Friday, July 31, 2009

Illustrating Song Slides

This article on the illustrated song appeared in the inaugural issue of Moving Picture World. It was written by Charles K. Harris, composer of the mega-hit "After the Ball," which sold more than 5 million copies in sheet music, which long set the standard for sheet music sales. In this article, Harris addresses the production of song slides from the standpoint of a music publisher.
The art of illustrating songs with the stereopticon is now one of the features at all vaudeville performances; in fact, it has become one of the standard attractions. To illustrate a song properly often entails a large expenditure of money. The most beautiful illustrated song pictures are those having natural backgrounds. It is not always possible to secure such pictures, and backgrounds have to be painted and prepared with scenic effects. After all the arrangements for the scenery have been made, there comes the hardest and most perplexing part of illustrating a song—procuring the subjects to pose in the pictures. They are generally secured by advertising, and often several hundred applicants will be turned away before suitable models are secured. If the song calls for a beautiful child with golden hair, 95 per cent. of the applicants (brought always by their parents) will be black-haired, freckle-faced, snub-nosed youngsters. The same rule applies to adults. In every case, however, where the work is well done, beautiful children, pretty women and handsome men must be secured for some songs, while old men and women, representing types from the beggar to the millionaire, must be found for others. Everything, whether pathetic, sad or comical, must seem real and perfectly natural. Interiors must also be furnished for the occasion, special costumes must either be made or hired, and often the models must be taken long distances to secure harmonious surroundings. All these things cost large amounts of money and often before the negatives for from fifteen to twenty-five slides have been secured the expense has amounted up to hundreds of dollars. In the case where large numbers of negroes posed in a cakewalk for a new song which I have illustrated, entitled "Linda, Can't You Love Your Joe," it was necessary to send photographers as far as Alabama and Tennessee, there to remain until the real Southern negro was rounded up and asked to pose for a picture:. At least sixty subjects were used in this one set, and their services cost money. The cost of this set of slides has exceeded one thousand dollars. This gives an idea what it costs to illustrate a song properly.

Often the most expert of song illustrators sometimes fall into error and incorporate ridiculous incongruities in their pictures. I have noticed a certain song, by a well-known publisher in this city, where he has a wedding party dressed in costumes of the eighteenth century issuing from a church of the very latest packing-box style of architecture, yet if he had taken the exterior scene of the church four or five away from where he took the photograph, he would have found an old Dutch church whose picturesque exterior would have been in absolute harmony with its subjects. There are many song illustrators who do not take the trouble to make their pictures harmonize with the sentiment of the songs. They never go to the trouble or expense of posing a song; most of them, in fact, know little about the art of photography. They illustrate their songs by passing off upon the public a hodge-podge of old engravings which they have picked up in the old print shops and picture stores. A great many of these song illustrators are found mostly in this city, and Philadelphia also has its share. Some of these cheap slide-makers are pirates in a small way. As soon as some reputable slide-maker brings out a new set of song slides they manage to secure a set, and after washing the paint from the picture until the slide is left plain, they proceed, at the cost of a few cents, to copy by the “contact process” the work which has cost hundreds of dollars. They then proceed to flood the market with wretched imitations of the original slides at less than one-half the price. Even copyrights on pictures do not deter them from stealing, as they have nothing to lose and to prosecute them under the present copyright aw would only be throwing money away. But the new copyright law changes all that and makes it a misdemeanor for any print or picture containing the word “copyrighted” to be used by any person or persons whatsoever without the consent of the owner of the copyright.

Singers as well as managers are now alive to the fact that a poor set of slides will do them more harm than good and managers of theaters are quick to recognize a first-class set of slides, as they must cater to ladies and children, and it is to their interest to see that their patrons get the best the market affords.

My new song entitled “The Best Thing in Life” (which is being illustrated by A. L. Simpson of this city) will revolutionize the slide industry. This set contains twenty-eight slides; in fact, is a drama in three acts. The song takes you from a club room crowded with club members in full evening dress, to Broadway, Fifth avenue, Madison Square, and to the principal points of interest in the city of New York. It was also necessary to secure a snowstorm scene for this set of slides, which was taken at night several weeks ago, corner of Forty-second street and Broadway, during the great snowstorm, and is an exact reproduction of same, which will no doubt create a sensation when thrown upon a canvas. At the present time I have a staff of photographers in Florida, where they are now posing my latest Southern pastoral song, which will also no doubt be appreciated by both the singers and managers of America.

To illustrate how hard it is to sometimes secure a scene or a certain subject, I have sent photographers to San Antonio, Texas, to get the “real thing,” which was a cowpuncher and his cabin for a song entitled “The Star and the Flower.” It would have been easy enough to get some stage setting in some photographic studio and get some person to represent the cowboy, but I preferred to send where I could get the real thing. In another scene a herd of cattle grazing was necessary. To secure same, photographers were sent into Wyoming Territory and there secured the finest slide ever thrown upon a canvas, which always receives a great round of applause. For my child song, “Hello, Central, Give me Heaven,” it was desirable to photograph the interior of a metropolitan telephone exchange. The officers in charge of the centrals are by no means anxious to have their switchboards photographed, and do not cater to curious visitors; but, as I was on friendly terms with the director of the Chicago Telephone Company, by his courtesy a camera was allowed to be introduced in the operators’ exchange one Sunday morning and the necessary pictures were secured. Sometimes it is necessary to take an entire theatrical company to certain parts of the city, paying them their regular price, to pose a series of illustrations on a farm or in a any vicinity where the scene is cast. A great many of my personal friends often assist in posing, but I have found it more satisfactory to engage or accept the kindness of actors and actresses, as they understand the art of posing much better.

Publishers should take a personal interest in their slides; the slide manufacturers would then be more careful. As it is, some of the publishers take a new song and hand it to an illustrator, with instructions to go out and make a set of slides for same. They forget all about it until they see the slides flashed in some theater, and are then horribly disgusted and disappointed. They have only themselves to blame. If they would have given a little time to the illustrator to see that he got his work in harmony with the song, they would get much better results. Each and every slide posed for any of my songs is under my personal supervision. A great many times one hundred and fifty negatives are taken of one set of scenes to secure sixteen slides. No set of slides is ever placed on the market unless O.K.’d by myself. Once they are there I am satisfied that the public, the managers and the singers have what they paid for.

Source: Cha[rle]s K. Harris, “Illustrating Song Slides,” Moving Picture World 9 March 1907, 5-6.
Image source: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Music Ads, 1910

Here is a page of music ads that appeared in Moving Picture World in October 1910. Notice that the vast majority of the ads are for sound effects and automatic instruments.

(Click on the image for a larger version.)

From Hearing the Movies

Source: Moving Picture World 8 October 1910.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Playing the Story versus the Details

This week, Clarence Sinn continues his campaign to get musicians to play to the story rather than the details. His basic principle is this:
don’t pay too much attention to the details and accessories of a picture unless they have an important bearing on the scene or the story. Rather, try to grasp the impression the picture is intended to convey and give that all the assistance you can.
For the musician, this means figuring out what not to play as much as what to play. Sinn's analysis of The Dixie Mother is exemplary in this respect. He notes how it is best to ignore, more or less, the scenes showing the reunion of the father, son and daughter-in-law so that the music can focus on the continuing concern of the mother, who should be the actual focus of this part of the film. The scenes with the father, son and daughter-in-law are in this respect incidental to the larger point of the story, which is centered on the mother. Playing to the mother's point of view, then, is a way for the music to reinforce this structure of the story.

This is the last music column for 1910.

I have noticed a tendency among some pianists to play to the details of a picture rather than to the story itself. While I do not wish to pose as a fault finder to those who are conscientiously endeavoring to fit their pictures correctly, I must again point out the importance of carrying out the general impression which the story is intended to convey. Our photoplays are often composed of short and rapidly changing scenes and at first glance an alert mind will frequently note the most conspicuous object and give it an unmerited prominence. He thus throws his picture out of balance and destroys an impression he might otherwise have retained. I am speaking particularly of those stories which are on the sympathetic order. The music is an important factor in these, and can help or mar the picture according to whether it is applied correctly or incorrectly. To make my meaning clear, I will cite as an illustration a recent release “A Dixie Mother.” In the first part of the story (which is laid in the time of the Civil War) one of her sons is killed. The father vows eternal hatred to the North. After the war is over the other son marries a Northern girl and is thereby cut off from his parents. These incidents develop toward the one point, viz.: the Spartan mother’s pride has kept her silent, though her heart is hungry for her boy. Later she receives a letter saying her son and his wife are waiting at a nearby station, asks for a reconciliation, and that a carriage should be sent for them. The father refuses, but finally, unknown to her, he relents and drives away. The next scenes alternate quickly, showing and despairing and half crazed “Dixie mother” and the carriage on its way; its arrival, the meeting between the father and son, the return trip and the arrival at home. This journey is shown in a number of scenes, and after each one the mother is shown. The whole picture is full of pathetic Southern tunes, and when it comes to the latter part of it your audience should be keyed to that pitch where the tears come easily. From now on keep them there. Run a plaintive from the letter scene until she comes into the room where the cradle stands. Change to the theme you played in the first part when her dead boy was brought in (“Massa’s in the Cold Ground” will answer) as her memory has gone back to those days, and hold this theme to the finish even though the intervening scenes are of a different character. The meeting between father, son and daughter-in-law may not look pathetic, nor the drive forth and back, but you are not playing to them; they are only details whose sole value lies in their relationship to the central idea. You are playing to the “Dixie mother” and all the interest about her must be sustained; a stop or a change in the music would break the tension, which is something you have been trying to hold throughout the latter half of the picture. At the “tag” or finish of the picture you may change your music or simply swell to forte without change as you see fit. It is immaterial.

