When to start the accompaniment?

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Donald Binks

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When to start the accompaniment?

PostFri Jun 12, 2015 9:00 pm

I've noticed in some continental silent pictures where the accompaniment has been put on to a soundtrack, that it doesn't start until the live action of the film starts - in other words the main titles "run cold".

In most American pictures the accompaniment seems to start from the moment the studio logo appears on screen.

What was the normal practice in the cinemas of the time - or were there different ways of doing it depending on where you lived?
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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostMon Aug 24, 2015 7:48 am

Donald Binks wrote:I've noticed in some continental silent pictures where the accompaniment has been put on to a soundtrack, that it doesn't start until the live action of the film starts - in other words the main titles "run cold".

In most American pictures the accompaniment seems to start from the moment the studio logo appears on screen.

What was the normal practice in the cinemas of the time - or were there different ways of doing it depending on where you lived?


I could not understand what you are talking about?
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BenModel

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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostMon Aug 24, 2015 8:29 am

It is a tradition with theatre organists, at least, to "play the audience into the picture" -- in other words to begin playing as the lights go down and the curtain opens, segueing into the film's opening titles. This is the way a majority of organists accompany silents today. I do this whether I'm on organ or piano.

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Rodney

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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostMon Aug 24, 2015 11:01 pm

Several of the historic film scores I've looked at, including Wings and Ramona, start several minutes before the film. That is only practical, of course, if you as a musician have a way to tell the projectionist when to start the film. Orchestra directors often had electronic signals they could send up to the booth.
Last edited by Rodney on Tue Aug 25, 2015 9:08 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostMon Aug 24, 2015 11:27 pm

Yes, it seems to be the way silent films were presented in America and Australia - but some German films I have looked at will play the Main title with all the credits associated with it cold, then bring in the accompaniment on the first explanatory title or the action. If the film is segmented into chapters, then the same thing happens at the start of each chapter. Perhaps this method was peculiar to Germany? Perhaps it may be a modern interpretation where a score has been added to a film? I am just curious. It's different!
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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostTue Aug 25, 2015 8:40 am

A lot of (piano) accompanists today do not start playing until the film's main title hits the screen, waiting through archive credits at the head etc. I'm not sure where this got started, whether a holdover from silent days or just in the last couple decades. Perhaps someone may know the answer...

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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostTue Aug 25, 2015 8:58 am

I've noticed this more and more-- not playing till the archival credits, or even the full credits, are over. Me, I think you should have the audience assured that they're safely in your hands as soon as the lights start to go down.
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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostTue Aug 25, 2015 9:03 am

...and my thought is that because I think the music should serve to accentuate the events in a film, not to be heard consciously, a bit of an overture is nice.

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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostTue Aug 25, 2015 9:10 am

I am projectionist for a number of silent films each year. Accompanists are very different. Some say just roll the film and I'll start playing. Some will tell me the cue in the music where they want me to roll. One guy always plays the 20th Century-Fox fanfare and I'm supposed to roll at the end of that. A little weird if it's not a Fox film, even weirder since 20th Century-Fox didn't exist in the silent era.
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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostTue Aug 25, 2015 9:16 am

Mike Gebert wrote:I've noticed this more and more-- not playing till the archival credits, or even the full credits, are over. Me, I think you should have the audience assured that they're safely in your hands as soon as the lights start to go down.


From experience, for composed and compiled scores (which are not as flexible as improvised scores), you never know how many added archival credits you'll get. Some prints / digital transfers may have more than others, some projectionists may skip some (especially the ones that read "the original length was 8500 feet, but after combining 3200 feet from the Cinematheque Française with 7300 feet from a library in Turkestan we were able to restore 8240 feet...").

So, if you're flying into town to present a score for a print that you may not have a chance to pre-screen, starting at the historical title is safer, and is reasonably future-proof. Future restorers may add or subtract or change the length of archival titles, but they aren't likely to remove anything from the original film.

That said, it used to be that most of the 35mm prints of The General that we played for lacked all of the credits after the opening title, so we still have marks in our score about which repeats to leave out and where to cut our first cue in case we get one of those prints.
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Donald Binks

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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostTue Aug 25, 2015 3:12 pm

From experience, for composed and compiled scores (which are not as flexible as improvised scores), you never know how many added archival credits you'll get. Some prints / digital transfers may have more than others, some projectionists may skip some (especially the ones that read "the original length was 8500 feet, but after combining 3200 feet from the Cinematheque Française with 7300 feet from a library in Turkestan we were able to restore 8240 feet...").

