Monday, February 8, 2010

Sound Effects and Accompanying with Popular Song

The bulk of this week's Music for the Picture column is taken up with a letter from Veola Thompson reporting on musical practice on the west coast. She confirms that the drummer in Albany, Oregon was indeed very adept at accompanying the pictures. She also has high praise for Sid Grauman's Imperial Theater in Los Angeles. She is distinctly less pleased with the growing use of mechanical instruments (probably Fotoplayers), which she notes saves on labor costs but at the expense of the music. A second letter makes a very peculiar argument for coding film genre by time signature.
Miss VEOLA THOMPSON who is lecturing on features in the Pacific States, contributes the following: “Some weeks ago Mr. ———, from Albany, Oregon, contributed an interesting article on effects as produced in the Peoples Theater, Portland, Oregon. Yes, this particular theater has unquestionably a most capable sound effect drummer. His general knowledge of various musical instruments contribute along with an elegant compressed air outfit. Besides these requirements he has a faculty of knowing when and how to produce an effect.

“With an unprejudiced mind I desire to give due credit to conscientious musical artists, forgetting, if possible, that I am a professional, and in so doing I have closely listened to the offering of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland leaders this winter. In many instances, I am sorry to say, the picture music seems to show indifference and a lack of intelligence; a strong desire to use present-day compositions on plots one hundred years old. Perhaps they wanted to please the masses with popular music. However, I do not believe this method wins in the end. Many houses are confining themselves to the mechanical organ operated by a musician. This style of music is popular in San Francisco and Oakland; one man accomplishes the work of ten and this is “great”—financially. Mr Grauman’s Imperial is truly a palace from an architectural point of view. His par excellent orchestra consisting of piano, organ, violin, ‘cello, flute and drums, reaches the climaxes beautifully and makes the musical changes seemingly without effort or discord. They forget to accompany those “hairy pants” and “broncho” subjects with an asphalt paving effect during the wooly cayuse ride, and what a treat this is.

“A great number of theaters in California seem to feel justified in offering few sound effects. We know the audience loves to talk over the plot; to surmise in words the outcome of the scenario on the screen; to read the “leaders” aloud. Therefore why not permit this harmless habit and play soft music more or less throughout. Do let the people talk and make this possible by softening the drum whenever the situation will permit.” [Why not say, “eliminating” the drums in such situations? That would be better. Ed.] “Whatever progress we make in this field of art, let us endeavor to heed the suggestions of those who think and apply the compositions of the masters on all films of a dramatic and educational nature, for this alone, I believe, will elevate the musical atmosphere surrounding the picture.”

The writer of the above has contributed to this department before. She is a clever musician and character actress, and has been a successful manager. At present she is being featured in her portrayal of “Dante’s Inferno,” “A Day in the Alps,” and educational subjects, and her long experience in different phases of picture work makes her opinions worthy of consideration. Whatever progress made by picture-music is due largely to those who not only “think and apply,” but are willing to share the result of their experience. C. K. Aiken, H. R. Seeman, Maurice Komroff, C. B. Lagerquist, Chas. S. Offenberg, Maude Waters Dittmar and a host of other contributors are among those who “think and apply.”

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C. V. E. writes: “Why is it, I would like to ask, that most moving picture pianists will sacrifice the sentiment contained in a picture to a popular air, whether it fits the scene or not? I have played the pictures for over 14 years” [that is a long time. Ed.] “and have only been out of work for one month during that time. I say if a picture calls for Old Hundred, or Yankee Doodle don’t be afraid to play it. Use your brains as well as your fingers and learn to use them both at the same time, the brains a little in advance, in order to get the right affect, you must feel the sentiment and make the audience feel it, dramas should be played to three-four time. Westerns to two-four time, comedies to ragtime, if you like, but the time must fit the action of the picture. In short, build your music as carefully as you would for an opera.”

The writer of the above is evidently sincere, though his letter may appear a little out of focus. I don’t quite get that last, however. Why should dramas “be played to three-four time?” An opera is usually supposed to be dramatic; how can you build your picture music “as carefully as you would an opera” if you confine yourself to three-four time? When our best pictures have special music written for them (as they soon will), this music will, or should be adapted to the action of the picture as it is to the dramatic action in opera, and the composer will use whatever movements, figures or tempi that seem best adapted to the various scenes according to his judgment.

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A Kansas City correspondent, who signs no name submits the following suggestions for music to the Kalem release:

“The Wartime Siren.”

1. March. Begin very soft until soldiers are seen, then loud; continue until shooting begins, then:
2. Hurry ff. When shooting stops diminish till change of scene.
3. Bugle call and short hurry.
[NB: “4” is missing]
5. Yankee Doodle until Union forces behind breastworks.
6. Dixie until title: “Colonel Ashley and His Daughter, etc.”
7. “Miama” (Moret.) until she brigs Doctor W. into house.
8. Introduction to “Fra Diavolo” overture. I begun [sic] this after the drum solo and kept repeating softly giving a mysterioso character to the music until title: “Colonel Ashley Attacks the Union Forces.”
9. Short agitato until sick room. Then:
10. Pathetic to swell and diminish according to alternating scenes until battle scene.
11. Hurry until change.
12. Short pathetic until Dr. W. rides away.
13. Hurry until he runs with American flag.
14. Yankee Doodle very spirited until title: “Two Months After Appomattox.”
15. Waltz or novellette [sic] until end of picture.

Send in your name next time, Kansas City.

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Suggestions for accompanying music to:

“A Wise Old Elephant” (Selig).
Part First.
  1. “Poppies” (Moret.) once through, then:
  2. “In a Lotus Field” (Bratton), until two horsemen ride away from steps.
  3. Light agitato until title: “Lieutenant Driscoll is Persistent.”
  4. “Reign of the Roses” (Ellis Brooks), or some number with triplets in accompaniment, which can be given an agitato character when scene demands. Play until end of reel.
Part Second.
  1. Light mysterious until man falls on porch.
  2. Agitato p. and f. until title, “Three Years Later.”
  3. “Twilight—A Reverie.” (by N. D. Ayer; pub. by Remick) until “A Wise Old Elephant.”
  4. Light agitato (long) until title: “Toddles Forces a Reconciliation.”
  5. Tchaikowsky’s “Chant Sans Paroles,” (play rather quickly), until elephant gives cradle to parents.
  6. “Teddy Bears Picnic,” until end of reel.
Source: Clarence E. Sinn, “Music for the Picture,” Moving Picture World 12 April 1913, 169.