Neil Brand - main site
The following extract is from ‘Just a bloody Piano Player by Henry Shirley, a recollection of silent movie accompaniments in New Zealand.

"....At our cinema, the Britannia, there was no way of seeing the film before arranging the music, in fact, the evening performance was sometimes held up awaiting the arrival of the next can of film from some cinema on the other side of town showing the same feature. My solution to the problem was to lay out 4-5 piles of music on top of the piano, each one suitable for a different 'mood'. There would be gallops for westerns, one-steps and foxtrots for comedies and various pathetic and passionate pieces for dramatic moments. Our proprietor, Rex Woodward was a fine chap who had retired from a lifetime spent in fairgrounds and circuses and had bought the Britannia to keep himself interested. He was quite fond of us boys and gave us a free hand except in the matter of music for comedies. For him the quick 6/8's of the sawdust ring were the ideal accompaniment to comedy. He hated the new syncopated pieces that we favoured. It was strictly conventional to accompany scenic films with a waltz- by Waldteufel preferably as Strauss was almost unknown then.

It was quite a trick to read music at sight, follow the picture and conduct when needed with the right hand. If there was a quick scene change from, say children playing, to a 'baddie' lurking round the corner, I had to grab a number from the 'suspense' pile, throw left and right a violin and trumpet part and try to keep some sort of sound coming from the piano until we were ready to start together again.

For the next two nights the program would then be in order and we could concentrate on getting the right notes. Then a change of program and a repetition of the process. By Saturday night everything would be running smoothly. From the first pompous notes of the overture to the last tremolo chord of the evening, 3 young musicians could give everything they had and think themselves the best band in town...My only grouch was having to play alone for Saturday children's matinees....

But there was recompense, Because of the din, it hardly mattered what I played, so I could practice improvising. With a musical vocabulary of only a few chords, I eventually worked out a formula that would carry me through a three hour program of assorted love and hate, humour and horror..."

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