So, if you're flying into town to present a score for a print that you may not have a chance to pre-screen, starting at the historical title is safer, and is reasonably future-proof. Future restorers may add or subtract or change the length of archival titles, but they aren't likely to remove anything from the original film.


Whatever happened until "vamp until ready"? :D (Only jokin')

I daresay that it is easier for a solo performer to get by with whatever is appearing on screen rather than an orchestra which really can't be expected to make-up something suitable until they can get back to the score that's in front of them.

I agree with the above comment for I too prefer an overture before the picture. Gaylord Carter when he did silent films always used to do one, because as he said, "you are not going to notice the music when the film is playing - so that's why I am going to play a medley of the themes - so you will notice me now!" :D
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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostMon Nov 09, 2015 11:04 am

Ha, I remember that little speech from Carter. It was a joy to listen to him.
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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostWed Dec 30, 2015 12:17 pm

Some archives don't want music under their credits. Some do. When I play for the TCM Festival they even have me play live for their logo which appears before every screening at the festival and already has a soundtrack. Given autonomy, I will most often play for the opening logos and archive credits, but something more modern in keeping with the more modern images being shown. The title card of the film ALWAYS gets a fresh start, at least in the screenings I do.
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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostMon Apr 04, 2016 5:06 pm

Donald Binks wrote: Gaylord Carter when he did silent films always used to do one, because as he said, "you are not going to notice the music when the film is playing - so that's why I am going to play a medley of the themes - so you will notice me now!" :D


That said, as I recall Gaylord would always break between his overture and the actual start of the film, to elicit another round of applause, no doubt, but to also allow him to drop the organ to "picture height" if the console was mounted on an elevator.
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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostMon Apr 04, 2016 5:45 pm

Bob Birchard wrote:
Donald Binks wrote: Gaylord Carter when he did silent films always used to do one, because as he said, "you are not going to notice the music when the film is playing - so that's why I am going to play a medley of the themes - so you will notice me now!" :D


That said, as I recall Gaylord would always break between his overture and the actual start of the film, to elicit another round of applause, no doubt, but to also allow him to drop the organ to "picture height" if the console was mounted on an elevator.


There were actually three "heights" for the orchestras and organs on lifts. The most "in view" was "concert" which would have the lift raised to stage level, "overture" which was a drop to obscure about half of the view of the orchestra/organ - this would have been used to do "spot" accompaniments of acts on stage and for overtures that were part of the next act or film and finally "pit" which would see the orchestra/organ at the bottom of the pit for normal accompaniment. (If the pit level was too low for the organist to see the screen properly, then the organ would be at "overture" level for film accompaniment. ) The organs and orchestras were on independent lifts.

Some cinemas had even more elaborate set ups for the orchestra. In Radio City Music Hall, New York,for example the orchestra could be "bandwagoned" in that it could descend to the pit and then travel horizontally under the stage to reappear on the stage positioned on any one of the three lifts. In the Odeon, Leicester Square, London, the organ could descend further down than pit level to "park" level which would be under the orchestra lift and thus allow a fuller orchestra on that lift.
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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostTue Sep 27, 2016 9:29 pm

All the folks I knew who played for silents (from the original era) began playing as soon as an image appeared on the screen. If something preceded the actual picture, they played music for that as well.
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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostWed Sep 28, 2016 1:13 am

Most of the screenings I've done they either play when they see the image on the screen, but some have given me music cues when to start. It doesn't always work that well because I'm not really musical, plus it takes 4 or 5 seconds to get the projector rolling and the lamp turrned on. One guy always plays "There's No Business Like Show Business". When it's done I roll the film.
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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostWed Sep 28, 2016 8:45 am

Conversely, and slightly off topic, I've heard at least one particular (contemporary) musician play well past the ending of the film. I'm not talking a few seconds, but rather more like a minute. This is clearly done to allow the house lights to come up and spur the audience into applause: the end result being that the musician garners more attention for himself and diminishes the accolades for the film. I'm sure this boost his inflated ego but does nothing to offer a sense of completion to the film.
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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostWed Sep 28, 2016 10:18 am

We had the opposite problem at a showing of Daughter of Dawn last week: the restorers did amazing work tracking down the Kiowa and Comanche who appeared in the film, and added quite a long cast list.

