Sunday, May 3, 2009

How It Is Done at the Strand, Part II

In this column of his series, Harold Edel urges adding a short orchestral concert to the first matinee performance as a means of boosting attendance at the show. Also of interest in this column is how he much attention he gives to the proper mediation between "popular" and "high brow." Pretentious cinemas such as the Strand were in this way very active participants in the definition of middle brow music.

Much has been written and said on that ancient problem, “How can we build up the matinee business?” With the largest number of seats of any cinema theater in New York City, the Strand had a particularly hard nut to crack in solving this question. However, after trying various ideas and suggestions we have finally hit upon an original plan, the execution of which has made our afternoon business a source of no further worry. We are now able to point to our matinee attendance with pride and our orchestra is responsible for it.

It is my contention that every theater in the country carrying an orchestra can overcome the matinee slump just as the Strand has done. The answer is a high-class popular concert as an added attraction for the afternoon show. When we first announced our afternoon symphony concerts various people shook their heads and smiled. The result, however, is that the Strand Symphony orchestra is not only one of the most noted motion picture organizations, but it is classified with all the great musical concert institutions in the city. In other words, we have not only attracted to our theater lovers of photoplay plus good music, but we have brought to our house lovers of high-class music, people from the musical world who seek their entertainment at the most prominent recitals in the city.

When I say the Strand orchestra is classified with all the big musical organizations I mean just that. Through our symphony concerts we have enlarged our scope. We have gone into the world of high-class music. In the newspapers our activities are not confined to the pages or spaces devoted to the silent drama. In the columns devoted to music and read by many persons who never look at the motion picture departments appear notices and reviews of our orchestra and musical artists. In publications read exclusively by the patrons of high-class music we receive the same recognition. What is the result? New Yorkers who patronize afternoon recitals have become patrons of the Strand and have told their friends that high-class popular music at reasonable prices can be heard here.

With the engagement of Oscar Sperescu, the noted conductor, and the installation of a thirty-minute concert preceding our regular afternoon show we have attracted patrons to our theater that otherwise would never think of going to a photoplay entertainment. Among our afternoon audiences will be found prominent persons of the musical world enjoying the efforts of our artists. It is always said that the photoplay is the entertainment of the masses. This is true, but with extra effort it can be made the entertainment of the classes as well.

I cite the case of the Strand as an absolute denial to the feeling that a noticeable number of empty seats are to be expected during the afternoon performances. Every exhibitor should endeavor to seek new fields of patronage. In view of the fact that music is so closely associated with the presentation of the pictures, it is easier to reach out to the musical world in addition to the cinema world, than any other art. However, to do this, real orchestral entertainment must be presented and to the man who does not carry an orchestra this article is of little interest. To the exhibitor who has an orchestra I would suggest that he make an honest-to-goodness bid to the music public. Get a conductor of local popularity and engage him to direct your orchestra a half an hour in the afternoon. Get recognition in another channel aside from your regular motion picture field, but be sure you give them the right kind of music, which is the most important of all.

By the right kind of music I do not mean ragtime, nor do I mean music that is so “high brow” that no one excepting an expert would understand or enjoy it. The kind of music we offer is popular high-class offerings, with as much emphasis on the “popular” as on the “high class.” Selections taken from well-known operas, music familiar to the average person of any musical instinct at all, is the class of entertainment to present. Favorite selections done perhaps in a new way or introducing novel solo bits; this is the kind of music that will please the “high-brow” as well as the average person who likes musical entertainment. The Strand is not merely a photoplay theater; it is a place where music lovers as well as screen patrons may find real entertainment, and this has answered our afternoon attendance problem.

Source: Harold Edel, “How It Is Done at the Strand,” The Moving Picture World 12 January 1918, 230.

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