Monday, March 1, 2010

A Visit to the Deagan Factory

Deagan's large ad buy in April 1913 continued to generate favorable coverage elsewhere in the Moving Picture World. In June, Clarence Sinn devoted the first part of his "Music for the Picture" column to detailing a visit he evidently made to the factory.

In addition, Sinn also published a short letter that included a cue sheet for Kalem's The Cheyenne Massacre, for which Kalem provided a musical score. The ad on the left prominently mentions the special score, which was available for the very nominal cost of 15¢. The letter writer nevertheless rejected the score as impractical, since his theater used an orchestra, which would have meant orchestrating the piano score. The large variability of theater orchestras was one of the difficulties that such "special music" had to negotiate, and it remained a block to the widespread adoption of original scores throughout the silent film era.

A very important adjunct to the orchestra—especially the moving picture orchestra—and one which is growing in favor every day is to be found in the musical bells, chimes, marimbaphones and instruments of like character, as well as xylophones and orchestra steel bells. To J. C. Deagan more than any other man is due this growing popularity of these instruments. Mr. Deagan has done two very important things toward this end; first, he has evolved a very superior bell. Second, by means of his clever electric appliances any ordinary pianist or drummer can play them. Also, being of so simple construction, a boy of average intelligence can install them. Of course, he has long made a feature of bells and xylophones, etc., for artists’ use, but undoubtedly the impetus given to the demand for these instruments in late years is due principally to J. C. Deagan’s electric inventions which make their playing an easy matter. It takes long practice to acquire the even “roll” necessary in playing the xylophone or steel bells; it takes none to manipulate a Deagan key-board and get the same result.

A favorite manner of installing the bells is to string them around the auditorium high above the heads of the audience. Some years ago as perhaps you remember, when any one of the bells was installed got out of order, you had to place a ladder under the bell in question and climb up to fix it. Mr. Deagan has eliminated all of this. By his “no contact” mechanism he has reduced their chances of getting out of order to a minimum; and if they should need regulating (which is seldom) it can be done by the performer without leaving his seat. They can be played loud or soft at will; single stroke or roll as desired. A shut-off key is provided; drummers will appreciate this feature who remember the discordant jangle resulting from accidentally touching the key-board when reaching over for some “trap.”

I visited the factory of J. C. Deagan the other day and was much impressed by what I saw there. He occupies three floors of the pretentious Deagan Building in Chicago—25,000 feet of space on each floor—75,000 feet of floor space in all, in addition to the out buildings, dry-rooms, etc. Every thing but the wood and metal is made in the factory. The wood (for the xylophones) is cut especially for J. C. Deagan in Australia; the metal for bells, chimes, etc., is made to order by a special process. These raw materials are received at the Deagan factory and are cut, shaped, polished, tuned, plated and a lot of other things by expert artisans to become the things of beauty which you finally see and hear in the exhibiting department. There were orchestra bells to be played by hand and by electric key-board. Other electric bells in such profusion that space forbids naming them. Electric cathedral chimes; these are the same shape as the usual chimes; long tubes of a beautiful tonal quality with a hammer fixed to strike in exactly the right place and operated from a key-board. The chimes may be placed in the orchestra, lobby or any part of the house. (The same is true of all the J. C. Deagan electrical instruments.)

An electrical marimbaphone was also shown. It is impossible to convey a definite idea of this instrument. Though made of steel bars with resonators and is the same shape as a xylophone, its tone especially on the low and medium notes is something like that of an organ. The illusion was more pronounced when heard at a little distance. Mr. Deagan describes its tone quality as “like that of musical glasses,” but he is too modest; the tone is bigger and fuller than any musical glasses I ever heard. I saw a large xylophone which is played from an electric key-board also. The hammers are of the regular type—hard wood heads and rattan handles, thus insuring the correct tone—and any piano player can play a xylophone solo upon it that would be the envy of any expert xylophonist. This can be hung in the lobby of your theater if desired. I haven’t got room here to tell all the interesting things I saw, but the J. C. Deagan catalogues may be had for the asking and they will tell you more things than I can and tell them better. We visited the plating-room, where each article to be plated receives at least three coats; some of them more. They are just completing a new instrument called the “Nabimba.” This will probably be on the market by the time your read this article, otherwise I would be chary of mentioning it at all. It looked like a xylophone—bars of wood with resonators suspended beneath. When struck with the hammer two tones were produced, one the regular xylophone tone, the other a sustained reedy tone something like the low notes of a clarinet. Impulsively I looked to see where “the wind came from” to make such an effect. Of course, I couldn’t find anything of that sort, but had me guessing and I said so. “You keep right on guessing,” said J. C., “and come away before you see too much. I only wanted you to hear it, not examine it.” That’s all I can say about it, only that it is a wonder. And I am still guessing.

* * *

From the “Crown Theater,” Hartford, Conn.: “I am enclosing my musical program to Kalem’s ‘The Cheyenne Massacre.’ Though they had a special piano score for this picture, I did not use it, as I would have had to make an orchestration. My orchestra consists of five men in the winter and four in the summer. At present I am using violin, cello and flute, which can’t be beat for playing pictures and for good music. People want good music and not noise. I have a large library of nearly all the standard overtures, selections, waltzes, etc., and keep a record of all I play, so my audience don’t hear the same music all the time. I change programs three times a week; every number is changed and not played for months again, except when some number is repeated by request. I have trained my men so they have all the cue-music at their finger tips—the whole orchestra—so it is as easy for me to play a picture with them at it is alone on the piano. Every leader should have his men learn all the National airs, a gallop, a march, a waltz and dramatic music, so they can play it the moment he wants it. In that way a picture can be played at sight, then at the end of that picture he can arrange a program for it. The following picture went pretty good the first time and fine the second, so I had the whole program made up of pretty good music.”