The audience applauded at "The End," which is where our score ends. But then they stopped clapping when the cast list started rolling, and we all sat in awkward silence for a bit (why couldn't they applaud the cast list)? And then we got a second round of applause when the lights finally came up. Next time I'll warn the audience before the film that there are these unusual (for a silent film) rolling credits. Or, we could arrange the score to play through those credits.
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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostWed Sep 28, 2016 10:39 am

I would probably have instinctively improvised as soon as the cast list started.
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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostSun Oct 09, 2016 3:28 am

Michael Mortilla wrote:Conversely, and slightly off topic, I've heard at least one particular (contemporary) musician play well past the ending of the film. This is clearly done to allow the house lights to come up and spur the audience into applause: the end result being that the musician garners more attention for himself and diminishes the accolades for the film. I'm sure this boost his inflated ego but does nothing to offer a sense of completion to the film.


Greetings, Michael. I disagree with you. Take, for example, the instance where the house lights come up at the "The End" title and the musician finishes in synchronized time at that moment–the highest percentage of musicians will certainly be a part of the audience's applause, and the musician will take a bow in thanks to the appreciative group; does this diminish the appreciation of the film? I think not. Even if a musician or orchestra, for that matter, play a full minute beyond the end of the film, such music is termed "Exit Music" and was a daily practice during the 1920s. The audience is under no obligation to stay and listen if they do not wish, and for those who do wish to stay and listen, it is their choice. I doubt very much that exit music will diminish the effect of the film being presented, or that it will take anything away from the film's experiential value, or that somehow, the musician will have undermined the film presentation by reminding the audience of the hard work they have done to contribute a musical setting that has enhanced the film experience. More than likely, people will remember Buster Keaton's THE GENERAL more readily and vividly than the music that accompanied it at a particular screening no matter how much exit music was performed.

In truth, one cannot be absolutely certain to the motivation of a musician, ending a film score in the manner in which they have chosen, unless one has spoken to that musician and has gotten the reason for why they made their decision to do as they had done. I was not present at the screening to which has been referred, but it would be revealing to know from the musician directly, how they had decided to play the ending music as they had done.

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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostWed Oct 12, 2016 9:36 pm

Hi Robert!

I suppose if you played entrance music, exit music would be appropriate. I only play entrance (audience load in) music for a few shows (not necessarily silent film shows, however). Even so, I rarely play exit music.

As far as the audience appreciating the hard work, should that come as part of the film experience?

I guess it boils down to one's philosophical approach to the art form. For me, it all about the film and the story. If I can "sell" that efficiently to the viewer during the film, playing a few moments afterwards isn't going to help. If one does a convincing job of accompanying (which, IMO, should result in the music not really being noticed as a separate element but as an integral part of the screening) then anding well after the film has finished seems excessive.

But heck, musicians do all sorts of weird things in screenings - far too many for me to even start to add accounts of what I've seen and heard.

Ultimately, we are storytellers and artists and we will each bring our own esthetics and paradigms to our performances. As long as the audience has a meaningful experience, I'm happy and my clients are happy.

Thanks for your perspective, Robert.

Best wishes!

mm
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Mark Zimmer

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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostThu Dec 01, 2016 4:52 pm

As an audience member I like being played out past the end of the film--the organist/musicians have earned some attention to themselves. But that's just my taste.
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Donald Binks

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Re: When to start the accompaniment?

PostThu Dec 01, 2016 5:04 pm

If I can just add another few comments?

To me, "opening music" would mean an overture, given when the organ or orchestra are "up" - it/they would then descend into the pit to play the film. "Exit" music would be similar and I agree with Robert that it was often employed - mainly by cinema managers as a way of getting rid of one audience to be replaced by another in quick time - the orchestra or organ up under house lights playing a march or something else quite lively.

A lot of musicians like to play an overture made up of the main themes they will be utilising in the picture. I know Gaylord Carter did this - so nobody would miss out on the tunes he was going to play.

Attending screenings of some of Douglas Fairbanks' pictures in London in 1973 I was astonished that there was not a flicker of appreciation for the pianist who had bashed his digits on the keyboard for a full ninety minutes non-stop. The pictures finished and everyone just walked out. Of course in America it is quite different, audiences are inclined to go mad even if the cleaner walks on stage with a broom. :D
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