Sunday, April 19, 2009

Playing for the Picture

In 1918, George W. Beynon assumed the role of running the "Music for the Picture" column in The Moving Picture World, taking over from Clarence E. Sinn, who had been running the column on and off since its inception in November 1910. Beynon's inaugural column, reprinted below, includes a brief biography of Beynon, where we learn, among other things, that at one point in his career Beynon was hired to synchronize music to Lasky's Famous Player films and that he was expected to complete his work on a film in three days. This is probably a good guide to how long it took professionals in theaters at the time to do their synchronization work—clearly it was very labor intensive.

(This paragraph has been updated.) After his retirement from the film music business, where evidently he made a considerable amount of money, Beynon lost his fortune in the 1929 crash. In the 1930s, he would become an organizer of bridge tournaments and a newspaper columnist on the game. In 1993, the NY Times still recognized him as a G.O.M. of the game. Early in life, Beynon also had a brief career as a professional hockey player, but after a fight during his third year in the league, he was barred for life. (One this point, see Beynon's obituary in the NY Times 11 June 1965.)

Beynon to Edit Music Department.

Beginning with this issue of the Moving Picture World (February 2) the Music Department will be conducted by George W. Beynon. Mr. Beynon is a musician of wide experience and marked skill. He has made a deep study of photoplay requirements, and of the demands of the management of theaters and of the desires of the public.

Mr. Beynon was born in Canada, but later became a citizen of the United States. He was graduated in Arts from the University of Toronto. Under the tutition of Dr. Anger, an authority on harmony and theory and author of many text books, he spent four years in the Toronto Conservatory of Music. In Leipsic [sic], Germany, he was given the Mus. Doc. degree.

Much time has been given by Mr. Beynon to orchestral and band arranging. He has synchronized many operas to tableau form, which have been used extensively. As an arranger his experience has covered songs, classic and popular music, vaudeville acts and grand opera selections.

Mr. Beynon spent some years as a professional singer. He has a deep bass voice and filled concert and recital dates all over the country. He led choirs and bands, and later entered the orchestral field, where he has remained. In September, 1915, Mr. Beynon was engaged by Oliver Morosco to assemble and synchronize music for “Peer Gynt.” The first playing of the arrangement was at the Broadway Theater by an orchestra of thirty pieces.

As a result of this work Mr. Beynon was engaged to write a score for all of the Pallas and Morosco productions and later secured a contract with the Famous Players and Lasky companies. His schedule called for the arrangement of a score every three days. A total of 162 were written. Exhibitors praised Mr. Beynon’s work, and it is said that many found the way paved for the enlargement of their orchestras and the increasing of their prices of admission.

Mr. Beynon has been retained by some of the large film companies to take charge of their musical service. Also he has found time to direct the musical programs of several theaters.

On January 27, at the presentation at the Lyric Theater of “Lest We Forget,” Mr. Beynon personally will direct an orchestra of thirty pieces.

Proper Presentation of Pictures Musically. Playing for the Picture.

Music for the picture is here to stay. The screen action, watched in silence, has not the wonderful effect that is obtained by use of a musical setting which holds the atmosphere and interprets the dominant emotion. The musical accompaniment to a song is always subservient to, and in perfect tempo with, the singer. It rises and falls with the voice, breathing softly in the pianissimo passages and crashing loudly in forte moments, yet never dominating the situation, nor predominating over the voice. It supports and carries the singer. This principle applies exactly to music for the photoplay. Let your music support the action and carry the atmosphere of the feature.

In this day of symphony orchestras of thirty or forty men, music values have been distorted beyond all proportion. Some of our biggest theaters have become a bedlam of noise, and the idea prevails that each scene must be interpreted musically, to the extreme. We are carried back to the Biblical days when the “sound of brass and crashing of cymbals” was music to the ears of the populace; when songs were loudly shouted and the “trumpets blared” out their motifs. Surely we cannot blame the photoplay for this retrogradation, but the fact remains that many orchestras do not accompany the picture, but play over it.

A scene depicting the grief of an aged mother is shown and the orchestra begins “Asa’s Tod” by Grieg, when “One Who Has Yearned Alone” (Tschaikowsky), “A Keltic Lament” (Foulda) or Lamento (Gabriel-Marie) would have been more reasonable. When they must fit a real anguishing death scene, they have used their loudest thunder and the scene becomes less impressive by contrast. Why use Il Guarany Overture for a picayune fight when one may need it for a terrible battle scene, or La Chevaukee from La Valkyrie for horsemen riding, when it may be used for the stirring onslaught of rushing cavalry charges. The many beautiful selections, specially arranged for strings alone, are seldom, if ever, used in large orchestras. Yet they are most effective, easily procured, and provide a charming change of color, that soothes the ear. It is a grave mistake to use dynamic numbers that overshadow the scene depicted. Each selection sticks out like a sore thumb and the attention of the patrons is detracted from the picture entirely. Losing for the moment the thread of the plot, they sit back and listen to the concert.

