upon music and dance as key ingredients in coping with crises.
Although many early Mormons are remembered for church responsibilities, they were fine musicians as well.
So the Beehive Band has re-created the spirit of the early Utah culture, through instrumentation and energetic vocals, thus providing a soundtrack for Mormon history.
Mark Jardine correctly describes their four-part, a cappella harmony as a "non-embellished non-bravado, slack-voiced presentation. It emulates the rugged individualism of the American people. In choral singing, you blend, but here the individual voices poke out. The parts are spread far apart, and even the harmony has a melodic feel. We sing as full-voiced as we can, pushing the limits of our voices, praising the Lord with heart, mind and strength."
(The Beehive Band's new CD is on sale at Salt City CDs and at the LDS Church Museum of Church History and Art.)