TPO22 Lecture 4 Music History
TPO22 Lecture 4. Music History
Narrator: Listen to part of a lecture in a music history class
So, uh, if you are a musician in the United States in the early twentieth century, where could you work?
Student: Same as now, I suppose. In an orchestra, mainly.
Professor: Ok. And where would the orchestra be playing?
Student: Uh, in a concert hall or a dance hall?
That’s right. And smaller groups of musicians were needed in theaters as accompaniment to visual entertainment, like cabarets and variety shows. But the largest employer for musicians back then was the film industry, especially during the silent-film era.
Really? You mean being a piano player or something? I thought movie theaters would have used recorded music.
Well, no. Not during the silent-film era. We are talking a period of maybe thirty years where working in movie theaters was the best job for musicians. It was very well-paid. The rapid growth of the film industry meant movie theaters were popping up everywhere. So suddenly there was this huge demand for musicians. In fact, over 20,000 jobs for musicians were gone, disappeared at the end of the silent-film era, 20,000.
Ok. So from the beginning, music was a big part of film, even at the first⋯
Excuse me, professor. I think I read somewhere that they used music to drown out the sound of the film projectors?
Yeah. That’s good story, isn’t it? Too bad it keeps getting printed as if it were the only reason music was used. Well, think about it. Even if that were the case, noisy projectors were separated from the main house pretty quickly, yet music continued to accompany film. So, as I was saying, even the very first public projection of a film had piano accompaniment. So music was pretty much always there.
What’s strange to me though, is that at first film music didn’t necessarily correspond to what was on the screen. You know, eh, a fast number for a chase, deep bass notes for danger, something light and humorous for comedy. And that’s instantly recognizable now, even expected. But in the very early days of film, any music was played. A theater owner would just buy a pile of sheet music and musicians will play it, no matter what it was. Pretty quickly though, thankfully, everybody realized the music should suit the film. So eventually, film makers tried to get more control over the musical accompaniment of their films., and specify what type of music to use and how fast or slow to play it.
Are you saying there was no music written specifically for a particular movie?
Yeah. Original scores weren’t common then. Rarely a filmmaker might send along an original score composed especially for a film, but usually a compilation of music that already existed would be used. Yeah, that was a good time for a lot of musicians. But that all changed with the introduction of sound on film technology. Actually, even before that, organs could mimic a number of instruments and also do some sound effects. So they were starting to replace live orchestras in some movie theaters, and it only takes one person to play an organ.
Ok. But even after that someone still had to play the music for the sound for the sound recordings, the soundtracks.
Yeah. But think of all the movie theaters there were, most employing about six to eight musicians, some even had full orchestras. But in the early 1930s, most theater owners installed new sound systems. So suddenly a lot of musicians were looking for work. Once recording technology took off, studio jobs working exclusively for one film company, eh, studio jobs did become available. But the thing is, each major movie company pretty much had only one orchestra for all their productions, a set number of regular musicians. So if you could get it, studio musician was a good job. If you were cut out for it, musicians had to be able to read music very well, since the producers were very conscious of how much money they were spending. They didn’t want to waste any time. So a musician was expected to play complicated pieces of music pretty much without any preparation. If one couldn’t do it, there were plenty of others waiting to try. So there was a lot of pressure to do well.
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