Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Music Library

Here is a column S. M. Berg wrote for Exhibitor's Trade Review urging theater managers to acquire music libraries for the theater rather than relying on the musical director, pianist or organist to provide one. In the course of his argument, Berg offers a number of observations that provide much insight into the conditions and challenges of musicians playing in smaller venues. The article dates from early in 1917.

Carefully Selected Library Is the True Solution of
Proper Music for the Picture Theatre

Mr. Manager, do you insist that your operator provide his own machines, carbons, films, your doorman his own ticket chopper and uniform, your ticket sellers their own tickets or your cleaner his own broom and pail? If you provide these essentials to some of your employes [sic], why do you force your orchestra leaders, piano players or organists to provide their own music? Do you pay such royal salaries to these hard working but frequently oppressed, necessary adjuncts to your theatre, that you can demand continual outlay from their meagre salary for new music? Let us get down to facts.

The leading motion picture theatres in any large city today change their program at least once and not more than twice a week, demanding at the same time an entire change of music. The majority of these theatres have an orchestra, the members of which are in most cases union. The leader receives double the salary of the other musicians, which is admitted by the union to be a recompense for the supply of music, but the requirements of musical interpretation of the film necessitate such an enormous library that it is becoming the custom for the manager to pay for and provide the music which then becomes the property of the theatre.

Small houses, owing to the competition and their limited clientele are forced to change their program daily, which requires a change of music daily. As an example the Strand Theatre of New York City plays but 52 overtures a years, and yet the small house having a change of program daily must use 365 overtures in the year. On the same pro ratio for music for the film the small theatre should have seven times as great a library as the large theatre, owing to their continual daily change, but the question is, have they it?

Theatres throughout the country seating anything from 300 to 600 patrons depend for their music upon a piano player or organist. The average salary paid to these earnest, hard working musicians, is from $12.00 to $25.00 a week, making the average salary about $18.50 per week. Before beginning their day’s work they have to get a line on the picture, and prepare and assemble their music. A large per cent of these players are women. To fit themselves for the position many years of study and concentration were necessary, and then for nearly 12 hours’ service per day, 7 days a week, they draw the enormous salary of $18.50 per week, out of which they have to continually expend a considerable amount for music in order to hold their positions.

Compare this with any other branch of skilled labor for women. A girl at the age of 15 or 16 years leaves school and goes to business college, where she learns in about three or four months a fair knowledge of stenography and shorthand. After completing her course she is able to procure a position at about $7.00 or $8.00 a week, and if she exhibits any small intelligence is capable of doubling her salary within a couple of years. Does she have to provide her own ribbons for her machine, her books or her pencils to keep her position? Her hours are usually from 9 to 5:30, with a fair intermission for lunch and Saturday afternoons off, at least during the summer months, and no docking of the money which she has honestly earned.

Here is the manager’s problem: Let any manager seek a piano player. One of his first questions would be: Have you a library? and the answer is: Plenty of music. He then asks the pianist to play something. If it meets with his approval he engages the player. The performer comes on the job with a package of music, and the first day or two passes off splendidly. Towards the end of the week the manager notices signs of repetition in the melodies. He begins to complain. The musician promises to procure some new music next week, possibly after she has received her first week’s salary. On the following Monday she arrives with a smiling face and a half-dozen new pieces of music. Again, at the latter part of the week, the same story of repetition occurs, and again the complaint and promises of further music. Ultimately, after three or four weeks, the player is discharged and the same performance continues with new faces. Again I repeat, is it a fair thing that these musicians should be forced to purchase music from their own salaries week by week to hold their jobs?

Here is the solution: Music for the pianist costs on an average of 20c. per number. There are hundreds of pieces of music that can be bought for 10c. per number. Especially composed incidental music costs, on the average, 20c. per copy, and it is in very few instances that any piano part costs more than 30c. per copy. An outlay of $10.00 as an initial expense would give the pianist fifty compositions and further expenditure of $2.00 per week, at the expiration of a year would make a library of 600 standard numbers which could be repeated, without becoming monotonous or distressing to the audience, at intervals of once a month. Such an outlay as this is within the limitations of any theatre devoted to films, besides which the music then becomes the property of the theatre, and in engaging a player you would immediately show that you are interested in your musical problem. There could be no complaint of unnecessary repetition because you would know what material there is in your library. If the music was not satisfactorily performed, you would realize that your player is not competent for the position.

One must realize the importance of music for the film. The true solution of proper music for the picture is the theatre library, and until the theatre manager realizes this the problem of correct musical interpretation by musicians will continue to be unsolved.

Musical Suggestion Cue Sheets which I invented have been copied throughout the industry, and are of great help to players of the film. With a small but carefully selected library of music they are invaluable and will solve the problem of “Musically Interpreting the Picture,” together with “Better Music for the Film.”

Source: S. M. Berg, “Music for the Photoplay,” Exhibitor's Trade Review 6 January 1917, 352.

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