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Expressive Idaho: Uncovering lost Idaho music

A set of hands points at an old book with yellow pages full of musical notation.
Arlie Sommer
Idaho Commission on the Arts
Eller combs through the Boise State University Special Collections and Archives. This 1864 Peter Beemer Music Manuscript is a record of popular Idaho tunes of the time. Eller also regularly uses the Idaho State Archives and visits small museums, archives and libraries across the state to hunt down lost songs.

Nuclear scientist Gary Eller moved to Nampa 17 years ago after a 30-year career at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He grew up in rural West Virginia with a strong music tradition of regional, historic music. Now, a retiree, he began playing bluegrass and oldtime with Idaho musicians. He wanted to learn historic songs from his new home, but no one was playing them.

So he used his skills as a scientist to scour archives, libraries and museums for historic Idaho songs from a time before radio and records came here. Eller has authored 19 books about the songs with recordings. His work is on the shelves of the library of congress and he was awarded the Governor’s Awards in the Arts in 2020.

Arlie Sommer brings the story of the Idaho Songs Project to this episode of the Expressive Idaho Series.

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