“The Lesson,” though not so deeply emotional, is worked along similar lines. You open the picture with something of a quasi-plaintive character (“Apple Blossoms” will do) which will play until the son’s return home. Pause until he enters room of his father. Pathetic until the sister finds him in barroom. Agitato for the struggle, then pathetic till the finish of picture.

The points I am trying to bring out are these: don’t pay too much attention to the details and accessories of a picture unless they have an important bearing on the scene or the story. Rather, try to grasp the impression the picture is intended to convey and give that all the assistance you can. I saw a picture last week wherein one scene opened showing an empty chair in the foreground. Though the most conspicuous object in the scene, this chair had not more to do with the story than the clock on the wall, yet because it was so plainly visible the musician switched to the “Vacant Chair.” Had this chair been placed there to suggest a dead or absent one, and had the action carried out this suggestion the music would have been correct. As it was, it was absurd. Another instance I heard when the judgment was at fault—this time it was playing to the costumes of the characters instead of the action of the play. The story introduced a couple of Spaniards in a prominent way and their presence was always a signal for a Spanish waltz or habanero, with tambourine and castanets. In the lighter scenes this was all right enough, but in some of the dramatic scenes it was wholly out of place. One does not usually associate dance music with either a fight or a death bed—though had the characters in question heard this particular music they might have fought and died in earnest. A priest was hearing the confession of a dying woman, and because of her Spanish dress the castanets clicked all through the solemn scene. These instances are bona fide. There is no need to mention where I heard them as such things are of too frequent occurrence. It is only another instance of observing unimportant details and overlooking the essential points; errors which occur oftenest among those who are sincerely trying to work up their pictures correctly and really believe they are succeeding.

* * *

I am in receipt of a letter from C. J. Alden, Orpheum Theater, Bizbee, Ariz. Brother Alden believes in the superiority of the orchestra in working up pictures and speaks of his own experience. I am sorry I cannot quote the letter as it is a lengthy one as well as interesting. However, he makes two points which I will hand out to the constituency. I quote his words: “It must be remembered that there can be but one leader in the pit and he must be the pianist.” And again: “I was instrumental in placing the orchestra in the Royal Theater, also the Orpheum, in this city. The orchestra was tried as an experiment in both places, and now neither manager would be without one. Good work, Brother Alden. As to your first assertion (as herein quoted) it all depends. W. E. King, manager of the Orpheum Theater orchestra, Chicago, has two violinists (Messrs. Kipkowsky and Teller) each of whom “dopes out” the picture on his own shift, and their work looks pretty good to me. At that I believe your method would work out best in most cases. I would like to hear from some of the rest of my readers and learn what they think of it.

Clarence Sinn, “Music for the Picture,” Moving Picture World 31 December 1910, 1531.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Patriotic Airs and Other Tips

Clyde Martin's column this week is again rather amorphous, and it must be said that he seems in a rather surly mood. After taking issue with the use of the flag for assuring applause, Martin prints a letter from one reader, which he forthrightly calls "foolish question No. 999." The more I read Martin and the way he freely berates his readers (especially in comparison to Clarence Sinn), the more I wonder that his column lasted as long as he did.

It has only been in the last couple of years that any strides have been made towards playing the pictures and it has been just the last few months that musicians have awakened to the fact that they have a world of opportunities before them if they can master this new profession.

Last week, while we were running the Vitagraph picture "The Statue Dog," the release of November 25, it occurred to me that it was just such a picture that got me into the notion of making a study of playing the pictures. It was about four years ago, I was playing in one of the first picture houses in Denver, and if I remember correctly the name of the film was "Crayano." It showed a cartoonist drawing sketches, I think the first sketch was that of an Irishman, and I played "The Wearing of the Green." The second sketch was that of a dog and I played "Oh Where, Oh Where Is My Little Dog Gone," and there were several other sketches where such music filled in very well. Then at the close of the picture the cartoonist made a drawing of Col. Roosevelt, and of course I was there with "Yankee Doodle," or something of that nature, and naturally the house went into hysterics when the Roosevelt picture was completed, and I took credit for half of the applause (this was four years ago) at any rate I was "mut" enough to believe that the audience was showing their appreciation of my work. Although I have learned better since, I was innocent of the fact at that time, that half of the rotten vaudeville acts and some of the manufacturers of motion pictures would unfurl the American flag at the end or climax in order to get a hand. At that, I am glad that my conscience did not hurt me at that time, for it put me in the notion of watching for points in the pictures where I could use appropriate a music, and I trust that the Vita¬graph picture of "The Statue Dog" will have a tendency to start more beginners into playing the pictures.

In "The Statue Dog" several opportunities present themselves where short strains of popu¬lar tunes can be used to good advantage. When the title "A Rah Rah Boy" comes on, you can play "He's a College Boy" or "College Boys," then comes a title "2 A. M.," you can play "We Won’t Go Home until Morning," and when the title "Kelly” comes on you can play “Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly." But when the dog is shown holding the American flag, we have a subject that must be considered.

When the American flag is used in a picture, the average piano player falls into the first national air that comes into his mind, this is very well as far as your own patriotism is concerned, but if you will play something else in such a scene, and let the flag take due credit for the applause I believe you will be handling the situation in the proper way.

Of course, there are certain pictures like the Pathe picture the "Clemency of Abraham Lincoln" where national airs have been used throughout the picture that it is very appropriate to use them when the flag is shown as well. But the pictures I have reference to are such pictures as "The Statue Dog," where the producer has resorted to such unprofessional means to "pull a picture through."

I once knew of a fly-by-night vaudeville act that was so rotten it would have been hissed off the stage had it not been that they closed their act by letting down a big drop, on which was painted the American flag. When the audience saw the drop they gave it (the drop) a big hand and the vaudevillians took several bows. At the end of the week the manager, on the Saturday night show, had his carpenter put a sign on the drop reading "Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue, not the act,” and I believe the performers took eighteen or twenty bows that night before they discovered the sign on their drop.

This week I received a letter from a piano player, asking foolish question No. 999 "What can you play for dramatic pictures, can you give me a list of selections that won't make the work so tiresome?" Here is my answer: "If you find the art of playing the pictures becoming tiresome to you, don't undertake a profession that means work afternoon and night. If you would really make a success at playing the pictures, your work would be a pleasure and not a burden to you. If you have some relative in politics that can get you a job in the city hall, there's where you will be a shining light, or if you have money, go to Florida for the winter and take a rest, anyone that would write such a foolish letter either needs a rest or an examination."

I have received a large number of such foolish letters. and then I have received many letters giving practical tips and asking reasonable questions, and I am glad to hear from musicians at any time and be of any service possible.

A piano player that plays the pictures knows that it means hours of hard work, but if they are heart and soul in their work and are looking forward to a future, they will find their work to be a pleasure and not a drudge. If the work is a drudge to you, you had better get off of the job and find something "easy."

I cannot see why playing the pictures would be a burden to any musician. If you are playing for vaudeville, you are obliged to play as the act wants you to, if you are doing concert work you are in a rut, the same thing week in and week out. But picture playing offers something better. You have a large field, you have quite an assortment of subjects, you have no one but yourself to fight it out with. What more can you ask I was really glad to get such a foolish letter, for I never believed there was anyone with musical ability that found their work to be a burden.

Did you ever notice that the stars on the legitimate stage usually "get a hand" at their first appearance of the evening? This is just as true with the ten, twenty and thirty-cent attractions as it is with those higher up. Each have their own class of admirers. It is just the same with the motion picture star, yet, have you ever tried to "work up" the entrance of Florence Turner, Alice Joyce, or any of the stars of the picture world? I have, and have met with success. I make it a point to "work up" the entrance of the popular stars and it never falls that the audience give them a round of applause. It is true this is a small point, but, I believe, it makes the audience more enthusiastic in the pictures and has a tendency to make more admirers of the silent drama.

If you have any suggestions in this line, if you have discovered any new way of "working up" scenes, just drop me a line and I assure you any pointers win be appreciated by readers of The Index, as well' as myself.

