Saturday, July 4, 2009

Selecting Appropriate Music for the Film

This is Berg's second column of Exhibitor's Trade Review. Notice that once again he is concerned about "overplaying" and about music not distracting from the film. Here, he also worries about how to make proper transitions from one number to the next so that an impression of continuity can be maintained.

Selecting Appropriate Music for the Film
Takes Skilled Musicianship and Experience

The purpose of this Department will be primarily to assist the musician in the solution of the thousand and one problems which arise in the course of his daily work. A difficulty to one musician is a difficulty to another, and if you will write your troubles, an answer through these columns will be promptly given.

How to Improvise, Selection of Music, The Organ, Instrumentation of Orchestras, etc., will be a few of the subjects dealt with in these columns.

Hardly a day passes without some inquiry on what music to play for the film, and in all my ears of experience, I have never been able to answer this question to my own satisfaction, let alone the satisfaction of the correspondents. The reason for this is that one cannot judge the ability of a correspondent as a performer, from the inquiry. As an example, I recall a few months ago, I was asked to recommend a player of the film, a list of suitable music, bearing in mind a moderate expense as the position was not a high salaried one. I replied by asking he character of music the correspondent was able to perform, and learned such compositions as Chopin, Grieg, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, etc. On receipt of this answer I recommended a series of Albums containing threes composers’ works. Time elapsed and I received a letter from the publishing house I referred this customer to, telling me the entire collection of music which I had advised sending, had been returned, and that the postage had not even been paid. I heard later that the customer liked the music, but really wanted simplified editions.

Of course, there is the other side where the orchestra is composed of qualified musicians who are able to render with taste almost any composition before them. Fortunately for all, the industry has taken rapid strides. Good salaries are being paid so that meritorious musicians are now being attracted, and find the work congenial and entertaining. A serious fault, however, with qualified musicians is the difference in opinion as to the interpretation of the music. I do not mean the phrasing or temporizing, but the character of the selected music performed as a musical interpretation of the action displayed on the screen. Experience is the one needed requirement which qualifies a man for sound judgment on this work.

A few months ago, a new motion picture theatre was opened with a daily change of program. A well-known New York director was engaged as leader of an orchestra of 18 musicians. He possessed an extraordinarily large library of music and deservedly was acknowledged to be a qualified musician and director, but as a director of music for the film he was a total failure. His previous work for anumber of years had been as leader for a first-class hotel concert orchestra, where a number is performed and then a ten-minute intermission elapses. The real reason for his failure was in changing his selections according to the action of the film, and synchronizing.

There is not one per cent of leaders who give this important phrase of the work sufficient thought and attention. Within a few weeks I hope to be able to deal very thoroughly in these columns on this important subject of Music for the Film. Nothing is more distressful than to sit through a picture and listen to the music when every two or three minutes you hear the director tap his stand, the orchestra stop and start another composition. Earnest training of his musicians by the director can overcome this difficulty, especially where organ and orchestra is available. The solution is, of course: subdue the orchestra, cut the brass, then wood, and have the organist modulate by one or two chords to the next number. A little practice will conclusively prove that this is practical and will at the same time avoid distracting the attention of your audience from the picture.

Source: S. M. Berg, “Music for the Photoplay,” Exhibitor's Trade Review 16 December 1916, 138.

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