Part First.
  1. “Brides and Butterflies Waltz.” Play introduction while title is on; as the first scene appears (dancing) segue to the waltz. Until title: “Next Morning, Chief Swift, etc.”
  2. “Indian Summer Intermezzo” until title: “That Night.”
  3. “Garden of Dreams Serenade” until Indians are seen.
  4. “Tom-Tom Intermezzo” until fight scene starts.
  5. Agitato until boy is seen standing alone near ruins.
  6. “Alpine Rose—a Flower Song” until scene exterior of post appears; watch for bugle call, then segue.
  7. “The Twelfth Regiment March” until end of reel.
Part Second.
  1. Introduction of “Danube Waves” waltz until the title is on.
  2. Agitato until title: “Vengeance of the Red Men.”
  3. “Big Chief Battle Axe” (Indian Novelty) until title: “Lieutenant Ellis Volunteers, etc.”
  4. “Venetian Water Waltz” until Indians are seen.
  5. Agitato until man with shawl meets Indian girl, then:
  6. Chorus of “Silver Bell” or “Red Wing” until he jumps on horse.
  7. “Petersburgh Sleighride Galop” until title: “The Attack of Fort Bryson.”
  8. Agitato until bugler blows bugle.
  9. Bugle call, Siegel march, “Weinblut Wein” until soldiers are seen on hill with American flag.
  10. “Red, White and Blue” until fight starts, then:
  11. Agitato until title: “After the Battle.”
  12. “Boy Scout March.” Lieutenant puts his arm around the girl.
  13. “Star Spangle Banner.”

“Read this over a couple of times and arrange your music in this order. You don’t have to use the same waltzes or marches. Play any you have and you will find this program O.K. Let me hear from those who use it. Yours,
R. J. Besette, Musical Director “Crown Theater,” Hartford, Conn.


I am afraid I have not got your name correctly, Brother B., as you did not write it distinctly. However, your method of playing to the pictures with an orchestra is correct all right. The only way to get results is to have a lot of music “at your finger tips”—as you say: “every man in the orchestra.” This applies particularly to the dramatic music, as it enables all to watch the picture. Will be glad to hear from you again.

* * *


Part One.
  1. “Daisies” (Bendix; pub. Witmark). First part only until title: “Dr. Rice of the Settlement.” Then second movement through two scenes.
  2. “Mystic Shrine” (Earl Cameron; pub. Carl Fischer). Until Wamba arrives at Dr. Rice’s home.
  3. “Idle Thoughts” (Harry von Tilzer). Until after title: “Wamba’s Baby Dies.” Continue No. 3 until Doctore breaks the news to Wamba; then:
  4. Plaintive until end of scene.
  5. Agitato p. and f. until Doctor R. orders Pete away.
  6. Short sentimental until end of scene.
  7. “Flight of the Birds” (or any pretty caprice or novelette) until end of Part One.
Part Two.
  1. Agitato; through first scene. Then subdue for second scene or short neutral. At end of second scene:
  2. Long agitato p. and f. for flight and pursuit by lions; continue until child climbs up the river bank.
  3. Short Intermezzo (“In Cupid’s Garden”—pub. by T. B. Harms), until Dr. Rice and wife enter house.
  4. Agitato until child seen crossing glade.
  5. “Mozembique” (Oriental intermezzo by Gruenwall; pub. by O. Ditson), until lion comes to child’s hiding place in log.
  6. Agitato until Dr. Rice and party leaves Pete’s shack.
  7. “Amina” (Paul Lincke; pub. by Stern), until end of picture.

* * *


  1. Novelette until girl is seen at piano.
  2. “That’s How I love You” (follow pianist in picture).
  3. At change, back to No. 1 until: “Not Knowing Wynne Is Married.”
  4. Waltz until they enter restaurant.
  5. “If You Talk In Your Sleep, Don’t Mention My Name.” When at piano.
  6. “That’s How I Love You” (short), then:
  7. Waltz lento until: “The Firm Sends Wynne on a Four Months’ Tour.”
  8. “Pearls” (Moret) until: “A Stranger to the Wife, etc.”
  9. Waltz lento until: “Preparations to Leave for the City.”
  10. “Dimples” (Bratton) until: “Learning the Charm of Grace.”
  11. Waltz (for dancing) until change of scene.
  12. Restaurant scene. Popular cabaret music, “Home From His Trip.”
  13. Waltz (Neutral) until: “The Appointment.”
  14. “You’re a Great Be Blue-Eyed Baby” until he sees his wife in box.
  15. “If You Talk In Your Sleep, etc.” very softly, crescendo at change of scene. When he meets his wife.
  16. Sentimental until she plays piano; then:
  17. “That’s How I Love Your,” until end, dying away with picture.
Source: Clarence E. Sinn, “Music for the Picture,” Moving Picture World 7 June 1913, 1020-21.
Image Source: Moving Picture World 26 April 1913, 409.