Source: Clyde Martin, Playing the Pictures, Film Index 31 December 1910, 12.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Dialogue and Video Games

This is an extended trailer for the forthcoming video game, Star Wars: The Old Republic. I found particularly interesting the aesthetic attitudes expressed toward sync dialogue: that it is the most effective means of player "immersion." I don't really agree with that claim (I find ambient sound effects and music much more immersive), but I do think the large amount of sync dialogue will make for a somewhat different player relation to narrative.

Friday, July 24, 2009

General Issues in Accompanying

This week's column by Sinn is fairly amorphous. He begins recapitulating his general classification of genres and gives some more detailed suggestions for playing scenics and Shakespearean tragedies. Sinn then answers some general queries from his readers. In this column, he also offers his column as a forum for discussing problems of accompanying moving pictures: "I should like to make this page a sort of meeting place where we can all get together and exchange views for our mutual benefit."
"A. J. O." writes a long and complimentary letter in the course of which he voices a wish in which we all share. He says, "I want to know how to work up pictures correctly and the proper music to play for them." His question is natural—we all want to know the same thing. As I said in the beginning, I shall try to give helpful hints on this subject, but from the very nature of the thing, these hints can only be along general lines. An unreleased picture is an unknown quantity and we don't know what music to play for it until we have seen it, but when we do see it we should be able to classify it at once. My third article contained a classification which, though by no means complete, is sufficient to meet the ordinary run of pictures. A purely scenic picture is easily recognized, and though these are not easily "worked up" in detail as you would a melodrama, still they often provide opportunities for musical coloring. For East Indian or Hindu scenes "The Star of India" (Bratton) is a good number. It is also effective in African and jungle pictures generally. Herbert's "Oriental Dance" is another useful number. For Chinese pictures "The First Born," "Highlanders' Patrol" and "Chinese Serenade" are good. Medleys and patriotic songs of Europe are so well known as to need no mention here. When you have fitted a scenic picture with music suggestive of its own locality, and introduced all required sound effects, you have done all there is to do. If you don’t happen to have on hand the required piece of music, get as near to it in character as you can. Even if your picture is laid in Tangiers or Turkey, you could use one of the above in a pinch; it will at least sound characteristic and provide a novelty number for your program. (You know the concert idea of the program is not to be ignored.) If you have nothing characteristic of the countries shown or nothing that by a stretch of the imagination might be suggestive, play any concert number you like; but I earnestly advise you to provide yourself with something of this class as soon as possible. Oriental music and songs of other nations are in constant demand and your library surely should contain these. Industrial pictures seldom call for any special music, I've said that before, but it naturally falls in place here. Scientific pictures likewise. These give opportunity for selections or anything you wish which will round out your concert program. Now let us consider these three classes of pictures disposed of for all time (there is really nothing to suggest further as to their musical settings) and consider the others.

First on the list we find “Tragedy—Shakespearean order.” These abound in court scenes, royal and titled personages, combats, light comedy, and sentiment. A grand march (4-4 time) or a polonaise is ponderous and dignified and fits very well when the characters are gathering for a serious scene—a coronation for example, or a council or departure for battle. For the lighter scenes a gavotte or minuet is useful. “La Cinquantine” can sometimes be used as a fill-in. Any ordinary andante (except modern songs) will be appropriate for the pathetic and sentimental scenes. Battles and other combats of course call for “Hurrys.” If A. J. O.” will send me specific questions (in care of this department) I will be glad to answer them if I can, and if not, they can be passed over to our readers for suggestions. I should like to make this page a sort of meeting place where we can all get together and exchange views for our mutual benefit. So come on with your communications; make them brief and to the point, and if they require a personal answer don’t forget to enclose a stamp. I get a good many of that kind, and it makes an inroad into my postage stamps.

The common inquiry is for titles and descriptive numbers. Occasionally I can slip in a few names on this page, but a list of any length would completely fill it, and while it might all be for the good of the picture, it would not be practical to devote ourselves entirely to the advertising of music publishers’ wares. Such letters will receive personal answers if a stamp is enclosed.

“James T.” asks: “What should I play for acrobatic scenes such as Pathe gives us?” If you mean pictures of acrobats, [play] just the same as you would for a troupe of real performers doing a vaudeville turn. Give them a long chord or a flourish on each appearance and play a galop or lively march for the act.

"Jessie O. S., Chicago, Ill." inquires as to what should be played when the picture stops and a letter is shown on the screen. A letter, newspaper article, or any document or writing or printing which a character is reading or writing, is a part of the scene in which it is shown and whatever you may be playing at the time it is shown should be kept up until the action of the scene warrants a change or stop.

A few suggestions are appended for music to the following pictures "Elder Alden's Indian Ward.”

Lively till Indian enters;
Indian music till change of scene;
Heavy mysterious (bass solo) till change;
Repeat same number till change;
Indian War Dance (Belstedt's) till sub-title Thanksgiving Day;
At next change of scene, mysterious (pizzicato effect) till change of scene;
When Indian looks in window "heavy mysterious" (same as third number) till attack;
"Hurry" till death of Chief Squantum;
Soft Indian music till finish.

"The Golden Supper":

Gavotte till "After the Wedding,'' then
Anitra's Dance (by Grieg) till "Later," then
Massinet's Elegy till funeral procession, then
Chopin's Funeral March till Camilla moves hand;
Rubenstein's Melodie in F till "The Golden Supper."
Scarf Dance (short) till Camilla enters;
Short pause.
When Lionel sees Camilla, '"Oh Tender Moon" (from Faust) till end of picture.

Clarence Sinn, “Music for the Picture,” Moving Picture World 24 December 1910, 1465.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Advertising Music and Playing Parallel Editing

Martin begins this week's column with a suggestion to use music as part of advertising the theater. He includes a sample ad for his home theater in Keokuk, Iowa. Perhaps in response to Sinn's column the previous week, Martin then turns to the issue of playing to scenes with parallel editing, a common difficulty for musicians of the time. The basic question was: when scenes alternate, should the players change music to reflect the change in scenes or should they maintain the same musical number so as to avoid abrupt shifts in music. Finally, Martin ends this week's column with brief paragraphs on using popular songs as accompaniments and on whether music should be played between shows.
When you take in consideration the number of people that come to your theatre to hear the music as well as to see the pictures, you will agree with me when I suggest advertising your musical part of the program as strong as you do the pictures. Of course, there are things to be considered: if you have run over a certain reel and find it to be a poor production you would not think of using any printers' ink on advertising the same. On the other hand, if you have some good feature picture that will get you the money by using a few inches in the local papers, you will take a chance and boost that certain picture. It is the same thing with your music, if your musicians are making good with your patrons, they are as much of a drawing card as the pictures and should have their share of publicity.

Advertising is the life of any business if used to the best advantage, but poor advertising is worse that none at all and only proves a detriment to your business. If you have good musicians, people who are playing the pictures boost them the same as you do your pictures and you will soon find it will mean money in your pocket, for as soon as you start advertising your musicians, the patrons will give more attention to their work, and when your patrons awake to the fact that the musicians are playing the pictures, you will find that you have a permanent drawing card.

The advertising copy on this page is an example of the way the Dodge theatre company, of Keokuk, Iowa, boost their musicians, and I believe their method of advertising in the local papers has gone far towards building up the capacity business that continues throughout the entire summer and winter season.

It is true that different conditions prevail in different towns, and possibly it would be money lost to advertise a picture show in some localities; nevertheless, if you have never tried this method, a few weeks' advertising in your local papers would be an inexpensive experiment and might prove to be the upbuilding of your business.

You will find that the advertising will help you in more ways than one, for if the musicians see that you are boosting their work and featuring the music they will work harder towards playing the pictures.

During the past week I have received a great many letters from musicians and the suggestions and inquiries have been a great help to me as they have brought up many points that often arise in playing the pictures. I think the most important question was in regard to a scene in the Pathe production of "Abraham Lincoln's Clemency," the piano player called my attention to the scene where there is a battle raging in the background and to the front of the picture is the hero who has been mortally wounded. The question was, "Should you continue loud heavy music in keeping with the battle, or soft pathetic music for the death of the hero?" This is a situation that often arises, you will find such double scenes in many pictures, and as a rule I would suggest that you keep your music in touch with the central figure or attraction, but in this particular scene I would suggest that you have the drummer carry out the scene of battle by a roll on the base [sic] drum throughout the entire scene, and the piano player play appropriate music for the death of the hero, by doing this I believe it will be as near correct as the scene can be worked out, and I think the contrast in the music should make a very pleasing effect.

