I am seriously interested in enlisting a small brass band that can read sheet music so that I can hear what the "Cataract Quickstep" sounded like.

I'm mapping out the transformation of my dissertation into a book as a story of two communities intertwined by a common hydrology. Upstream, Northampton's meadows flourished as an agricultural center of Hampshire County, boasting some of the most fertile lowlands in New England, and downstream, the South Hadley Canal negotiated sixty feet of rapids on the Connecticut River and provided a waterpower site for several mills. The dams built at South Hadley threatened the meadows in Northampton, and lawsuits from meadowland owners in Norhtampton regulated dam heights at South Hadley. Amidst these legal and environmental struggles, daily life went on, and among other things, the residents of South Hadley formed a brass band and commissioned a da capo called the "Cataract Quickstep."G. C. Brown, "Cataract Quickstep"Box 162, Item 111, Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.

This was a thrilling find because it contains an image of the South Hadley Falls from 1842, a period characterized by dramatic reorganization at the falls. In 1839, the state supreme court had restructured water rights among the mills--the white riverside buildings in the center-left of the image--facilitating the restructuring of water rights in the area. In the next year, the canal manager of fifteen years, Josiah Bardwell, would retire. Four years after the commissioning of the composition, fire would race through these mills, paving the way for the elimination of the canal and the construction of a mill city across the river at Holyoke. Thus, this image is one of the only images created before the inundation of the falls by the Holyoke Dam in 1848. The gradual series of rapids visible on the cover of the "Quick Step" would soon be transformed into the precipitous decline running straight into the channel, depicted below.An image of water crashing over the top of the Holyoke DamPaesiello Emerson, The Holyoke Dam, circa 1910, Emerson Collection, Longmeadow Historical Society, Longmeadow, MA. Downloaded from https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/

Needless to say, the fifty nine feet of head at the South Hadley Dam inundated much of the waterscape that formerly existed in South Hadley. Without the sheet music for the "Cataract Quickstep," or similar images from a similar vintage, I had only a vague image of what the South Hadley Canal looked like and even my experience walking in the canal park, a swampy set of trails about a quarter mile upstream from the dam, which contains some remnants of the old canal channel, rendered unrecognizable by siltation and the growth of a floodplain forest atop its banks.

The image is already helping my research, but maybe hearing the music can do even more to help me understand the South Hadley Canal. That is, if I can find a band willing to play the tune inside the sheet music. I must admit that I'm almost wholly naive about how the music might help explain the nature of the falls. Is there something in the sound of the music that evokes the flow of water over the falls, or was the commissioning of a musical piece named after the landscape a commoditized action unrelated to the sounds of music as they were produced. In either case, knowing the significance a community brass band might have assigned to a musical composition would go a long way to explaining the social life of South Hadley in the 1840s. I'd be especially interested in hearing it in connection with somebody more attuned for how a da capo would have sounded to a nineteenth century audience.

In either case, the music can explain what was going on in the community as the falls underwent transformation. Brass bands were quite common in mid-century New England and their performances sounded out the vitality of community life in places that historians often remember in relation to their resource use.Hal S. Barron, Those Who Stayed behind: Rural Society in Nineteenth-Century New England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984).

So I'll close by asking if anyone reading this can wrangle up a brass band to play the quick step. Maybe somebody can set me straight on why village brass bands commissioned music and where they would have played a da capo.