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Twila Van Leer
This clarinet was played by Martin Horton Peck, a member of the Nauvoo Brass Band, in the mid-to-late 1880s. It is part of the LDS Church History Museum collection.

My brother Joe Peck said it best: "Wow! Way cool!"

That's the modern vernacular for "seeing our great-grandfather Martin Horton Peck's clarinet in the Church History Museum recently was a wonderful experience that created a bond and helped us to see him as a real individual who did memorable things."

Joe, another brother David, their respective wives, Julia and Calene, and I had to make arrangements in advance to be able to see the clarinet, which is one of some 100,000 (and growing) items in the museum's collection. It took about two weeks for museum workers to locate the instrument in its off-site storage and bring it to the museum on West Temple Street so we could see it. We Peck kids knew the clarinet was in the church's possession because it used to be on display on the main floor in the old museum.

The information about this clarinet is sketchy. It was donated to the museum in 1943, according to our hostess, museum registrar Carrie Snow, by a man named "Perks." Peck, maybe?

This clarinet was played by Martin Horton Peck, a member of the Nauvoo Brass Band, in the mid-to-late 1880s. It is part of the LDS Church History Museum collection. | Twila Van Leer

She had the clarinet ready for us. It was lying on a piece of fabric to protect it. We could see, but not touch. But the impact was thrilling. Here was something an ancestor three generations before us had carried with him and played as a member of the Nauvoo Brass Band. A light-colored wood with several finger holes and a few brass keys (alas, I am no clarinet player!), it was nicely polished and impressive.

It didn't much resemble the clarinet my sister Leanne played when she was young, a longer, sleeker black instrument with keys for each hole. Grandpa Peck's version had holes down the back which he would have covered with his fingers, raised and lowered to make his music. Just goes to show you how clarinets (and people) change from one generation to another. (Leanne lives in Idaho and wasn't able to join us for the museum excursion, but she has always been proud to have shared a musical experience with Great-Grandpa Peck.)

With Carrie's help and the advantage of a magnifying glass, we tried to decipher the manufacturer's information on a metal band between the pieces of the clarinet, but time has effectively worn it to the point it can't be read. We had hoped we could learn something more if we could find the maker's history.

Fortunately, the history of the Nauvoo Brass Band is available, including in "They Marched Their Way West: The Nauvoo Brass Band" by William E. Purdy (Ensign, July 1980). The band was created during the "Nauvoo era" — the mid-1840s when the harried members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints enjoyed one of their more productive phases in a place of their own. It was originally called Joseph's City Band, but the name was changed when it became associated with the Nauvoo Legion, a military contingent. Their leader was William Pitt, a "left-handed fiddler" who was also trained in other instruments.

The band played during the Legion's maneuvers and for public concerts and special affairs. I can imagine Grandpa Martin and his sad companions preceding the bodies of the martyred Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum Smith from Carthage back to Nauvoo in June of 1844. The band continued to play while the mourning Saints passed to view the bodies of their dead leaders. What it lacked in musical finesse, the musicians made up in enthusiasm and a sense of purpose.

A camaraderie grew among the members of the band, and when the Saints were forced out of Nauvoo, they made efforts to travel the 1,300-mile route to the Rocky Mountains as a group, but the challenges of the trail and demands made by their individual families led to a breakup in Garden Grove, Iowa. Three of the musicians were in Brigham Young's 1847 vanguard company of pioneers, according to "They Marched Their Way West: The Nauvoo Brass Band."

As more band members arrived in the city of the Great Salt Lake, they reunited to head up the annual celebrations of the entry into the valley on July 24, 1847. (They were one of the bands that were entertaining at a grand picnic in Big Cottonwood Canyon on July 24, 1857, when news arrived that Johnston's Army was headed for the territory, I recall reading and is also in chapter 29 of "Church History in the Fulness of Times" student manual and "Unique Stories and Facts from LDS History" by Dan Barker.) They also played for such occasions as the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple site and the laying of the temple's cornerstones, according to They Marched Their Way West: The Nauvoo Brass Band."

The only picture of Great-Grandpa Peck that I have seen shows him as a handsome man, clean-shaven and with a full head of hair. Wouldn't he have been a sight, all spiffed up in the Nauvoo Brass Band uniform?

Purdy in "They Marched Their Way West: The Nauvoo Brass Band" borrows from Hosea Stout's diary to describe the outfits: straw hats, white dress coats, white pantaloons belted with sky-blue sashes, white muslin cravats. And they appeared in style in a 9-foot by 29-foot wagon drawn by 14 horses.

Wow! Way cool! as Joe would have said, except he was born about a hundred years later.

All this history takes on a very personal meaning knowing that my kin was part of it. Being deprived by time of a genuine relationship with Great-Grandpa Martin Horton Peck, my mental version of him has been enhanced by the opportunity to see a relic that he held and valued. He was a real person!

I appreciate the museum's dedication to preserving the artifacts that maintain a concrete history of what went before. It has a fascinating history of its own. But I'm out of time and column space. We'll revisit the museum history at a later date.