Since this scene has been suggested to me I recall a similar scene in the Kalem picture "The Touch of a Child's Hand." In this picture you will remember the scene where the insane father is shown on the porch with a knife in his hand, the audience is in suspense as to whether he is to kill the rich man or the child of the rich man, and the scene shifts several times, first showing the insane man on the porch then showing the interior of the rich man's home. As the scene changes so quickly and often, I would suggest that you keep up the creepy music through the entire scene. The creepy music in this particular picture and scene not only suggests the insane man's intentions when he is shown on the porch, but when the interior of the rich man's home is shown it suggests the danger that is about to befall the rich man or his child, and as they are unaware of the oncoming danger the music makes a great contrast to the scene.

The Kalem release of November 25 "The Roses of the Virgin" is a good example where popular selections can be used to good advantage. In the scene where Pierre's mother takes the roses from the garden it would be very appropriate and pleasing to play "The Garden of Roses," or "Just Like the Rose." Then at the close of the picture where the mother appears before the shrine you will find it will help the scene by playing "The Rosary" until the close of the picture.

In another letter I received last week I was asked to suggest some good music to play between the shows. This question is easily answered. I do not believe in playing between the shows. As a rule the intermission is very short, you will seldom find a wait of over six or eight minutes, during this short time the people are passing in and out and there is usually so much confusion and noise that I hardly believe music would be appreciated. I believe if you will take a rest during the intermission the audience will appreciate your work a great deal more when you start playing the pictures. In next week's article I will devote most of my space to answering the numerous questions I have received In the last couple of weeks.
Source: Clyde Martin, “Playing the Pictures,” Film Index 24 December 1910, 28.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Piano, Improvisation, and the Orchestra

Sinn bases this column on a letter from a correspondent. He takes issue with the writer's contention that piano and drums is a preferable combination to the orchestra for picture work. In typical fashion, Sinn suggests that each combination has its particular advantages and disadvantages, and it is up to the manager (and musicians) to figure out what works best for the house in question (given the resources, audience, etc.).

Sinn ends the column with a list of musical suggestions for "The Lad from Ireland" (Kalem). This sort of cue sheet will become a recurring feature in the music columns over the years; indeed, many weeks the music column will consist of nothing but lists of such musical suggestions.

Manager Ernest Buchwald, Ballinger, Tex., writes : "Dear Sir—Your article, Music for the Pictures, in the Moving Picture World is very interesting and of great value to piano players as well as to managers and I wish to congratulate you on same and hope you will keep up the good work. For the past seven years I have made a special study of playing for moving pictures, and my experience is this: it is nearly impossible to use an orchestra for moving pictures, as I experimented in my own house, and the nearest and best results was with piano and traps. . . . Whenever it comes to the point where managers realize the value and necessity of good music, it will mean more money to all parties interested—musicians, managers and manufacturers. I have more than tripled the receipts of a moving picture theater with big opposition, one house playing vaudeville for the same price of admission, the other being an airdome with the best location in the town. How was it done? Just simply showing good pictures and playing the proper music for them."

Thanks, Brother Buchwald, for your kindly appreciation of my humble efforts. I have quoted your letter at some length because it backs up by actual experience what the World has always advocated, viz.: that good and appropriate music for the picture is of financial value to the house employing it. Why not? It means a better show, and, other things being equal, the best show gets the money. As to the relative value between the orchestra and piano, that is a matter of opinion. Yours is based on your own experience and you are certainly entitled to it; but my experience (in both lines) compels me to believe otherwise. I had intended taking up this matter of orchestra work in a later article, and shall probably do so anyway, but a few words now won't come amiss.

In the first place, there are more ways than one of fitting music to the picture. I presume you refer to "impromptu" playing, improvising—"making it up as you go along." It's a good method, too, providing you have a good pianist with a talent in that direction, but many of us are not so endowed. I have nothing but praise for the genius who can at sight improvise music to fit the picture, to an extent he (or she) is a composer, and I agree that it would be difficult (though not impossible) for an orchestra to work along these lines. Now, so far as I have observed, the impromptu pianist starts his picture with something non-commital—a waltz, possibly—and watches the picture until there is "something doing;" then he changes his music to suit the action—abruptly, if necessary. This is correct, of course. When the action changes, he changes with it; when the action subsides and the story runs quietly, the pianist drops back to his waltz or whatever it was, or plays something else of a similar neutral character, until the action again calls for a change. Correct again. That's all there is to the proper working up of a picture so far as the music goes. (The sound effects supply the balance.)

As an illustration, let us suppose his first change of music is to a pathetic number, and on the spur of the moment he improvises a beautiful theme. Well and good; I've often heard it done. But the best of impromptu players may repeat themselves occasionally. Why not? If the number is attractive and he happens to remember it, why shouldn't he apply it to a similar scene next week or next month? And if he shouldn't happen to feel in the humor to improvise a fitting number on the spur of the moment, but happened to think of a little theme that somebody else wrote, why not play it if appropriate? If a storm scene is shown he can improvise if he wants to, or he can play the storm from "William Tell," if he knows it. That is pretty good descriptive "storm music" and there are other numbers which will also answer the purpose—often better than you can improvise on the spur of the moment. Do you see what I am getting at? The best of improvisors may call occasionally on other works than their own, and the more credit to them for doing it. No good moving-picture pianist will despise a good library whether he carries it in his memory or keeps it on a convenient shelf. And if he doesn't improvise at all, he can depend altogether on such a library, and do good work, too. I have heard it done. The difference lies here: if he hasn't a sufficient story in his memory he must reinforce it from the shelf at the first opportunity—and that should be at the end of the first show. I know there are a few managers who insist on the piano being heard incessantly, through the intermission as well as through the pictures, but this is thoughtlessness on their part sometimes. Those who look on the music as a "ballyhoo" don't care to have their pictures worked up, anyway. Music in the intermission doesn't interest the average audience particularly, and some consideration should be given the tired fingers and brain, of the musician if he is to do good work. Pardon the digression. We will say that during the first show the pianist has decided on the most appropriate music in his stock for the subjects to hand—of course he must know his library, but a little practice cultivates a good memory—and selects the proper numbers during the intermission. He must keep it in such systematic order as to be able to find it readily. After that it is mostly a matter of turning over the leaves. I grant you he will not read difficult music at sight and keep both eyes on the pictures, but even with a passing knowledge of his music he can give sufficient attention to both and he don't need to repeat himself oftener than the average impromptu worker—and I say this with all due respect to the latter. Now you see what I am driving at.

There are more ways than one of fitting a picture musically and I have mentioned two. The latter is a practical way for an orchestra to work. Each has its advantages. Each has something which the other has not. The impromptu pianist progresses from one theme to another by means of modulating chords and connecting phrases, thus forming a pleasing continuity which is difficult for an orchestra to simulate, though again I assert this is not altogether impossible. On the other hand, the orchestra has the advantage of instrumental coloring which is so valuable in descriptive music and sound effects.

But after all, your final results depend entirely upon the musician. He must take a lively interest in the work (which is fascinating once you get an insight of it) and try, try, try. And this, as you know, applies to the piano player as well as the orchestra leader.

Another thing: Not all pictures call for a musical setting of constantly changing themes; this applies mostly to dramatic pictures, and often of these one or two long numbers will suffice through the entire picture, maybe broken with a melodramatic number or two. Here standard music is certainly as satisfactory as the most gifted improvisation, and the orchestra can interpret that as well as the pianist. Scenic pictures demand music suggesting the countries represented—plenty of that on the market. Many industrial as well as other pictures do not admit of special treatment and are usually filled by a concert number of some sort—all the way from a "rag" to an overture. A varied musical program helps the show when it does not detract from it, and I believe interesting musical numbers should be included where they do not hurt the picture. In this, again, a good orchestra is more satisfactory than a good pianist.

I append a suggestion for working up a recent release, "The Lad from Ireland" (Kalem). It includes all standard stuff which can be handled equally well by either orchestra or piano.

"Killarney" till he meets sweetheart, then—
"Believe Me if All Those Endearing Young Charms" till subtitle ("Out of my heart forever") then—
"Come Back to Erin" till arrives in America, then— "Girl I Left Behind Me" till election scene, then— Lively music, soft, increase to loud till change, then—
"Kathleen" till change, then—
Waltz till he shows letter, then—
"Come Back to Erin" till train is seen, then—
"Killarney" till interior of cottage (eviction scene), then—
"Believe Me if All, etc." till he enters cottage, then—
"The Harp that Once Through Tara's Hall" softly, swell at finish.
(Or can play "Believe Me if All, etc." until flag' staff ap¬pears, then "Wearing of the Green" for finish.)

At another time I want to go into this matter in more detail.

Source: Clarence E. Sinn, “Music for the Picture,” Moving Picture World 17 December, 1405.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Working-Up a Picture

In this column, Sinn outlines a method for "working-up" a picture. This method involves identifying "the predominant theme of a picture and work to that." The idea is to make distinctions between what aspects of the film are essential to the articulation of this theme and those that are merely incidental to it. Music, Sinn argues, should focus attention on what is essential, allowing the merely incidental to fade into the background. More and more, the filmmakers will follow the same strategy with the image, shooting, framing, blocking and editing their subjects so foreground and background levels are always clearly distinguished and that these levels represent (and reproduce) a narrative hierarchy. (Continuity editing is one means film makers develop at this time to articulate the narrative hierarchy that carries the theme.)

