Compiled score - date of film vs. date of music

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gentlemanfarmer

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Compiled score - date of film vs. date of music

PostSat May 14, 2011 7:03 am

When you are listening to or preparing a compiled score for a silent film, how far apart do you feel the music can go from the date of the film vs. the date of the musical selection.

Say you're watching or scoring a 1922 film, how do you feel if a piece of photoplay music from 1923 - or 1927 shows up in the score?

Is it troublesome, is it too anachronistic to have music 2 or 3 years newer than the film - as a corollary, do we know how long films stay in circulation - months, years, what about revivals?

So where do you come down on a film's score, say the film is 1922, must everything be 1922 or earlier? Do you allow an upward tick of a year or two, or anything from the silent era is ok?

What about popular music, you're watching and/or scoring a 1920 comedy, and you hear or consider programming a popular tune from 1924 or 1927 - is that a "no,no" - however, does it make a difference if the music is well known or obscure, germane to the film, or is it too much of a stretch to consider at all?

Obviously with a new score from scratch there are different aesthetic considerations, and if you are including some improvisation in a presentation, does that change the dynamic of select photoplay music or popular music, after all the improv. would be "new music" or does it matter, as long as it is in the "style" of the other period music.

Any thoughts would be welcome,
Thanks!
Eric W. Cook
Director, Ivy Leaf Orchestra
Silent Film, Salon and Ragtime Orchestra
Please visit us at ivyleaforchestra.com
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Jack Theakston

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PostSat May 14, 2011 9:37 am

I shy away from using popular pieces in films before they were written. People are more likely to spot anachronistic pop tunes.

I prefer to use later photoplay music in general, as the range of writers was better and the music is more sophisticated (not to say there wasn't anything good written in the '10s). A savvy musical director should be able to make a good score despite his limitations, though, and when recording, one must bear copyright in mind.
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Andrew Greene

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Re: Compiled score - date of film vs. date of music

PostSun May 15, 2011 6:34 pm

gentlemanfarmer wrote:When you are listening to or preparing a compiled score for a silent film, how far apart do you feel the music can go from the date of the film vs. the date of the musical selection.

Say you're watching or scoring a 1922 film, how do you feel if a piece of photoplay music from 1923 - or 1927 shows up in the score?

Is it troublesome, is it too anachronistic to have music 2 or 3 years newer than the film - as a corollary, do we know how long films stay in circulation - months, years, what about revivals?

So where do you come down on a film's score, say the film is 1922, must everything be 1922 or earlier? Do you allow an upward tick of a year or two, or anything from the silent era is ok?

What about popular music, you're watching and/or scoring a 1920 comedy, and you hear or consider programming a popular tune from 1924 or 1927 - is that a "no,no" - however, does it make a difference if the music is well known or obscure, germane to the film, or is it too much of a stretch to consider at all?

Obviously with a new score from scratch there are different aesthetic considerations, and if you are including some improvisation in a presentation, does that change the dynamic of select photoplay music or popular music, after all the improv. would be "new music" or does it matter, as long as it is in the "style" of the other period music.

Any thoughts would be welcome,
Thanks!

I can speak from a cue-sheet guided person, to explain this.

I ALWAYS for films (if I compile scores) pick music that was written the year the film came out or earlier. It gives it a period show-quality, that audiences in say 1922 would have heard music from 1922 and below.

It's a stretch to pick music that was written later than the film's release... I don't like it for authenticity purposes, but I know some people do this.

As far as the range of music is concerned, for silents, I've used music from 1897 to whenever the film was released. Our compiled score for "Cops" for example has music from 1898 to 1921, it's 11 cues and most of the compositions are from the 1910-1920 era. In cue sheet scores, such as "College", music went as far back as 1910, and had a good variety of music from 1920 to 1927. But then again, that was mainly based on who was the compiler for the scores, and what he thought would work.

My 2 cents...
Andrew Greene
Founder & Director, Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra
http://www.peacherineragtime.com
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Rodney

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PostMon May 16, 2011 6:03 pm

My justification for not always sticking with photoplay music written in the year of the film and before, is that if I were compiling a score in (say) 1922, I would probably have had a much larger collection of 1922-and-earlier music than I do now. My collection is contaminated with a lot of material from 1923-1928. So borrowing music from later makes up for the pre-1922 material that I don't have, and perhaps gives me a similar breadth of choices to what my 1922 library would have been. Does that make any sense?

But I do agree with Jack on the popular tunes. I have violated this rule only a couple of times, and it worked fine, because 99% of the audience doesn't know the relative ages of the works, and most of the other 1% will forgive me (unless they've got a righteous streak). For instance, I use Tiptoe Through the Tulips when Buster plays ukulele for the baby in Steamboat Bill Jr., and almost no one knows (or would care) that it was written a few years later than the film. But no piece written before 1927 has quite the "ukulele vibe" to modern audiences that Tiptoe does, so it's funny and useful in the scene.

Would I use very modern pieces, like "Who let the dogs out?" or "Let's get Physical?" Not with Mont Alto, because that's not our schtick; but musicians certainly used the equivalent pop-culture references ("Where did you get that hat?", "Paddlin' Madeleine Home") back then, so I could live with an irreverent group doing this for the appropriate comedy nowadays at a live show.
Rodney Sauer
The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
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"Let the Music do the Talking!"
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gentlemanfarmer

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PostSun May 22, 2011 8:31 am

As always, many thanks for the thoughtful insights and replies.

