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Article first published in Everyone's, Sydney, 11 May, 1921

Music and the Photoplay:

Their Combination as a Means of Effective Entertainment

Fred G Mumford

 

The following article will be of particular interest to all showmen who have begun to realise the importance of music in relation to the exhibition of pictures.  Its author is Mr Fred G. Mumford, whose long and varied experience in orchestral matters places him in the forefront of musicians.  Mr Mumford, who is musical director for Mr. Harry G. Musgrove's First National Attractions at Sydney Tivoli, commenced his career with Mr J. C. Williamson as far back as 1887, under the late Alfred Cellier, and from that date has gradually forged forward, and has now a repertoire of over one hundred operas at his finger tips. His experience in concert work is also wide, as he was for many years a member of the late Marshall Hall's Orchestra, Sydney.  His experience as an exhibitor gives additional value to his remarks.

 

If I were ever asked to name the greatest art wonders today I certainly would say "Music and the Photoplay".  Not only the gigantic organisation of the film industry, with its colossal proportions, but its thoroughly  and increasingly artistic treatment of all themes places it foremost in the world as an art.  The millions of pounds expended each year in photoplay productions proves beyond a doubt that the business as a whole has come to stay, that the "movies" have outgrown their novelty, and that only the most artistic will satisfy picture patrons.  On the other hand, we come to Music, indeed one of the most glorious of the Arts, and look at its tiny proportions!  A chromatic scale of a few musical sounds gives us the joys and sorrows of life.  These few tiny notes placed differently on the stave can make us weep, laugh, sing or dance.  What a wonderful power then music has over us.

An appreciation of this has caused me to try and show how music can be a most important component of the Moving Picture exhibition.

The writer, in going the rounds of the picture shows, has often tumbled on strange and weirdly imaginative musical directors. On one occasion, a gazette included "The Burial of the Unknown Warrior", a living memory to our dead, and throughout, the musicians kept on playing the lively ragtime music that they were playing for the previous episodes in the newsreel. The effect was astounding, and lack of attention on the part of the director doubtless had the effect of offending many of the patrons.

On another occasion, I happened to call at a picture show in the country, and found a "Feature" pianist employed. "From Manger to Cross" was being screened, and when it came to the scene showing Jesus walking on the water, our friend of the keyboard struck up "A Life on the Ocean Wave". Here was indeed an example of misplaced humour and bad taste, probably offensive to ninety per cent of the patrons who noticed it.

In many of the larger picture theatres, very good orchestras are engaged, but somehow or other, the selection of music is often far short of suitable. I am quite aware of the difficulties of obtaining "suitable" music, but the trouble seems to be a lack of knowledge on the part of the persons responsible for the selection of the melodies.

It seems to be the general rule that if a "big" picture comes along, the music must also be "big". Away flies the director to his library and selects the biggest and most ponderous "Overtures" or "Selections" he can find. Now what in all that is wonderful do grand opera overtures or classical selections to do with the picture?

I admit, of course, that in some cases portions of them may be used, but not generally. Another mistake made very often by our enterprising musicians is the playing of popular selections of musical comedy during a drama. The minds of the patrons familiar with the airs and words of these compositions immediately revert to the stage where they originally heard them, and focuses attention away instead of on the picture being screened.

That music has an effect on audiences has been clearly demonstrated at the Tivoli Theatre.  The management decided to put on a feature that began its career in Ireland.  I selected certain Irish airs to company the first part of the picture, which showed an old man who had been waiting for years for news from his daughter in America.

At the beginning of the second reel the old chap at last receives a letter, but is so upset by its contents that the shock kills him.  All through these scenes I played "Come Back to Erin" very, very softly with tremolo strings.  the effect could be observed all around, many eyes were filled with tears, and a few subdued sobs told how the scene in conjunction with the music had affected some of the audience.

Here, then, is plain, positive proof that music of the right kind can and must be part and parcel of the moving picture.  A visit to the Tivoli will give you proof of my assertions, for during the dramas you can hear a pin drop - and why?  Simply because the music selections are strictly in keeping with the pictures.

This brings us to the question: "What is the right kind of music to play?"  I will endeavour to give a few examples.

To begin with, a Musical Dircetor must have a lively imagination of the dramatic art, otherwise he will be at a loss to know what is required for his purpose.  Dramatic music comprises many different movements known to the profession and stage directors as Plaintives, Agitatos, Hurrys, Mysteriosos, Themes, Melo-dramatic, and by other titles, and to be successful one must know exactly the meaning and use of these compositions.  take, for example, the "Plaintive."  This is music for use to describe love and devotion, and is used for dying scenes and all such scenes of tense feeling and poignant grief, and will always be found to be written in a major key.  The moment such a movement is played in a minor key the character is altered and becomes totally unsuitable unless very great grief is shown in the situation when the major composition is unsuitable.

The "Agitato" is a style of music that at once suggests coming trouble of any description, and is usually started very softly and worked to business.  This music is always in the minor key and of special character.  Then comes "The Hurry."  Good composition is always minor and is good for fights, fire and mob scenes, storms and all situations that require weight behind them.  The greatest effect is got by humoring the situation and closely watching the title on the screen.  If the title demotes speech, drop to double pianissimo, and on the scene opening (if the fight or storm) .is still going ahead bring it to double forte as intensity requires, and always subside gradually for effect.

The "Mysterioso" is composed to denote stealthy movements, such as burglary scenes, creepy business, uncanny situations, haunted houses, and motion picture exchanges.  The mysterioso is usually written as a pizzicato for strings (often in unison), but the most effective movement is got by dividing the violins in tremolo in the high register, keening the harmonies well sustained and a pizzicato movement (the melody) played by the 'cellos and basses in unison, but always in the minor key.  A good example of this was heard in "The River's End" at the Tivoli on its initial screening.   The character of Shan Tung, a Chinaman of particularly sneaky habits and a most unreliable and treacherous nature, required something special in the way of music to describe.  I wrote a special motif for this miscreant, which was very successful.  This number had to be Oriental in construction, yet give the necessary colour to the man's sinister influence.  I wrote the music on the lines suggested above, and it fitted admirably, telling the story of the Chinaman's character at once.  the audience, I am sure, grasped it immediately, and the music assisted Shan Tung to dominate the scenes, as it was necessary for him to do.

Of course, it must be recognised by my brother musicians that this class of music can be had at will by selecting from his library music having these peculiarities.  There are may compositions on sale that can be well fitted to the photoplay, and what is more the old Masters can be well represented with good effect if careful selection be made.

The "Cueing-in" of Photoplays by the musical director is a matter that requires quick imagination and thought.  the greatest trouble to be found by the director is the amount of "cut backs".  A scene in progress requiring a certain kind of theme will suddenly change to another that apparently has nothing to do with the previous one tha has been "fitted".  The picture still goes on for another section or two and suddenly the "cut back" to the original scene takes place, and so on.

Now the only way to overcome these difficulties is to start out with a set purpose.  My method is to study your chief characters carefully, and treat them to the class of music that is suitable.  Thus, whenever your character appears on the sheet you should be ready with your musical theme.

And one point more, and an important one - never, on any account, let the music get over the picture.  This will be brought about if the band becomes noisy.  There is no music in noise.  The secret of success in "playing to pictures" is to keep well under the picture; let the scsreen be first and the music second.  The audience may not audibly comment on the music, but their senses will be charmed just the same.  This is the end which you must try to attain and if successful you will have proved that music and the photoplay go hand in hand.

 

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