Toward the end of the article, Sinn comments on parallel editing, which was a problem for the musicians precisely because the hierarchy was not obvious in the image but had to be extracted from the larger narrative. Parallel editing thus required musicians to subordinate the lines in parallel editing to some larger idea (usually, but not always, meaning that the action in one line was subordinated to that in another).

A dozen different pictures may represent a dozen different methods of working up. One may have a theme or motif which is constantly recurring throughout the picture, while in the next the musical numbers follow consecutively like a string of beads; any of the sensational melodramas work out in this manner—a march, a "hurry" and a plaintive; a waltz, a plaintive and a "hurry" make up the greater part of these. There is a reason, but we will take that up later. Pathe's "Isis" is well described by a single number (like Lorraine's "Salome") running straight through and interrupted only by the dance (for which use "Zallah," by the same composer). A stop may also be made for the harp solos if this effect is imitated.

Some pictures (like "Mr. Four-Flush") may have one "fill-in" running through while each description is of a different character; again, others may require a single descriptive theme while the "fill-ins" vary. In fact, nearly every picture which displays originality is apt to present a new problem which makes it difficult if not impossible, to formulate a set of rules governing all cases. As I said before, one must fix on the predominant theme of a picture and work to that. This theme always centers in the principal characters of the play. For example, suppose we have a love story laid in the time of the American Revolution and the principal character is a girl; the story is all woven around her—the things she does and the things that are done for her and because of her, form the plot of the play. Whenever she appears she is the center of attraction to the audience (and must also be so to you), and in these scenes the other characters are valuable only to the degree in which they affect her. Of course, when he is out of the picture, any character or incident holding the attention at the time is the dominant part. A General enters with a staff of officers. (Martial music.) An Indian messenger comes on, or a few Indians gather in the background. This does not necessarily mean Indian music unless they are to take an important part in the action. Otherwise they are simply accessories—pieces of stage furniture—and the General is the focal point of attention. In other words, you should not withdraw the observers' attention from the important parts of the story or direct it to the unimportant parts. But whenever an element enters which has a bearing on the story, cater to that if you can. Sound effects are often given which are directly opposite in character to the descriptive music, and yet enhance the value of the picture. The heroine is in the foreground weeping—the passing army in the background. Pathetic music for her, soft drum taps for the marching soldiers. A single soldier passing would not be of sufficient importance to direct the attention to him. A minor character be he soldier, Chinaman, Indian, or anything else is ignored unless he has a direct bearing on the scene.

Permit me to digress a moment to speak of Indian music. The question has been raised as to whether an Indian “tom-tom” should accompany all Indian music. I believe it should in most case, but always softly unless otherwise called for. The instruments in a picture-show orchestra are used for two-fold purposes, viz.,: to provide music and furnish sound effects. When he is imitating some instrument of a like nature, the player is producing a sound effect, and his instrument should then be made accordingly conspicuous, but only then the Indian music is descriptive and the “tom-tom” adds greatly to its suggestive character, but discretion must be shown in this as in all other things. It might be left out of a love scene (Indian). In the case of the “sleeping Indian village,” referred to in a previous issue it seems to me that if such a scene suggested perfect quiet, the “tom-tom” would be entirely out of keeping. Query: Was Indian music really essential to the scene? In a recent release, “His Sergeant’s Stripes,” Indians play an important part, yet the dominant note in the picture is the soldier’s devotion to duty and centers about the dispatches he carries. Instead of accentuating the Indians’ presence with Indian music, work up the motive with something of a mysterious and threatening character. To exemplify further the difference between “sound effect” and descriptive music: Suppose the orchestra (or piano) is playing pathetic or other music incidental to the scene—this is descriptive and merely accessory to the picture. A character enters the picture, seats himself at a piano and runs his fingers over the keys, the pianist in the orchestra imitating him. This is a “sound effect” and is a part of the picture. The difference, between the “accessory” and the “sound effect” can be made apparent enough if the musician uses judgment. The same thing applies to other instruments in the orchestra if there be others. And here let me digress again to say that I hope the time will soon be here when it will be the rule rather than the exception for moving picture orchestras to be composed of enough instruments to describe ordinary pictures. Imagine the “Swan Song” or “The Violin Maker of Cremona” without the violin sound effects. Nearly every battle scene (and they are common enough) needs trumpet calls. W. E. King's orchestra (Orpheum Theater, Chicago) not only has a sufficient number for ordinary effects, but the management has provided a mandolin attachment for the piano, permitting of imitations of mandolin, harp, guitar, etc., and a reed organ which is useful not only for organ effects, but gives us also the hand-organ, accordion, mouth-organ and bagpipes, besides being frequently used in pathetic and religious scenes as accessory music when no instrument appears in the picture. But to return to the subject in hand.

Some pictures are shown in which the scenes alternate so rapidly as to make it impractical to change music with every change of scene. For example: A mother watching her dying child in one and the desperate father about to commit a burglary in the other. Ordinarily, the first scene suggests a plaintive and the second a pizzicato or mysterious, but here there is time to play but a few bars of each, not enough to develop the scene, and the effect of such skipping about would be absurd. Here comes the “principal motive” again. The father is turning burglar for the sake of the child. The child dominates both scenes. Therefore your pathetic runs straight through until a scene occurs which is long enough to permit a change of music if such be necessary. Again: We have a ballroom filled with dancers; you are playing a waltz. The heroine comes down to center or one side, her attitude suggestive of grief. A pathetic might seem logical at first glance. She is the dominant figure, the dancers merely accessory; but in this case they are equally prominent. She is in the ballroom, she hears the music and sees the dancers. Keep your waltz up, but subdue it, for it must partake of the nature of a “sound effect” as well as a descriptive. In this case a soft, slow waltz will answer for both. Should the dancers stop or retire, leaving her the stage center, a change in the music is permissible. Should your scene be outside of the ballroom yet in hearing of the music, your dance music is played softly—as a “sound effect”—until the scene grows sufficient in intensity to obliterate the ballroom from the mind's of the audience. Then work up to the scene.

Understand these are only hints and must not be understood to be ironclad rules. I am using these illustrations to induce you to look for the core of the picture and not the surface alone.

Source: Clarence Sinn, “Music for the Picture,” MPW 10 December 1910, 1345.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Traps and Effects

In this weeks column, Martin addresses the drummer and sound effects, with special attention to those effects that a small exhibitor would most likely need. Near the end of the article, he presents a couple of pieces of advice for the pianist: play throughout the showing of the picture and be sure to have exit music playing at the end of the show until the last person leaves the theater.
Since I have been conducting my article's in The Index I have received many letters from musicians asking suggestions for appropriate music for certain releases that have been booked in their theatres for some future date. It is very gratifying indeed to know that the musicians" in the better class of theatres are looking after the details of the picture music and bettering their own conditions,' as well as the conditions of the theatres.

I will be glad to receive suggestions at any time from picture musicians, and at any time I can be of service and give advice on appropriate music for any certain release I will do so either by letter or through the columns of the Index.

Last week I received an inquiry, from a Western exhibitor asking for a list of the most important traps and effects to be used by the drummer and behind the screen. From the tone of the letter I was led to believe the exhibitor was located in a small town with a limited number of amusement seekers to draw from, but was willing to take a chance at educating more picture fans by improving his show as much as his income would allow. I believe there are many more of the smaller exhibitors that are willing to spend a little money on effects, and for their special benefit publish the list I believe to be complete for the small town show.

On the drummer's rack I would advise, as the most essential effects,

Sand Blocks
Crash Cymbal
Wood Block
Tom Tom
Electric Door Bell

The balance of the effects should be handled from behind the screen, and you should make it a point to have a competent person in charge of the concealed effects, as the least mistake on the part of your effect man may ruin a scene or possibly a whole picture. The most important line of effects to be used behind the screen consists of

Baby Cry
Rooster Crow
Hen Cackle
Mocking Bird Whistle
Steamboat Whistle
Sleigh Bells
Tugboat Whistle
Locomotive Whistle
Horse Hoof Imitation
Train Imitation
Midway Musette
Dog Bark
Cow Bawl
Wind Machine
Auto Horn
Thunder Sheet

It is seldom that you will find use for some of these effects, but it is well to have them on hand. Take, for instance, such a picture as “The Legacy," that clever production, by the Vitagraph Company; just think what a help your tug and steamboat whistles would be to the scene where the old couple is shown on the ferry, crossing over to the New York side. The reason I mention this picture in particular, the first matinee this picture was run in our theatre, the effect man was on the job, but the only thing he had was one tug and one steamboat whistle, and the Hudson River was a very tame affair that afternoon. But after the matinee I searched the town over and scared up fifteen or twenty good whistles. That night everyone around the theatre with a good pair of lungs was on the job, and when the ferry scene came on, well, we nearly made the Hudson backwater to Albany. And the best part of it was the scene got a big hand and the picture caused so much comment the management kept the picture on and featured it for four days, matinee and night. This is what convinces me that the audience wants effects.

