Monday, January 18, 2010

Playing the General Mood and Song Accompaniment

This week, Clarence Sinn gives his column over to two letters from readers. The first discusses the practice of accompanying films with an orchestra and the writer recommends playing for the general mood rather than the details. He also notes that one reel of the feature—Satan—was omitted at his theater due to time—a common occurrence throughout the silent era.

The second letter responds to Kenneth Aiken's article. The writer makes a case for using popular songs to play films with contemporary settings.

Mr. M. E. Schwarzwald, Bijou Dream, Chicago, sends the following: "As I promised you I am sending my program to the picture 'Satan.' Am sorry to say that owing to the length of this we were obliged to omit the second reel ('Satan in the Life of Christ'), but am told that it requires practically all sacred music. I wish to state that there parts of this picture I have not followed in detail—for example, the beginning of Part Three. I have made it a point rather, to get the longest selections I could which would keep to the general theme of the picture. I believe that I can make my music just as effective in this way as by always following the picture scene by scene, and therefore try to make as few changes as possible in order to keep from diverting attention from the picture. I think if one changes the music too often he is not playing enough of any one number to convey the theme of it to the audience, and by this appropriates a large part of their attention which should be given to the picture.

"From remarks overheard I gather that the orchestra most appreciated is the one that can bring out and accent the characteristic points of the picture without diverting the attention of the audience, rather than the one that constantly attracts attention by its noisy blare, quick changes of music and stopping too suddenly at times instead of trying to ‘weave’ their numbers gradually. Another thing I do not believe in, is that incessant grind heard in some theaters. I visited a house recently which has a three-piece orchestra and runs five vaudeville acts and two reels of pictures. The musicians instead of following the picture with appropriate music played a program of popular stuff. I noticed that the leader (pianist) never stopped from the time the picture started until it stopped—turning the music with one hand and playing the other. Being acquainted with the manager I mentioned this. 'Why,' said he, 'those are my orders; what is wrong. I want that music going all the time.'

"Very good, Mr. Manager, but one of a party sitting behind me from whose conversation I judged to be a regular patron, said: 'Good Lord! Won’t they ever quit. This is worse than having to listen to one of those piano machines.'

"Our manager gives us ten minutes' rest at the opening of each show and we find that with this small lay-off we can do more justice to our music than these 'on forever' orchestras, and no complaints from our patrons. What do you think of this?"

I shall offer no comments beyond stating that the Bijou Dream, like all downtown houses in this city (and most other large places), runs a continuous show from nine o’clock a. m. until eleven p.m. Regarding the long selections played, Mr. S. "humors" them more or less to fit the scenes, and in this way he often plays to details without chaging numbers.—[Ed.]

"Satan, or the Drama of Humanity" (Amrosio)
Part One.
  1. “Damnation of Faust” (can use storm scene from “William Tell”) until title: “The First Sin.”
  2. “Devil’s Call Galop” once, then:
  3. “Ghost Dance” (pub. by Will Rossiter) until end of reel.

Part Two.
(Sacred Music throughout.)
Part Three.
  1. Overture, "King Mydas" (Jacobs) once through.
  2. “Faust” Overture (Cundy-Bettany Co.—Carl Fischer’s Selection fits better, but is more difficult for small combinations) until monk falls asleep at table.
  3. Mysterious music; until monk and Satan leave monastery.
  4. Sumurun Intermezzo (pub. by Stern) until monk is shown behind curtain.
  5. Mysterious (37 Orpheum Collection) until Satan puts dagger in his hand.
  6. Agitato (43 Orpheum Collection) until man is stabbed.
  7. Semi-mysterious (51 Orpheum Coll.) until fight.
  8. Hutty (19 Orph. Coll.) until change.
  9. Mysterious-heavy (20 Orph. Coll.) until end of reel.

