Saturday, March 31, 2018

Using YouTube for comparison exercises (update)

I wrote here about the utility of YouTube for elementary comparison exercises that draw on audiovisual analysis. Students can practice some basic skills very early in semester (as they read Hearing the Movies, chapter 1) while isolating that work from the complex narrative contexts of feature films. The pedagogical goal—making students aware of their learned viewing habits—is crucial to studying film music and sound productively.

Alas, much has happened since 2011, when that post was made. Specifically, three of the post's five video clips have been deleted from YouTube. Because of this unpredictability, I have rewritten the 2011 post here in generic form.

Task: describe different visual tracks as they relate to a single audio track (different performances of the same musical composition).

Goals: Make students aware of their learned viewing habits and provide early practice in describing sound in relation to image.

Justification: The format aids practice of some basic skills while isolating that work from the complex narrative contexts of feature films. The limits of the musical text make the sound track act as a control, against which to compare different collections of images. Tempo remains a variable in the audio track as well.

Procedure: Begin by playing a recording of the composition without any video track. Point out or discuss simple formal articulations, so that markers will be available to aid detailed analysis and discussion of the video examples.

Version no. 1: the static image.
These are of course very easy to construct. A portrait of the composer, an image of an appropriate ensemble, or reproduction of an LP or CD cover will do, all preferably with some black space surrounding the image. It is also not difficult to find videos like this on YouTube, undoubtedly because they require the least effort on the part of the person wanting to post a dub of a recording. 
Show without warning the class about the static image, as the goal is for students to be placed in the position where they pay attention to their attention. Once they guess that the image is probably not going to change, attention shifts away from it to the music. A point of discussion could be to relate the starkness of the background to the audiovisual sparseness of a video clip that is only music.
Version no. 2: a slide show of images.
Questions to consider: How are changes to a new image timed to the music track? Are music and image completely, partly, or not synchronized? What is the effect of any lack of synchronization @ important form articulations in the music? (If images had changed at those moments, the images would suddenly have seemed relatively "important", leading to speculation about reasons for that importance. Something similar happens when a slide is onscreen noticeably longer than others.) What kind of narrative content (or expectation for narrative continuity) is provoked by the slide show? (It is not important to come up with answers -- what is important is to notice the fact of imposing—or trying to impose—narrative continuity on the images.)
Version 3: a different slide show of images for comparison.
Here students should be free to consider questions of both intention and design and to evaluate. Is the second version better done, more effective, than the first, and if so, how is that achieved? Does either version show signs of a rhetorical goal (point of view that is being pushed)?
These are three of the five options I presented in the 2011 post; I discuss the other two here: link. Of course, the different tasks can be mixed and matched or selected as the needs of a class dictate. The three presented here "flip" the commutation test from Hearing the Movies, chapter 1, by making the music the same but changing the video track. This is undoubtedly a more primitive exercise than our study of different musics for the “temptation” scene in Psycho (pp. 30-33), but the ability to think of a specific piece (or passage) of music as the benchmark against which to examine changes in the image track is a skill that is routinely called on in more sophisticated analysis, as well.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Radio show music

I have posted to my Google Drive a PDF file titled "Tables of Contents for Radio Show Music Collections": link.

This file has complete TOCs for the following volumes of sheet music, several of which (those by Feibel and Gart) have been discussed in blog posts in recent weeks.
1. Fred Feibel. Comedy Cues. NY: Emil Ascher, 1943.
2. Fred Feibel. Modern Improvisations for Radio Shows. NY: Emil Ascher, 1939.
3. John Gart. At the Console: Organ Themes. NY: Emil Ascher, 1942.
4. John Gart. Network Themes: Music for Radio Shows. NY: Emil Ascher, 1942.
5. John Gart. Serial Moods: A Collection of 54 Dramatic Cues for Radio Shows. NY: Emil Ascher. 1946.
6. Louis Katzman and Milton Rettenberg. Bridges, Moods, Interludes: Original, Incidental and Background Music for Radio, Drama and Professional or Amateur Theatrical Productions. NY: Broadcast Music, 1943.
7. Lew White. Script Themes. NY: Emil Ascher, 1942.
Katzman and Rettenberg's volume is of interest because it reveals that traditional ideas of the compatibility of music in theatre and film remained strong at least into the 1940s. In Hearing the Movies we write that "it’s easy to forget that melodrama and serious dramatic stage plays in the late 1800s routinely had music, too. For example, one of the most familiar pieces of nineteenth-century concert music—the two Peer Gynt suites of Edvard Grieg—originated as incidental music for Ibsen’s play of that name" (Introduction to Part II, p. 89). In Katzman and Rettenberg's subtitle notice the easy linkage of "incidental" and "background."

The authors, as they assert in their Foreword, had worked in radio from its beginnings as a viable commercial entity in the 1920s, so that we can take seriously this statement about the flexibility needed in live musical performance: "It is obviously not necessary to adhere strictly to the indicated dynamics and tempi, since variations in treatment may add to the value of the music for individual scripts or scenes."

Friday, March 16, 2018

Theatre and radio organists: John Gart

John Gart (1905 Russia/Poland-1989  Florida) was a colleague of Fred Feibel's at CBS. Gart (whose name, incidentally, is sometimes misspelled as "Gant" or "Gait") began as a theatre organist, then became a conductor in Loew's New York theatre. At CBS, Gart was musical director, arranger, and conductor for radio shows, and then, like Feibel, moved to work in television in the late 1940s. He was closely associated with the Robert Montgomery Presents as musical director and organist through all 322 of its episodes (NBC, 1950-1957).