By the way, did you use a phonograph on the effect list when you run the Edison release of October 11? There was another chance for an inexpensive effect to make the hit of the show. Give them something different whenever you get the chance, and you will soon have them talking about your show, and when you get them talking you can get their loose change.

Another impressive effect that can be worked by the drummer is a roll on the crash cymbal. Don't run a good thing in the ground, but wait until you get such a picture as the Pathe release of Saturday, October 8, "An Indian's Gratitude," and in the scene where the Indian turns and falls over the 250-foot cliff you can make your audience stand up if you will give a roll on the crash cymbal. Don't work this on every little
fall; wait for a novelty like this Pathe picture and then you will take the audience by surprise.

The use of a thunder sheet is very seldom called for, unless you use it in such a picture as the Vitagraph release of November 19, "Francesca Da Rimini." Through the last scenes of the picture, during the approaching storm, try and work the effect of distant thunder, and then, when the cripple raises his dagger to kill, work up the scene with loud thunder from behind the screen, a roll on the crash cymbal is the drummer's end of the work; then, when the bolt of lightning strikes the lovers dead, muffle the vibration of the cymbal and thunder sheet so that the second they fall to the floor the house is quiet, and let the piano music fade away with the light on the picture. By handling the climax in this way It will be In keeping with the conception the producer hag portrayed.

A musician should never stop playing through the showing of a picture. This is a great mistake that you will frequently find in the big houses as well as the small ones. This is one reason why I say there is no orchestra that can play the picture properly, for the simple reason, the music of an orchestra is limited, and they are obliged to stop at times in the middle of a picture and wait their chance to go ahead.

This point was illustrated to me while on a short trip to Chicago. I happened to stroll into one of the largest picture houses in that city and I believe, there was a Biograph on the screen. When I entered I was surprised not to hear music. By the time I was seated I had come to the conclusion the orchestra was either eating their lunch in the pit or had sent a representative to the box office with a request for more money. I had still another surprise coming, for, at the finish of the picture every one in the orchestra sat up, took notice, and, as the last ten feet of the film passed through machine they struck a chord and went into the introduction of the illustrated song. I went from there to a five-cent picture house just a round the corner and found the same picture on the program that I had just seen at the larger house. The music at the five-cent house consisted of piano and drums, and when this same picture was thrown on the screen you would have been surprised to hear what that piano player made out of the picture. It is the same old story every place you go an orchestra either plays long andantes and waltzes, or they sit and watch the picture.

Another thing that should be remembered by the musicians: Don't cut your chaser short. If it is the last show for the evening play until nearly every one is out of the house. By doing this you send them away in good spirits. If you are running illustrated songs or a spotlight song in connection with the pictures, and you have a song that has made a hit with the crowd it is a very good idea to play the chorus over for a chaser. I figure if I can play a chaser that will have the audience humming as they leave the theatre I have won a good point. In my next article I will show how it is possible to advertise a picture in such a way as to help the musicians in their work.
Source: Clyde Martin, “Playing the Pictures,” Film Index 10 December 1910, 5.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Drums and Traps

Today we will take a break from the music columns. Instead, we have a reasonably long article by H. F. Hoffman on the role of drumming in the picture house. Though a drummer himself, Hoffman is somewhat ambivalent about how the art is being practiced in movie theaters. (This ambivalence would come out even more forcefully in the illustrations he drew to accompany Louis Reeves Harrison's "Jackass Music".)

Hoffman understands the role of drumming in general and sound effects in particular as serving the needs of the story. This has an important ramification: sound effects, he thinks, should be chosen to illustrate the main point of the story rather than on the basis of the fidelity to the image. This will become the classical paradigm that determines the practice even in sound film: clarity of the storytelling trumps fidelity to the scene depicted. In particular, Hoffman makes this statement:

It is almost funny to observe the diligence with which some prop-workers watch a horse when he comes into the picture. Every step is caught with a keenness that soon attracts the attention of the audience to the horse’s feet and way from the actors. The lover may be pleading with the Squire’s daughter to elope with him, during which the horse is grazing in the background, but nevertheless every step that horse takes must be faithfully recorded by the loud pop of a cocoanut shell, without regard whether the horse be walking on ground, gravel or granite.
Although the criticism ends with a charge of infidelity (the indifference to the surface on which the horse is walking), the main thrust of the Hoffman's remarks in this passage has to do with the way synchronizing the hoof sound draws attention to the horse, which is incidental to the story, and away from the discussion between the lovers, which should be central. In that respect, Hoffman is pointing out that, all things being equal, the appearance of synchronization has the effect of marking whatever is synchronized for foreground attention. This will prove to be an important principle for musical accompaniment as well.
"Drums and Traps"

I’m going to take a fall out of the man behind the drum to-day. Some weeks ago I took a fall out of the operators and they have never forgiven me. I do not despise the operator, because I have been one myself and know the ups and downs of it. Neither do I despise the trap drummer, because I am one myself. It was the drums that gave me my start in the amusement world, and it is to them, directly or indirectly, that I owe many fond memories and some knowledge of the world, both at home and beyond the seas. There is nothing I love better than to sit in a big band and go through a heavy overture, but I always seemed to be able to make more money doing something else.

The advent of the moving picture theater brought the services of tympanists into very sudden demand. The demand was greater than the supply, and consequently, to full up the gaps, many raw recruits were pressed into service. Most of them served their purpose by making a noise of some kind, and it is barely possible that among the lot there may be a certain percentage who will in time become first class performers. Therefore, in case this article is scanned by the old-time drummer, whatever I may have to say of an instructive nature is put down for the benefit of this new crop of tympanists and not to demonstrate any superior wisdom to the oldsters, although some of these, too, have their faults which may be mentioned therein.

There are two general classes of drumming; the regimental, or military, and the professional, or band and orchestra. For the purposes of this article we may as well dismiss the regimental in a few words. While it is the lower of the two classes of drumming, it is the best training school for future professionals that I know of, so far as technical skill is concerned. It does not make a musician of a man, but it teaches him how to handle his sticks. It teaches him the various beats and rolls, from the five to the eleven stroke, and other tricks that a man who considers himself a full-fledge should know, but at the same time a regimental course is not absolutely necessary. The close roll is the easiest to master and if you get that down fine you have your start for indoor work.

In drumming, as in every craft, there is a right and wrong way. It varies from the laborious thump to the skillful and sympathetic touch of the artist; the difference between the employment of mere muscle and brains. The drummer who executes well but does not know his notes is almost sure to be a thumper, or “athletic drummer,” as the wise ones say. The kind who imagines that the audience came to hear him and him only. His object is to drown the piano player and prove his worth by the amount of noise he can make and he always succeeds. Later, when he learns his notes, his noisy fault is apt to abide with him, and that is why we have so many irritating men behind the drums at moving picture houses. This is particularly true when he comes to playing the bells. On more than one occasion, in some of the biggest and best houses, I have listened to the most ear-splitting hammering on bells, ranking second in noise only to the circus calliope.

All this noise is unnecessary. The drummer must learn that he is only a subordinate item and should keep his proper place. The singer who yells his lungs out and the cornet player who blows his head off are much scarcer than the drummer who drowns out the pianist. The skillful man with the delicate touch can put life into a show that the other man would kill. The real drummer knows that a drum tap carries very far and he does not overdo it. If you watch him you will notice that his elbows never move; he can play for hours with nothing but the motion of his wrists, and his clean, even roll is like the patter of raindrops on a tin roof. He also knows the value of accent and is always playing with light and shade; short crescendos are his stock in trade and occasionally he gives his bass drum a moment’s rest instead of pounding straight through like a machine from start to finish.

When the finished player handles his bells he gets the sweetness out of them by his lightness of touch, and if he can keep the sound down to the tinkle of a music box the effect with the piano is very pretty. In like manner he handles his triangle, clogs, castanet, tambourine and all minor accessories, which are very musical if they are kept down below the battering point.

Sound effects come in for some of the most stupid handling of all, both by professionals and novices. The most abused of any is the horse-hoof imitation. It is almost funny to observe the diligence with which some prop-workers watch a horse when he comes into the picture. Every step is caught with a keenness that soon attracts the attention of the audience to the horse’s feet and way from the actors. The lover may be pleading with the Squire’s daughter to elope with him, during which the horse is grazing in the background, but nevertheless every step that horse takes must be faithfully recorded by the loud pop of a cocoanut shell, without regard whether the horse be walking on ground, gravel or granite.