Part Four.
  1. Bright lively novelette until iron merchant falls asleep.
  2. Mysterious until devil appears in full dress.
  3. Waltz, “Druids Prayer” (Stern), until title: “Later Engrossed With Mary’s Love, etc.”
  4. “Perfume” (from suite “My Lady’s Boudoir,” Witmark), until end of scene.
  5. Waltz, “The Devil” (pub. By Emil Ascher), until end.
  6. (Last part of Part Four.)
  7. Waltz, “The Devil, until Frank shoots at carriage.
  8. Agitato (soft) until police auto enter and shots fired.
  9. Hurry until chase.
  10. Presto until Frank and Satan arrive at ruined castle.
  11. Agitato (soft) until title: “You Can Get Revenge, etc.”
  12. Plaintive until Mary arrives at the castle.
  13. Agitato (33 Bendix-Fischer melodramatic music), p. and f. until title: “Mary Has Lied to You! Destroy.”
  14. Prison Scene from “Faust” (Leo Feist-Reckers arrangement) until close.

Thomas Bruce, of the Majestic Theater, North Yakima Wash, whose letterhead reads, “Musical Interpreter of Pictures, Pipe Organ and Piano,” writes: “In the February 1st issue of Moving Picture World, under the heading, ‘Thoughts for Pianists,’ in your department, Mr. Aiken says: 'Picture playing does not consist as some suppose of merely fitting song titles to the scenes.' I fully agree with him, for to play a modern song to some pictures would be out of place and inartistic, on the other hand, it would be worse to play Grieg’s ‘Ich Liebe Dich’ to some light modern drama when ‘I’d Love to Live in Loveland’ would be more suitable.

“Then, of course, there are pictures when no songs can be used. One I have in mind is ‘At Napoleon’s Command’ (Cines), which I improvised through entirely with the exception of ‘Marseilles.’ To have played ‘Just Before the Battle, Mother’ at the title, ‘The Even Before the Battle,’ would have been comedy. The summary of all this is that the picture player must have ingenuity and artistic judgment and an unlimited repertoire. I am sending a program to illustrate my point, and criticism from the editor or any one who has seen the picture, ‘When Love Leads,’ will be greatly appreciated, as I wish to know what other musicians think about the very important subject of popular music for modern pictures.”

“When Love Leads” (Lubin).
  1. “Stein Song” from “Prince of Pilsen” (Witmark, pub.), or, better still, Alma Mater song from nearest college, until title: “David Meets Josephine..”
  2. “Beautiful Lady” valse (Remick, pub.) until title: “One Month later.”
  3. “Cuddle Up a Little Closer” (from “Three Twins”).
  4. Agitato while Josephine reads letter and through scene between David and father.
  5. Pathetic for scene between David and mother.
  6. “Goodbye Sweetheart, Goodbye until title: “David in City.”
  7. “Give My Regards to Broadway” (from “Little Johnny Jones”) until title: “Married.”
  8. “Honeymoon” (from “Time, Place and Girl”—pub. by Harris).
  9. Agitato for scene between father and mother.
  10. “Gee, But This is a Lonesome Town.”
  11. Agitato and pathetic through five scenes until title: “David Loses Reason.”
  12. Tosti’s “Goodbye” until title: “Scrubwoman Finds Child.”
  13. “If I Only Had a Home, Sweet Home” until title: “David Regains Reason.”
  14. Pathetic until David enters home, then:
  15. Grandioso waltz until end.


["]The first number should be played more as an introduction to the picture to give a college atmosphere, and if “Prince of Pilsen Stein Song” is used should be timed so that “Oh! Heidelberg, Dear Heidelberg” comes for first scene.["]

I do not remember accurately the details of the picture above mentioned, but Brother Bruce has furnished us an excellent illustration of the method of applying songs, whose suggestiveness lies largely in the fitness of their titles, to certain pictures. Discriminating performers would not need the reminder that modern songs should be used only in modern pictures, but I am sorry to say there are many who are not so thoughtful as our correspondent. Come again, Mister Bruce—you are always welcome.—Ed.

Clarence E. Sinn, “Music for the Picture,” Moving Picture World 8 March 1913, 985-86.