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The following article was published in "The Complete Organ Recitalist", ed. Herbert Westerby, London, 1927, pp. 329-332

The Training of the Kinema Organist



Organist of Shepherd's Bush Pavilion, W.

I am writing with a view to assisting those who propose embarking upon the career of a kinema organist without any previous training in this direction.

A very good preliminary idea of the requirements of film-accompaniment can be obtained by visiting the best picture theatres and observing the methods in current use. It will generally be found more advantageous to pay greater attention to orchestral accompaniment, as kinema organ-playing is still in rather an experimental stage, whereas among good orchestras there is a certain tradition or atmosphere, and it is this atmosphere that the novice is chiefly concerned with, as it is something quite different from that of either church or concert hall.


When this atmosphere has been assimilated, a few months' experience as orchestral (i.e., "filling - in") organist or pianist under a good musical director will be of great benefit as a training in alertness, and will also serve to accustom the student to the type of music in use. The first thing that will probably be noticed is that the names of the pieces and their composers may appear quite strange to the orthodox-trained musician, and it is a remarkable fact that there is a great amount of orchestral music on the market which does not seem to find its way to the concert hall at all, but to be used exclusively for kinema-playing. I am not alluding here to music written specifically for film accompaniment.

The student will by now have gone through his elementary course, and should be able to launch out on his own.


The acquisition of a suitable library is one of the greatest difficulties encountered by the beginner; a useful list of pieces is contained in W. Tyack George's little book, entitled Playing to Pictures, published by the Kinematograph Weekly. This, although written for solo pianists, or "relief" pianists, as they are called, is equally applicable to organists or small orchestral combinations. A good deal of assistance may be gained from the printed "music cue sheet" which is usually distributed along with the film. The "cues", on the left signify that the piece is to commence on either sub-title (T) or at the scene or action (D=description). In some cue-sheets what are known as "finishing cues", are given, in which case the piece is to finish instead of begin on the cue. As an illustration, I give the opening of my cue-sheet for "The Arab " .


No. Title or Scene… Character… Piece suggested… Publisher.

1 Screening ... Dramatic Oriental ... Vendetta-Sorbo ... Piena

2 T In those portions… Light Oriental Intermezzo ... In a Persian Market Ketelbey ... Bosworth

3 T Particularly if. . Oriental Recitative ... "Sumurun" Se1ection p. 12. Piano part-Hollaender ... Metzler

4 T In the quarter of. Eastern Dance ... Dance No. I, "Prince Igor",-Borodin ... Hawkes

5 D Exterior Scene ... Subdued Agitato ... Hurry No. 47-Luscomb (Moving picture series).... Boosey (Carl Fischer)

6 D Dance Hall ... Eastern Dance ... Scenes Tunisiennes, No.2 - Mouton ... Lafleur

7 T I come from. . ... ... Oriental Dramatic Adagio ... Chester (Jungnickel Series )

8 D Close up of Arab smiling Minor 3/4 Allegretto ... Bayadère-Borch ... Boosey (Carl Fischer)

9 T Dog of an Infidel …. ... ... ... Repeat No. 1 ...

10 D Street ...Scene Oriental Intermezzo... Arabian Serenade -Langey ... Chester

- and so on for thirty numbers.

An improvement on the above arrangement is what is known as the thematic cue-sheet, which shows in addition the first few bars of each number, taken usually from the first violin leader part.

It may have been noticed that I have so far practically identified orchestral and organ work in the kinema, and he would be a bold man who would attempt to define any essential difference between these two media. As a matter of everyday practice I use the same method of setting a picture for the organ as for the orchestra.

It should be borne in mind that the solo organ is taking the place of the orchestra, and that people do not come to a picture theatre in the ordinary way to hear an organ recital, but to see the pictures, and that they do not care a jot what music is being played so long as it helps them - subconsciously as a rule - to enjoy the picture, and does not obtrude itself upon their contemplation of the same. As an example, I may mention that professional musicians frequently come to see me when playing to a film, with the intention of listening to the music and of watching the manipulation of the organ, but once their eyes wander up to the screen and something there holds their attention, they forget all about the music - per se.