[185] Without judgment in the use of sound effects they are worse than none at all. Where a sound will have a direct bearing and effect upon something that is happening in a picture, such as the ringing of a door bell, the shot of a gun, wind in a storm, etc., then by all means come in with it strong, but on the other hand, when you see a calf in the background of a pretty farm scene don’t detract from the acting by jangling a cow bell when it has no bearing on the picture. If your bass wants it, muffle it inside a box and you will get the right effect. The horse-hoof his all right for a run-away or exciting gallop, such as a fire apparatus in motion, but don’t overdo it. If you stop to think, a man walking on a pavement makes nearly as much noise as a horse and you do not think it necessary to imitate him at all.

I was lecturing once at a large theater that held a thousand people on the ground floor and it required some vocal effort on my part. Behind the screen they had a prop-worker who felt the importance of his position, very much to my discomfort. He never missed a horse’s step; every time a door closed he would rap on a box; the waiter’s tip always jingled on the table; the chickens out-cackled me; the cows “mooed” me into silence, and I was lost in the ocean’s roar. I said nothing to him because he was peevish and very jealous of his play-things. One evening we had the interior scene of a peasant’s cottage, and a painful parting between two lovers was taking place. All at once a bird began to sing with great violence. I looked at the piano player in wonderment and found him looking the same at me. “What’s that for,” he asked. “You’ve got me,” I replied, “I’ll go and see.” I found my friend with his cheeks and his eyes bulging out, blowing for his very life. “What’s the trouble?” says I. “The bird! The bird!” says he, without removing the whistle. “Where?” says I. “There!” says he, pointing triumphantly with a stick to a diminutive canary in a tiny wooden cage on a top shelf at the far corner of the room. “Good boy!” I cried, giving him a wallop on the back that made him almost swallow his blooming whistle.

If you err in sound effects it is better to err on the side of silence. Do not pay so much attention to trivial things just because they happen to be in the picture. Get in with the sound that ought to be there and play good drums for the rest. Furthermore, I notice that while many drummers imitate objects and animals very commendably, they seldom think of imitating a man. Whether they are afraid of the sound of their own voices or not, I cannot say, but there are many cases where a shout, a laugh, a command or a sneeze could be put in with the voice that are not taken advantage of at all.

In every craft the workman should have the best of tools and take the best care of them, but it seems to be the fate of drums, especially bass drums, to be at upon, rained upon, worked upon, generally abused and left to shift for themselves. Some of the drums I have been listening to at picture houses could be replaced by butter tubs and the audience would never know the difference. You may have noticed that musicians on all other instruments take special care of them and are ofttimes inclined to brag a little about the rarity of their particular one, which means that they have tried a good many before they were entirely satisfied that they had selected the best one that could be had. This is particularly true of violinist who guard their violins with jealous care and seldom trust them to other hands than their own for any reason whatever. Drummers are not usually so particular in this respect but the fact remains nonetheless, that the best results cannot be obtained with poor drums. It is not so much a matter of cost as in the constant trying out of different ones until the rare one is found. There is not one drum in twenty that is worth owning.

Bass drums in particular almost always escape proper selection, being often ordered by mail to be of a certain height and depth in inches, instead of being personally tested for the deep toned vibration which carries that resonant musical boom to the farthest corners of the auditorium, no matter how lightly tapped. Needless to say, that the bigger the bass drum the better.

There is a wide different of opinion as to the relative merits of single and double headed drums, among professionals, but in the last analysis I believe that it all depends upon the many who uses them. The two headed drum has a softer and more musical quality and is much the easier to play upon. The single headed drum is harsh and you have to change your style to get anything out of them. There is very little bounce to them and therefore to get a rebound it is necessary to strike hard, and in striking hard to much noise is made, so it really require muscular control and more skill to get music out of them than from the two headed kind, but they are fairly satisfactory when one gets used to them. The single headed bass drum is an atrocious failure. In the single headed tenor drum the vibration is small, but in the bass drum it is practically nil. One may as well have a barrel hoop with a skin stretched across, for al the sound you will get from either will be a dull, sickening thud.

By his cymbal you will know the drummer. After going the rounds and hearing the miserable chinkety-chink of the $1.50 brass cymbal it is a pleasure to come across a man who uses the real Turkish. The Turkish cymbal quivers and shivers for a full minute after being struck. It sings like a human voice and its song carries with a musical sweetness to the farthest corner. One of these coupled to a deep, full toned bass drum means a quality of tone that cannot be surpassed. One 12-inch Turkish cymbal will cost you in the neighborhood of $10, but you have my word for it that once you buy one you will cast away your brass or German silver, and love the song of the Turkish.

Pedals. There are many varieties, the principal fault of the majority being lost action. Nearly all of the knuckle joint pedals have this fault. One of the most reliable pedals is the old-time top rigging. There is no lost action to it and it answers the lightest touch of the toe with the most delicate response. On account of its bulk it is not used as much as formerly, but many old-timers still cling to it. A drummer must know his pedal as a mother does her child. There are no two in the world alike and it is difficult to get used to another man’s apparatus. The principal sin in the use of the pedal is that of smothering the drum and cymbal. As with the piano key, the reaction should be instantaneous so as to give them a chance to vibrate. The moment your beater strikes the drum and cymbal get it out of the way and let them sing, otherwise you get the same old chink-chink-chink that is the sure sign of a careless drummer.

Source: H. F. Hoffman, “Drums and Traps,” Moving Picture World 23 July 1910, 184-85.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Subdivisions of the Dramatic Picture

This week, Sinn continues his breakdown of the different film genres. In the previous column, he had given suggestions for the scenic. Here, he provides brief suggestions for "dramatic" pictures, which basically encompasses all fictional narrative film. He breaks the genre of film drama into ten sub-genres, each of which requires a slightly different approach and selection of music.
When Artemus Ward, the American humorist, toured the country with his panorama, more than fifty years ago, he hired local musicians occasionally to furnish music for his pictures. He told of one genius who played “Take Your Foot Out o’ the Sand” for the illustration of the children of Israel crossing the Red Sea, and “A Life on the Ocean Wave” for Pharaoh’s pursuing army engulfed by the waters. So the problem of appropriate picture music is not altogether a new one; the difference between then and now is in degree rather more than substance. It is not many years since stereopticon views occupied the position in vaudeville houses now held by motion pictures, and even then some of us tried to fit these pictures with music, though our efforts were limited. Waltzes and marches, interspersed with “Flower Song,” “Rock of Ages,” “Skeleton Dance,” with patriotic songs, was about as far as anybody got.

It is a long step from the old stereopticon views to the splendid moving pictures by our best producers of to-day. Has the music kept pace with it? In some instances—almost. But generally speaking—no. The fact is, the change has been so rapid that we haven’t fully realized our opportunities, but the moving picture musician will soon advance to a plane as distinctive in type as any phase of musical endeavor.

Our problems are more complex than they seem to be. We have no rehearsals; we know nothing of the pictures until we see them at the first show, during which we must “play something” and at the same time determine on the most fitting music. This entails good guessing and a good memory, and our compensation lies in the fascination of the game and a consciousness of work well done. To those who are good improvisers the task is less difficult, but, if one depends entirely upon impromptu stuff, he is apt to fall into a rut, and that spells “monotony.”

We have roughly classified our pictures as scenic, industrial and dramatic. The last has many sub-divisions: tragedy, farce, melodrama, drama, light comedy, burlesque, fairy tales, mythological, biblical and historical plays are the ones most commonly met with and each has its own type of music.

Tragedy (Shakespearean order).—Music is stately, massive and always serious. Marches in “four-four” time; heavy “hurrys” for combats and battles; gavottes and polonaise for “fill-in.” Dances in court dress are usually the gavotte or minuet. No waltzes, two-steps or anything suggestive of modern music. For pathetic scenes use standard numbers or ballads of the period.

Farce.—Lively, snappy stuff; rag and other marches; popular song choruses whenever they can be applied. All comedies should be worked bright and lively from the start to finish except where special points are to be made. For example, the funeral march in “A Live Corpse” heightened the absurdity of the situation, and a dirge or other lugubrious tune makes a comedy duel all the funnier. But, generally speaking, comedies (especially farces) move swiftly, and the music likewise.

Melodrama.—More or less of a sensational order. Get in all the local suggestion possible; “Cheyenne,” “Idaho,” etc., for the cowboy pictures; “Old Kentucky Home” and Southern songs for the South, and so on. Mot localities have a song written around them—if your audience knows it—play it. This class of pictures is the most common of all and calls for plenty of dramatic music. “Hurrys,” “plaintives,” “agitates,” and “sneaky” music abound. The contrasts are usually well defined and the changes of music are often abrupt. If you have the gift of progressing from one number to another with a few connecting chords, it helps. The “fill-ins” depend on the character of the picture. Two-steps, rags, waltzes, intermezzos and popular music generally. These pictures are the easiest to work up and the most showy for the musician.

