Use Cue Sheets vs Don't Use Cue Sheets

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Andrew Greene
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Use Cue Sheets vs Don't Use Cue Sheets

Unread post by Andrew Greene » Thu Apr 21, 2011 11:06 am

This is a debate I've heard when talking to other musicians (at least on an orchestral side) and I wanted to get some opinions from other silent musicians/performers to see what their takes on.

As I'm sure we all know, most films came out with cue sheets when they were originally distributed, and it was more of a suggestion of pieces than a strict guideline. Whether theaters followed these or did their own varied of course, so nothing was set in stone.

But for modern day audiences, is it worth it to follow the cue sheets for films if the cue sheet and film still exist, or should people stray away from using them?

Here's my opinion on them. Some cue sheets do not work at all. Others seem to work very well. Overall though, for historical purposes, I think if you have the music (and the effort to put the scores back together) you should use the cue sheets.

The cue sheets for Shoulder Arms (1918) starring Charlie Chaplin is the one I like to compare to. It was compiled by Eugene Conte, and features a lot of good music (Over There by Cohan is in the score, some Zamecnik silent cues are in there, a couple marches, and of course, various silent-specific cues). I've run part of the score with the film, and they seem to work very well.

Of course, I'm aware of some compilers who favored using music from their related companies (ie Ernst Luz & Photoplay Music Co.) regardless of whether there was music that better fit the scene. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

So what is everyone else's take on this?
Andrew Greene
Founder & Director, Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra" target="_blank

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Jack Theakston
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Unread post by Jack Theakston » Thu Apr 21, 2011 12:18 pm

I think that's a pretty good assessment of cue sheets. Some of them are well-thought out, some of them less so. I wouldn't be dogmatic about using them, though—the fun of putting together a score is to put your personal touch on it, as was the case in the '20s, as evidenced by the wealth of used cue sheets with pencil markings on them.

I wouldn't hold the cue sheet in the same class as an original published score, and indeed, the comparisons between the two when published for the same film are quite interesting, but they're a great springboard for starting a score—usually catching cues and songs you might overlook, and giving you a good idea of general themes.

But when it comes to compiling/composing a score, I find doing it yourself is far more satisfying and overall, leads to better, well-tailored music.

Right now, we're having one of our organists prepare a score from the cue sheet for HAROLD TEEN for our screening of it in August at Capitolfest. We've been pretty specific with him that he can tailor it based on his needs, but truth be told, the problem with the cue sheet for that film (by Bradford), is a common problem—the score is fairly non-specific, brief, relies a little too much on popular tunes burlesquing the action for my tastes, and in some cases, cliched (although in one point, for good use, as the kids in the film make a film that is supposed to be very cliched.) Using the cue sheet as a guideline, one could generate a very good score for the film, which is what our organist, Avery Tunningley, is going to do, but to be dogmatic to the cue sheet probably won't do the film any favors.
J. Theakston
"You get more out of life when you go out to a movie!"

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Unread post by Rodney » Thu Apr 21, 2011 4:01 pm

What Jack said. As in the day, if the cue sheet has useful pieces that you can find, use them. Otherwise you might not look up a piece called "Graceful Blondinette" and find out that it's not as light-headed as the title would lead you to believe (for one instance where a cue sheet was very helpful).

On the other hand, if the cues suggested are lousy, don't use them. I'd bet that while the original cue sheet compiler had a decent library of music to choose from, they probably didn't have as much time to select music as you do. It would be interesting to see, for instance, how many cue sheets James Bradford compiled in 1927. How many days did he have per film?

Probably they'd go with the first thing to come to mind; with a slant to the catalogs of the music companies who paid their salaries. (The studios had little to do with cue sheets, which is natural, since they weren't in the music business. Music publishers were happy to fund the cue sheet compilers, since mention on cue sheets could bring sales.)

And if you need a historical justification for going your own way, as James Bradford put it quite plainly on some of his cue sheets:


I made that scan for an "extra" on the Thief of Bagdad DVD. That's probably my most detailed annotated cue sheet, and if you're really curious about how Mont Alto does compiled scoring, you can read it here: Thief of Bagdad Score
Rodney Sauer
The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
"Let the Music do the Talking!"

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