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Elmer Lyle Carey Archive

Highlights of the Archive...

Found among the many shelves of music in the NMM's Archives are several devoted to the works of South Dakota composers. These include the original, handwritten manuscripts of General Custer's bandmaster, Felix Vinatieri (1834-1891); the musical arrangements of comedian Stan Fritts (1910-1969) and his Korn Kobblers; the original compositions of University of South Dakota Music Theory Professor Marjorie Eastwood Dudley (1891-1961); and four marches composed by Watertown native, Elmer Lyle Carey (1892-1971).

Born in a homesteader's claim shanty...

Carey's musical manuscripts are supported by extensive notes and tape recordings which document the fascinating life and musical career of this determined, self-made man. Born in the original homesteader's claim shanty built for his mother in the early 1880s, Carey was a curious, intelligent child who displayed a natural talent for music. Although his formal education never exceeded the sixth grade, he was intrigued by his older brother's cornet and taught himself to play--despite numerous attempts by the family to hide the mouthpiece from the persistent sibling! Eventually, Carey got his own cornet and was noticed by the local bandsmen. When asked where he had learned to play so well, Carey modestly replied, "out in the country, about 7 miles north."

Performs for Inauguration of President Taft...

For several years during his teens, Carey played alto horn in the Watertown Cadet Band, a group that had the distinction of being chosen to play for the 1909 inauguration of President Taft in Washington, D.C. By 1912, Carey was playing first chair cornet in Peck's Watertown Band, a noteworthy ensemble that brought home first place awards from the 1915 Elks National Convention in Los Angeles and the National Moose Convention in San Diego. Subsequent west-coast appearances included the San Francisco World's Fair and the Panama Pacific Exposition.

Pecks' Watertown Band plays for President Coolidge...

During World War I, many of the band's members enlisted and played together in the First South Dakota Cavalry Band, during which time Carey composed "Our Adjutant March," one of his four compositions preserved at the NMM. In 1927, Peck's Watertown Band had the honor of playing for President Coolidge, who had chosen the Custer State Game Lodge in the Black Hills as his summer White House.

Origin of Carey's "Midwest Conservatory March"...

In 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, Carey took over management of the Watertown School of Music, renaming it the Midwest Conservatory of Music. His "Midwest Conservatory March," composed in 1936, honors the small staff that diligently taught instrumental music to the city's youth for several years before it was introduced into the public school curriculum in 1939.

Carey's many musical talents...

Although Carey was a virtuoso cornetist, he also taught himself to play the banjo, as well as the other brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. Commenting on his father's compositions, Robert Carey remarked that "Dad learned his chord structure from the banjo. He was a marvelous banjoist from lots of practice and seeking and finding all the tricks of the trade from traveling vaudevillians. I think the best evidence of his total musicianship is in the four marches he wrote and arranged."

Watertown City Band Library Preserved at the National Music Museum...

Carey was named director of the Watertown City Band after the death of Bill Peck in 1944, a position he held until his retirement in 1951. As a result of Carey's friendship and musical associations with Brookings band director Arne B. Larson, the music library of Carey's new Watertown American Legion Band (for which "The Legion on Parade" was composed) was eventually donated to the NMM where its 292 pieces are preserved and cataloged as part of the Golden Age of Bands Music Collection.

Carey's South Dakota Legacy...

Elmer L. Carey left an indelible mark on South Dakota's musical heritage, not only through the music he wrote, but also through the lives that he touched and shaped. It was only fitting that his "Watertownian March," composed about 1934, was prominently featured by the Watertown Municipal Band at his hometown's Centennial celebration in 1979.

Excerpted from Margaret Downie Banks, "Exploring the South Dakota Composers' Archive...Elmer Lyle Carey (1892-1971)," America's Shrine to Music Museum Newsletter 25, No. 3 (May 1998), p. 3.


The music in the Carey Archives is available for examination by appointment (see access guidelines).

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