Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mechanical Music

Here is an interesting item from the end of 1916, which explicitly argues that the success of The Birth of a Nation convinced many exhibitors to replace mechanical pianos with live musicians—and even orchestras for special features.

The day of the “ping! ping! pung! pung! pong! pong!” of the electric piano is coming to a rapid close in the motion picture theatres of the Middle West. Eighty per cent. of the theatres used to have electrical pianos. Either outside or inside, they kept up their din. The number has fallen to a scant fifteen or twenty per cent. now. The exhibitors who do not have orchestras have at least a piano player. Generally, in the small town theatres, it is a piano and violin that furnish the music.

Since “The Birth of a Nation,” with its big orchestra, has entered the Middle West, there has been a steadily increasing demand for sympathetic music—an impossibility with an electrical piano. Exhibitors heard their patrons say the music helped make “The Nation” the success it was. Now many exhibitors hire orchestras for their feature nights, realizing that the music is a drawing card surpassed only by the pictures.

Source: “Vogue of Electric Piano about Over,” Exhibitor's Trade Review 16 December 1916, 109.

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