This is the one and only test of good film-playing; the music should illustrate, amplify, give expression to the picture. And here we come to the oft-repeated question: "What music do you play ?" And the obvious answer is: "Anything and everything, so long as it suits my purpose of achieving a specific effect in conjunction with a particular scene on the screen."

Casting aside perfectly obvious points, such as quick movements on the screen being accompanied by fast music, and the holding of a reserve of tonal power for use with climatic points in the story, I do not think it is practicable or desirable to attempt to lay down the law as to what pieces of music should be played as accompaniments to any scene in a picture. This is entirely a matter of personal opinion and temperament, and there is probably no branch of the art of music in which there is so little to be learnt outside of actual experience.


I referred earlier in this article to music written specifically for the purpose of film accompaniment, or "incidentals," as these pieces are called. Judging by the conflicting views on this subject expressed in musical journals, a little enlightenment would seem desirable, and I should like, en passant, to utter a word of protest against the ignorant gibes directed against these compositions by the gentlemen in charge of comic sections of musical periodicals. Personally, I can see nothing intrinsically funny in ridiculing an unknown quantity, such as is film incidental music to most "orthodox" musicians.

One of these musico-comedians has referred to the "weird and wonderful" series of incidental music. I can assure him that they are no more "weird and wonderful" than are the average pieces in the teaching syllabus of the R.A.M.

The names of three of the composers of the Hawkes Photoplay Series, for instance, - Herman Finck, Herbert Haines and Reginald Somerville - are a sufficient guarantee of musicianly authorship. From the various American series the names of Otto Langey and Carl Kiefert are perhaps not unknown to British musicians; they may not be inspired composers, but they certainly are sound craftsmen, with a thorough technical equipment.

A list of dealers and publishers of photo-play incidental music may be welcome;

Hawkes, Paxton, and Bosworth are the only actual publishers in this country, and the following are agents for French and American publications. Messrs. Lafleur, Chester, Keith Prowse, Francis, Dav & Hunter, Curwen (London and Continental), Piena, De Wolfe, Liber, B. F. Wood Music Co.

I cannot speak with any authority on original organ music suitable for film accompaniment, as I hardly ever use it, finding the orchestral piano parts much easier to handle. These parts have the orchestration marked in, and it is just as easy to adapt from these copies as it is to make the necessary modifications of the (mis) directions contained in most original organ music. I suggest to composers, and particularly to those who are contemplating writing organ pieces for the screen, that they would make matters much easier for players if they would refrain from filling their works over with useless indications (Sw., Ch., Gt., etc.) and, following the example of Mr. Frank Bridge in his "Three Organ Pieces" (Winthrop Rogers), confine themselves to dynamic (f, p, etc.) and purely general terms.

In conclusion, a few remarks on the kinema organ itself may not be out of place. At the present stage of development we may say that there are three essentials in this type of instrument: total enclosure (pedal and all), for preference not in wooden swell-boxes, but in specially constructed chambers; electric action is necessary, for tubular pneumatics are not equal to kinema work; and a properly graded stop-crescendo pedal. Another most important point is the position of the instrument, which, on account of its accompanimental functions, should not be placed too near the audience, nor where it is likely to become, by reason of over-assertiveness, a hindrance rather than a help to the picture. For this reason also, I am very strongly against the divided organ. The ideal position, largely used in American theatres, is where the sound comes through the top of the proscenium arch, just above the screen. In this manner, intimate contact between picture and music is maintained, even creating the impression that the music is emanating from the very screen itself.

There is something of an anomalous nature in writing these remarks in The Organ Recitalist, for recital work is the very antithesis of kinema-playing. In the former, the player is everything. in the latter, the player and what he plays are only of value in so far as they serve to enhance the effect of the story unfolded on the screen. Nevertheless, I hope I have succeeded in convincing my brethren of the "legitimate" branch that there is something more in kinema-playing than mere promiscuous extemporization, and that it is an art worthy of serious study, with its own standards and ideals.

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