Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Silent Film Sound and Music archive; cue sheets

According to a message from its director, Kendra Leonard, the  Silent Film Sound and Music Archive has received funding for a pianist to record 25 pieces from the repertoire of early ("silent") film. These are promised for September. Students without music reading (or sight-reading) skills will likely find these recordings helpful for a better understanding of the musical resources for early film. We will add an update to this post and an announcement when the audio becomes available.

The Archive overall is small but growing and already has several downloadable documents, including instruction books, sheet music, and a few cue sheets that are not available from other sources.

For more extensive and in-depth information on cue sheets and instructions from the era on how to use them, check our blog posts with the tag "cue sheet".

Hearing the Movies (2d edition) has an example of an early text-only cue list (p. 102) and one with musical incipits, typical of the 1920s (p. 117). The latter—in a series of "Thematic Music Cue Sheets"—were produced mainly for use in second-run independent theaters (that is, theaters that were not owned by a studio and that showed films after their initial presentation in the studio's own theaters; often these were the only movie theaters in small towns). A complete example, with its cover page, appears in this blog post from a "silent movie night" in Kittanning, PA, in 2011. The post itself is interesting and worth reading. We have reproduced just the graphics for the cue sheet below.

If you want to explore the topic of "photoplay music" further, an excellent, very accessible scholarly article is in a recent issue of the American Music Research Center Journal: Rodney Sauer, "Photoplay Music."