Jack Theakston wrote:I shy away from using popular pieces in films before they were written. People are more likely to spot anachronistic pop tunes.

I prefer to use later photoplay music in general, as the range of writers was better and the music is more sophisticated (not to say there wasn't anything good written in the '10s). A savvy musical director should be able to make a good score despite his limitations, though, and when recording, one must bear copyright in mind.


I would agree that the level of sophistication rises with the 1920's...and I think for me, the highest priority is creating a compelling score. Although, the jarring-ness of a popular tune that is too far out of date could undermine this, what I feel strongly should be the highest criterion. Working with an existing collection, and trying to expand is limited by amounts of time, collections that are open to borrowing or copying, and money and available scores for sale - speaking as someone who is just beginning to build a library. Plus you noted quite correctly working within the realm of copyright.

I can speak from a cue-sheet guided person, to explain this.

I ALWAYS for films (if I compile scores) pick music that was written the year the film came out or earlier. It gives it a period show-quality, that audiences in say 1922 would have heard music from 1922 and below.

It's a stretch to pick music that was written later than the film's release... I don't like it for authenticity purposes, but I know some people do this.

As far as the range of music is concerned, for silents, I've used music from 1897 to whenever the film was released. Our compiled score for "Cops" for example has music from 1898 to 1921, it's 11 cues and most of the compositions are from the 1910-1920 era. In cue sheet scores, such as "College", music went as far back as 1910, and had a good variety of music from 1920 to 1927. But then again, that was mainly based on who was the compiler for the scores, and what he thought would work.

My 2 cents...


I agree there are times and places, or should we say films and performances, when authenticity is important - and can also be made to work to create a compelling score. When I have scored some of the early films - I've been religious in choosing music from the period, but I think there are compelling reasons to create a musical score that goes far beyond the constraints of a cue sheet - even a good one - I think taste and artistic consideration should be closely guided. New scores are welcome, whether they are compiled in the "historic" manner - and really this is a matter of historic performance practice, but I think we shouldn't be overly doctrinare about authentic performance practice, because I think in some ways we are in the infancy of really digging into the primary source material and understanding what the practices were. Like the baroque and early classical period, and even the early romantic, I think a great many ideas will change and I think we should be flexible in our choice of how to interpret those facts, so that we remain good musicians and good dramatic artists first and foremost. I think there is merit in sticking to a range of dates, but I bet some films remained in circulation longer than we think. I saw local newspaper ads in Kittanning for films showing one and two years after their initial release, and also in the recently posted film magazines that were linked to in the discussion thread, there was a "The Film Daily" 1922 ad for a re-release of the 1913 Calabri - so it could be argued that performing that film with music from 1920 would be in fact "authentic" and not anachronistic - because I'm sure the musicians who played the re-release would have used any music in their grasp that they felt was appropriate.

See http://nitrateville.com/viewtopic.php?t=9143

Of course one could go the other direction, in 2008 when I compiled an organ score for The General I used only music from 1864 or before, with the exception of a "Locomotive" theme that I wrote myself, and it was a well received performance, and I thought very effective. I also love both the Carl Davis and Robert Israel scores to that picture, being the only two I know well.

My justification for not always sticking with photoplay music written in the year of the film and before, is that if I were compiling a score in (say) 1922, I would probably have had a much larger collection of 1922-and-earlier music than I do now. My collection is contaminated with a lot of material from 1923-1928. So borrowing music from later makes up for the pre-1922 material that I don't have, and perhaps gives me a similar breadth of choices to what my 1922 library would have been. Does that make any sense?

But I do agree with Jack on the popular tunes. I have violated this rule only a couple of times, and it worked fine, because 99% of the audience doesn't know the relative ages of the works, and most of the other 1% will forgive me (unless they've got a righteous streak). For instance, I use Tiptoe Through the Tulips when Buster plays ukulele for the baby in Steamboat Bill Jr., and almost no one knows (or would care) that it was written a few years later than the film. But no piece written before 1927 has quite the "ukulele vibe" to modern audiences that Tiptoe does, so it's funny and useful in the scene.

Would I use very modern pieces, like "Who let the dogs out?" or "Let's get Physical?" Not with Mont Alto, because that's not our schtick; but musicians certainly used the equivalent pop-culture references ("Where did you get that hat?", "Paddlin' Madeleine Home") back then, so I could live with an irreverent group doing this for the appropriate comedy nowadays at a live show.


I think that using photo play music is less critical, films had some life beyond the year of release, and the better the music, and the more it is already in our collections, the more sense it makes, I think that with most popular music - only 1 % of an audience would come within a year or two of the music, and of that 1% most wouldn't care. I don't think I'd ever use a piece that was more than a few years out, unless it was a homage or pastiche that was written and did in fact sound like it was from the right era. Although, I think if done judiciously and very, very rarely, and by the right ensemble at a live show a modern quotation might work - but I think it would still be rather jarring - an effect that might be warranted once or twice in a film - at most - but I'm sure a good performance could prove me wrong on that - I think the main consideration is selling the film compellingly to the audience in a convincing artistic way, and I don't think there is any one way to do that - and it was interesting to see other people's thoughts on the matter, as always it helps clarify ones thinking.
Eric W. Cook
Director, Ivy Leaf Orchestra
Silent Film, Salon and Ragtime Orchestra
Please visit us at ivyleaforchestra.com

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