Monday, March 29, 2010

Wurlitzer, Sound Effects, and a Letter from Columbus

Sinn's column appeared only sporadically during the summer months, and this particular column seemed to serve primarily to drum up reader interest in the column. For whatever reason Sinn would place only two more columns in Moving Picture World before the end of September.

Here, Sinn spends the first part of the column on the Wurlitzer Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra, which had made a very big impression at the summer trade show in New York. This instrument is indeed the forerunner of the mighty Wurlitzer that would become legendary during the picture palace era. Wurlitzer had long advertised in the Moving Picture World, but their ads, as the one to the left, had generally sold their cheaper automatic instruments, with the promise that its automatic instruments would "furnish better music than musicians and reduce expenses." Wurlitzer did not, for the most part, advertise the Unit Orchestra directly in Moving Picture World—though it did receive fairly extensive coverage in news items.

Sinn then turns to Lapin's (Excelsior) "Dramagraph" sound effects cabinet, which had likewise impressed at the trade show, before printing a long letter urging musicians to play appropriate music. He ends with a short item announcing a collection of music written specially for "motion picture work."

Come Right In; Don’t Stop to Knock.

The editor of this department has been a few weeks vacation and in consequence the page has been neglected somewhat. Now that we are back in the harness we are going to try with your help to make the music department more interesting than before. Those having new ideas, worries, questions or answers—anything in fact which may be of interest to your fellow musicians—please come forward with your offerings. It says “Welcome” on the door-mat and we are always glad to hear from you.

To the exhibitor who contemplates the installation of a pipe organ in his theater, I would respectfully suggest that before deciding he will give a thorough inspection to the Wurlitzer-Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra. (The manufacturers object to its being styled an organ, tho it is played the same.) Exhibitors who attended the convention in New York heard this instrument among other exhibits, of course; they could not very well help it, but amid all the confusion, bustle and many-voiced sounds, the Unit-Orchestra had little or no opportunity of demonstrating its value as applied to picture-music. To appreciate its worth, one must see and hear a practical demonstration and I found one at the Astor Theater where “Quo Vadis” is being shown. Many of the visitors attended this performance, no doubt. Those who did not, missed a treat. I saw it three times this week and enjoyed Mr. Clarence W. Dow’s masterly accompaniment upon a Wurlitzer-Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra. I wish to remark in passing, that Mr. Dow is an artist, an experienced picture-musician and one of the very few I have been fortunate enough to hear, who can improvise appropriate and musical music to moving pictures.

The instrument at the Astor Theater is only one of their many styles and, as the manufacturers justly say, is destined to become very popular. So again I suggest before you decide upon that pipe organ inform yourself regarding the Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra. The Rudolf Wurlitzer Co. will gladly give you details in case you are so situated that a personal examination is impossible.

Sound Effects.

Lapin’s “Dramagraph” was another exhibit which attracted much attention. This is purely a “sound-effect” instrument and its inventor claims that it can be made to produce “any conceivable sound known and used in dramatic or photoplay portrayal.” As that will cover theoretically every sound known to art and nature, you can see it is a pretty big proposition. At that I think they made all of them and added a few original noises during that week of July 7th. It is “some sound box” all right.

A Few Remarks From Columbus, Ohio.

“So much has been said about music for pictures in your valuable magazine that I feel as though I might add a few words of advice to picture-pianists. First of all, play the picture as it should be played, if you know how. If not, give up your position to one who does know how and save your credit. Not every pianist is qualified to play pictures. I have known the very finest performers of piano to be utterly lost on a picture as far as appropriate music for the picture goes. First of all study your picture thoroughly before you touch the piano, know just what you are playing for and play it. If you played a song for a singer you would have some feeling about that song, wouldn’t you? I am sure no piano player, no matter how brilliant or what amount of knowledge of music he may have, would play ‘Il Travatore’ in the same rambling time and tone as he would ‘Grizzly Bear.’ If some of the old authors who spent the best of their lives in writing such pieces as ‘Melody in F,’ ‘Sextette from Lucia,’ ‘Il Travatore,’ ‘Poet and Peasant,’ or any of the higher class of music, could hear how it is being literally butchered by the ragtime banger, they would week with mortification if they at all recognized their composition. Now, piano player, for sake of poor suffering humanity, please play as though you enjoyed your work and were not doing it simply because you had to, to buy a new frock or that it was more of a task than a pleasure. It is a task for an intelligent audience to sit through, probably, the very finest set of pictures, when they are poorly played. Play all the latest popular airs, of course, and, as much lively ragtime pieces as you like, but for your own sakes play them at the right time and in the right places. It is always best with a three (3) reel subject to carry the feeling of one reel straight into the next one, then play a rag or poplar air at the close of the picture. I was in a picture show in my own town just a few nights ago. The picture was ‘In Slavery Days,’ a Southern drama. The pianist was an exception; she played All the old Southern airs, I believe, that was ever written from ‘Kentucky Home’ to variation of ‘Mocking Bird’ and between the reels she played variations of ‘Massa’s in the Cole, Cole Ground,’ and, to tell the truth, there was not a dry eye in the house and scarcely a breath drawn between reels, simply because that girl got her audience and she held them. One more word, pianists throw your whole life and soul into your picture. Just make yourself fit in and put feeling into your playing. I believe that the time will eventually come when the ragtime junk will be thrown out altogether, and the higher class of compositions used. Pianist should remember that no matter where the theater is located, there is bound to be a musician at some time or other visit it. And they should also remember that his or her manager is depending on them for exactly one-half of his entertainment. If the pianist is no part of the entertainment and cannot hold up his or her end of the entertainment, the sooner the music is dispensed with the better. I have played in picture shows for seven years and the best way to play for pictures is to get the ‘Moving Picture World’ and the moving picture stories each week and read all the stories of the picture your exchange furnishes. Then you are familiar with the thread of the picture before the show. And until pianists do acquaint themselves with the different subjects of the pictures, the managers are bound to have poor music.

“The pianist alluded to in the above is Mrs. Ethel London at the Oakwood Theater, Columbus, Ohio, and I believe her to be one of the best in our City.

“Mrs. I. B. Sneed.”

New Music.

I notice Mr. J. Bodewalt Lampe, the well known American composer, is about to launch a collection of music designed for motion picture work. Mr. Lampe expects to have it on the market in a few weeks and you will doubtless see his announcement in these pages when the work is ready. It will be for piano and orchestra and can be used for any combination of instruments, and will, I am sure, be a welcome addition to the meager selection of music designed especially for picture work which is now on the market.
Clarence E. Sinn, “Music for the Picture,” Moving Picture World 23 August 1913, 833.
Image Sources: Excelsior Sound Effect Cabinet Moving Picture World 12 July 1913, 256; Wurlitzer Moving Picture World 9 August 1913, 692.