Many leaders try to fit every passing scene or “flash back” and provide a choppy, meaningless mélange that irritates the audience. Each scene or series of scenes always has a predominant thought or motif behind the action shown. It is the thought which should be portrayed, and if a “flash back” occurs it does not signify a change in the dominant emotion. Thus the music should continue until a complete change is established. For example, a father is dying and longing for his only song. We are shown in a “flash” the dissipated son, drinking in a saloon. This lasts for 15 seconds and returns to the death bed scene. Sorrow is the dominant emotion and to change to a fox-trot for the “flash” would disrupt the continuity of the scene. The father dies, the family slowly leave [sic] the room with the doctor, and we are then shown an exterior of the home of the hero. This is the point to change the music to a lighter vein in keeping with what follows. There may be a series of scenes containing the same feeling, but distinctly separate and remote from the standpoint of action. In this instance there need be no change in the music to fit each scene; for, by using a long selection which portrays the prevalent thought, you get a smooth and true presentation. Cowbells, sand blocks, wind machines and traps of all description are frequently brought in at every possible excuse. In fact, a drummer is sometimes judged by his agility in handling, one after the other, every contraption around him. Legitimate “effects” have their place in re-enforcing the disturbances depicted on the screen, but when used continually become meaningless and a nuisance.

The fallacy lies in the fact that musical director tries to get as many big musical moments as possible into every film. The consequence is, that, taking the music in its entirety, you get the idea of a series of mountains and valleys, the latter being the incidental or neutral numbers (selected to give the orchestra a little rest) which, by contrast, become drab and meaningless. The photoplay, as the name indicates, is a play given upon the screen, and all the varied scenes and situations gradually lead to a climax. This may come at the finish of the picture, just before the end, or in the middle. Music should be selected with this point kept in view. The climax of the picture should be the climax of your music, though subservient to, and always below, the action. At no time should music predominate or stand out from the scenes shown. The entire setting should be graded up to the climax and down to the anti-climax. There are many examples of big scenes that would be accepted as the climax if the orchestra were not careful in its playing for them. Music must keep pace with the progressive strides of the picture industry. The time has passed when a job-lot of music can be dumped into the orchestra pit to be played for the picture. Music must fit each prevailing emotion (not dominate it), in tempo and character, and also in sequence with the preceding number, with due regard for what is to follow. Key sequence is necessary, to obviate abrupt discords in changing from one number to the next and to consolidate the many selections into a comprehensible whole. The entire musical setting should be built up and welded together; a perfect accompaniment to the picture, unheard by the audience but felt.

Leader Service Bureau. Questions Answered—Suggestions Offered.

Q. “Can music be procured for a saxaphone [sic] quintet in sufficient quantities to use for pictures?”

A. “No. There is little if any music written solely for saxaphones, but if you wish to introduce the instruments into your orchestra, the baritone saxaphone readily plays from a cello part, the alto from a clarinet part transposed and the soprano from the violin part. As an innovation we imagine it would be immense, but might become too ‘Jazzy’ as a regular thing.”

Q. “What is the best instrumentation of a seven-piece orchestra for a small theater playing pictures?”

A. “Piano, Harmonium, two Violins, Flute, Clarinet, and Cello.”

Q. Do you believe in changing the traditional tempo of a number to suit the scene?”

A. “Generally speaking, no—but if the scene is interrupted by a ‘flash back’ of a few seconds the music might be retarded or hastened to fit the flash, returning to the original tempo to complete the scene.”

Q. “Can I get a list of music that can be played free?”

A. “We refer you to our printed lists in the issue of November 10, November 24, December 29, January 12 and January 26. If you cannot readily procure these we will be pleased to send you a copy of them upon your request.”

Q. “I am anxious to study Harmony. What are the best text books to use?”

A. “The best is a matter of opinion. We should suggest ‘Harmony,’ by Prout, ‘Harmony and Theory,’ by Richter, ‘First Rudiments of Harmony,’ by Anger.”

Source: George W. Beynon, “Music for the Picture,” Moving Picture World 2 February 1918, 675.

No comments:

Post a Comment