In the 1940s, Gart published at least three volumes of organ music for radio: At the Console: Organ Themes (NY: Emil Ascher, 1942); Network Themes: Music for Radio Shows (NY: Emil Ascher, 1942); and Serial Moods: A Collection of 54 Dramatic Cues for Radio Shows (NY: Emil Ascher, 1946).

The design of the three volumes is close to that of Feibel's discussed last week. Network Themes is interesting because its contents are arranged under topical headings. Here below are all of those headings. (The volume has 65 individual pieces.) Note the attention given to "Curtain" music, the wind up, or "play-off" as Feibel called it, that is so prominent in old radio shows.


Of interest are the transition headings, such as "Dramatic Leading to Happy." There is only piece, "Dawn," under that heading. Here it is (same conditions of copyright apply as with Feibel; see last week's post). Given the extreme compression of background music in radio shows, "leading" is less apt than "jumping" perhaps, as bar 3 moves to bar 4. Note that bar 3 deploys harmonic acceleration (chords change faster), pushing the music to "drop" into the strongly accented long chord in bar 4.

Much the same—but in reverse—is true of the one entry under "Light to Drama." The playful [scherzando] opening gives way to slower chord changes in bars 5-6 and then the dramatic fortissimo, marked "Broadly," follows.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Theatre and radio organists: Fred Feibel

Fred Feibel (1906-1978) was organist at the Paramount Theatre in New York City from 1928-1935, then staff organist for CBS Radio. In that capacity, he also created music for early CBS television shows, including episodes in Starlight Theatre (1950-1951).

In addition to sheet music arrangements and original compositions, Feibel published two volumes of music specifically for use in radio shows, which extended silent-film era music practices insofar as the shows were performed live. Modern Improvisations for Radio Shows (NY: Emil Ascher, 1939) is organized in the familiar arrangement of musical topics and functions: "Love Motifs," "Neutral Dramatic leading to Dramatic," "Agitato," "In a Rustic Setting," etc.,

Modern Improvisations also includes a category "Play-Off," short snippets of music to finish off the show, analogous to a film's "end credits" music. Here are the items in that section, nos. 86-100 in the volume:

86. No. 1 - "Neutral Conclusion" – p.46
87. No. 2 - "Tragic Result" – p.46
88. No. 3 - "Incidental Pause" – p.46
89. No. 4 - "Romantic Finis" – p.46
90. No. 5 -"Expiration" – p.46
91. No. 6 - "Outcome of Events" – p.47
92. No. 7 - "A Happy Ending– p.47
93. No. 8 -"Coda Modeme" – p.47
94. No. 9 - "Completion" – p.47
95. No. 10 - "Consumation" – p.47
96. No. 11 - "Dramatic Wind·up" – p.46
97. No. 12 - "Melodic Termination" – p.46
98. No. 13 - "Brief Appassionato" – p.46
99. No. 14 - "Emotional Finale" – p.46
100. No. 15 - "Dramatic Close" – p.46

And here are two examples:

(In case you're wondering, the volume was copyrighted by the publisher in the United States in 1939. That means the copyright would have to have been renewed no more than 28 years later. I found no record of it in U.S. Copyright Renewals 1950 - 1977, text available through Project Gutenberg, and therefore conclude that the music is in the public domain.)

Feibel's second volume of music is titled Comedy Cues (NY: Emil Ascher, 1943) and consists of 25 short compositions with titles like "Playful," "Sneaking," "Insignificant Fugue," and even "Fido on Holiday." Here are the final two entries:

Fred Feibel: from
"Sounds of American Organs": also on Audio from recordings, but also interesting photographs of instruments and theatres, including the Chicago Theatre and the Paramount Theatre, New York.

Footnote: The publisher, run by the founder's children as Emil Ascher Inc., later became a major player in stock music recordings for television, starting with Superman, "the first TV show to use Ascher music as its theme" (Billboard, 24 May 1969, "Ad Notes"). Their recordings were also used in "Hallmark Hall of Fame," soap operas such as "Love of Life" and "Edge of Night," and in commercials. By the time of Billboard's article the company was said to have "more than 300 hours on tap."

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Harmony series 4, The Uninvited and Stella by Starlight

Here is a suggestion for a project/assignment that a student with jazz background might undertake. Victor Young composed the standard "Stella by Starlight" for the film The Uninvited (Paramount, 1944). This theme is treated in a number of different ways in the film, and charting and analyzing them can lead productively to interpretation.

As part of the backstory:
What the student will immediately realize is that "Stella" is not a song—it's a piano composition that is often treated like a concerto. In fact, Young himself created a 5-minute piano concerto version and recorded it in 1945 for Decca, with whom he had a long-term contract. Even after lyrics were added by Ned Washington, a song version was published in 1946, and then recorded by several well-known singers, "Stella" didn't really catch on (it was always on the B-side of the record). It was after John Coltrane included it in an album that it really took off, but still mostly with jazz instrumentalists. The best known set of changes for "Stella" are by Miles Davis. An interesting part of the project might be to compare Young's original harmonies with Davis's version (hint, though: they're surprisingly similar).