Drama.—Quieter and more refined, but on lines similar to melodrama. Often calls for long and dainty numbers like “Laces and Graces,” “Cozy Corner,” etc. Sentimental and pathetic like “Apple Blossoms,” Simple Aveu” (although these numbers are good in all pictures). For “fill-ins” use waltzes, marches, gavottes, intermezzos, etc.

Light Comedy.—What is said of farce will apply here also. “Mosquitos Parade,” “Lobster’s Promenade” and numbers of humorous quality are useful.

Burlesque.—These are mostly European productions, and the range of subject is very wide. They are often of the “Humpty-Dumpty” pantomime order with gymnastics, clowns and quick transformations; the music is generally lively. For demons, magic, etc., J. Bodewalt Lampe’s “Vision of Salome” is fine. Th. Bendix also has some fine number in this line. “Hurrys,” mysteriosos,” are frequently called for.

Fairy Tales.—Waltzes, intermezzos and pretty, graceful numbers generally. Like the burlesque, these pictures vary so much that nothing definite can be suggested. Both kinds of pictures embody all of the elements in any of the others.

Mythological.—I have seen but few of these pictures, and they were of the Greek mythology. The music required was stately, interspersed with mysterious, weird and agitated music. They are serious pictures.

Biblical.—Of a dignified character throughout. Standard church music and sacred songs. Grandioso movements and ponderous marches in four-four time when marches are required. Nothing suggestive of modern times. An organ, even a small reed organ can be used with telling effect.

Historical—are martial, romantic and religious. They vary so much that little can be suggested further than to fit the time and nation when possible. Avoid modern music, especially waltzes and two-steps. Often they “work up” like melodrama.

The hints given here are of a general character only, as there can be no fixed rules applying to all alike. However, they cover the ground as far as they go. I have said nothing of the scientific and educational pictures, as they require no special treatment. Any concert music, as selections, waltzes, overtures, etc., will be suitable.

(To be continued.)

Source: Clarence E. Sinn, “Music for the Picture,” Moving Picture World 3 December 1910.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Indecent Pictures

This cartoon, which first appeared in the Chicago Daily News, was reprinted in Film Index. At the time, Richard Strauss' Salome was also creating something of a scandal, but because it took place at the opera house, the police did not intervene. The film industry would long complain about the double standard.

Clyde Martin's column of 3 December 1910 mentions the police action against the immoral picture shows.

Source: Film Index 24 December 1910, 26.

Problems with Illustrated Songs

In this week's column, Martin takes issue with the illustrated song, which he says is too often smutty. It's a bit odd that he should go after the illustrated song in quite so forceful a manner given that illustrated song manufacturers had been faithful advertisers in the paper since at least the beginning of the 1909. (The illustration to the right comes from Film Index 9 January 1909, 12.) Film Index also had as one of its regular features a list of recent slide sets released by various slide companies. In general, Martin appears much less aware of the wider industry needs than does Sinn, who is writing for Moving Picture World.

Toward the end of his column this week, Martin also mentions that pianos in theaters need to be worked on (and tuned) at least once every six weeks. He also recommends not placing a piano in a pit but, if at all possible, to put it on a stage, as this will allow the music to sound best.

You may say it is none of my business, when I dwell on the illustrated song question, but, as I told you before, when the audience leaves your theatre, having heard some of the trash that is printed in music form and offered by some of the best-known publishers, they say, “The pictures were fine, but the music was disgusting.” This throws as much blame on the piano player as it does the singer, and no matter what efforts the piano player has made to “play the pictures,” the music has been condemned.

I can safely say, that the song question in the motion picture theatres has had a great deal to do with the trouble that has been raised by the censorship boards in the different cities. I believe the songs that have been used in the picture houses have given the police and authorities more room for the action they have taken in their crusade against the picture business, than any picture that has ever been thrown on a screen. It is very gratifying indeed, to know that Chief of Police LeRoy T. Steward, of Chicago, has outlawed a number of these questionable songs, and I believe this has been brought about by the untiring efforts of C. P. McDonald, the Music Editor of The Show World. A censorship board has also been appointed by the city council of Springfield, Ill., for the purpose of barring from that city such suggestive songs.

Some of the songs that have been condemned by the Chicago Chief of Police are, “When I Get That Loving Feeling,” “Oh, You Devil Rag,” “Do Your Duty, Doctor,” “The Dance of the Grizzly Bear,” “Casey Jones” and “Her Name was Mary Wood, but Mary Wouldn’t.” The daily papers of Chicago have taken up the fight with the Chief of Police and I believe the time is near when the authorities of the different cities will see their mistake in condemning the motion picture theatre; they will find it is the songs and not the pictures that need to be censored. It seems that the police authorities have hit the nail on the head when they have started at the bottom of the evil, the publisher, and the first complaints were filed last Wednesday in the Municipal Court of Chicago against H. S. Talbot, a publisher, at 184 Dearborn street, charging him with distributing a song that has failed to come up to the standard of decency established by the police department under the city ordinances. It is the aim of Sergt. O’Donnell, of Chicago, to make the rounds of the cheap theatres and listen to the songs, and any he finds beyond the limits of decency, he will arrest the singer. I believe C. P. O’Donnell, of The Show World staff, should have the glad hand out for anyone that will make a crusade against the late popular songs that the writers have to resort to smut to make them popular.

Have you ever noticed, when one of these “smut” songs are used in a picture house, they always get a hand? And have you noticed the hand comes from the “rough necks?” If you are catering to the low element of your city I can think of no better drawing card than such songs as “I Love It,” “Company in the Parlor,” “‘Tis Hard to be a Lady in a Case Like That” or “That Lovin’ Melody Rubenstein Wrote.”

Has the time come that the publishers have to resort to such low, degrading stuff, in order to stay in business? It is a cinch the better class of people, the ones you are catering to, are not demanding this kind of “music.”

There is no way possible for the general public to get a wrong conception of the publisher’s meaning in these titles and words. The publishers are making every effort to make it clear that they mean just what they say, for some of their advertising matter is lower (if possible) than the songs. For instance, in some of the advertising matter for the late song “I Love It,” published by the Harry Von Tilzer Publishing Company, of New York, they say, “It is a little word, but can mean many big things.” Now wouldn’t this advertising look good on a three-sheet in front of your picture house? so the children could figure “it” out?

No, don’t put me down as a crank, I write this because I know what is good for the picture industry, and what is not. If you are obliged to put on this trash in your picture house, if you cannot find decent music, don’t cater to a family business, change your location, move to the slums and you will soon have a fat bank account.

Have you ever noticed, when the illustrated song comes on, the people either leave the theatre or start up a conversation with those around them? and then as soon as the pictures start the house is quiet again. I think this would be enough to prove to the exhibitors that the majority of the people come for the pictures and not the songs.

On the other hand, if you can get a god singer, one that can handle good ballads and classic music you will find your audience will greatly appreciate the music, and it provides a good relief for your program. I believe the songs in the picture theatre would have a better standing to-day if the managers and singers would have used better judgment in their selections.

If this keeps up, the illustrated song will be greatly injured and only spot light songs will be used. The fault is the carelessness of the slide rental agencies. They put me in mind of the fly-by-night film exchanges. I mean those that have not bought a reel of film for a year and are working on their original investment. The average slide renter is working on the same plan, when their customer has used their entire stock they give him repeaters until he gets next to himself and tries another. I recently saw a shipment of three sets of song slides from a house making a specialty of th rental business, with twenty-one slides, out of forty, cracked, and two of the chorus slides missing. Good combination is it not? first run film service and five year slide service.

Well, to get back to “Playing the Pictures” there is another great point that is sadly neglected, and that is, the care of the piano. I have found in visiting different picture houses, that nine out of every ten pianos are in need of tuning. I will say that the wear and rough use that some of them get, it would be well for the manager to have a piano tuner on his salary list with the average use a piano gets in a picture theatre, it should be gone over at least every six weeks but an expert, not a “dub.”

A great mistake that is made by many exhibitors is, placing the piano in a pit. When you place a piano in a pit, it deadens the tone, and no matter how hard the piano player works, his music seems to have a dull finish. It is much better, if possible, to elevate the piano, so that the tones carry over the entire house and it makes the work much lighter for the musician. If you have room to place the piano on the stage next to the picture screen, you will find it will give great results. Another inexpensive improvement is to remove the rollers from the piano and place a heavy glass insulator under each corner, by raising the instrument from the floor it will add greatly to the tone quality.

In next week’s article I will offer some suggestions of appropriate music for some of the notable releases of the last two weeks, such as “Sunshine Sue,” Biograph, “Woman of Samaria,” Pathe, and “Fransesca Da Rimini,” Vitagraph.

Source: Clyde Martin, “Playing the Pictures,” Film Index 3 December 1910, 9.