Exhibits & Outreach » Online Exhibits » Life By Comparison

Life by Comparison: The Stories of Frederick and Parmly Billings

Life by Comparison: The Stories of Frederick and Parmly Billings presents the stories of this father-son duo and compares and contrasts Billings, MT with the family's homes in Woodstock, Vermont and New York City during the 1880s. Implementing the concept of music as artifact, Life by Comparison identifies and presents the music that was part of the family's lives in the 1870s - 1880s.

Music as Artifact

Jim Cockey, a composer from McCall, Idaho, joined the Western Heritage Center staff to research and document music in the letters, diaries and sheet music of the Billings' family. Jim Cockey traveled to Billings and Woodstock, where he re-recorded the music and songs using talent from Montana and Vermont. A sampling of the forty-six recorded musical pieces can be heard in the exhibit's sound room, as well as here on the web site.

The downloadable music on these pages is available in MP3 (mpeg) format. 

Montana Music
Vermont Music
Parmly Funeral Music

Major funding for Life By Comparison: The Stories of Frederick and Parmly Billings came from the Museum Loan Network. A Museum Loan Network travel grant enabled the Western Heritage Center to visit the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park and the Billings Farm & Museum (Woodstock Foundation, Inc.) of Woodstock, Vermont, and select artifacts for the exhibit. A Museum Loan Network Implementation Grant supported the costs of shipping the thirty-two objects from Vermont to Montana, provided the means to provide quality educational programming, paid the music consultant, Jim Cockey of the American Composers Forum, and aided in the construction of the exhibit.


The Museum Loan Network (MLN) facilitates the long-term loan of art and objects of cultural heritage among U.S. institutions as a way to enhance the installations of museums, thus enabling them to better serve their communities. The MLN programs have led to sharing of objects among different types of museums, fostering collaborations between institutions of varying size and discipline throughout the United States. Funded and initiated by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts, the MLN is administered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Office of the Arts.

Matching funds were provided by Conoco, Inc., Woodstock Foundation Inc. of Woodstock, Vermont, and Wells Fargo Private Client Services. Local Funding support was provided by Del Rio Music, BLT Productions, Selbys Essco, Don Miller Photo, Heins Creative, Perkins Restaurants, Northern Hotel, and Albertsons.

Thanks to community participants from Montana and Vermont that made the "Music as Artifact" music come alive with their voices, instruments and talents.

Thanks to the staff at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park and the Billings Farm & Museum of Woodstock, Vermont, for their gracious hospitality.

Thanks to the American Composers Forum, the Museum Loan Network, and Joseph S. and Mirian Sample for funding Museums, Composers, and Communities, a community based pilot program which created the partnership between Jim Cockey, the Billings Symphony, and the Western Heritage Center. This grant brings Jim Cockey to Billings to do school programming, carry out three weeks of school residencies, and to write an original composition based on the exhibit,
Life By Comparison: The Stories of Frederick and Parmly Billings.