CU’s American Music Research Center Digitizes 5,000 Books of Silent Film Scores – Boulder Daily Camera
In the 1920s, people flocked to Sid Grauman’s glamorous “movie palaces” in Los Angeles to marvel at silent films always accompanied by a live orchestral score.
A sprawling collection of historic musical pieces – performed at screenings at the Chinese Showman’s Theatre, the Egyptian Theater and elsewhere – have been preserved and are currently digitally archived by the American Music Research Center at the University of Colorado Boulder.
“A musician named Robert Israel, who lived in Los Angeles, had this music in his apartment,” said Rodney Sauer, a Louisville-based pianist and accordionist who purchased the collection in 2013. moving to Europe, how he offered me the collection for a reasonable price. But since I was playing the Telluride Film Festival, I couldn’t get it back right away. He moved it to a unit of storage in Hollywood.
Sauer is one of the founders and member of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. The talented Colorado-based ensemble contributed music to Chautauqua’s silent film series and travels internationally as the premier provider of live silent film music.
In 2013 — about a week after he offered his purchase of the trove of compositions — Sauer flew to Los Angeles and hired a U-Haul truck to transport nearly 5,000 pounds of sheet music to Colorado. He reached out to vintage film fans through online chat rooms and three of them volunteered to help load the valuable work into his rental truck.
Not only have the delicate linens survived the normal wear and tear of time, they survived the century-old Colorado flood.
“I spent one night in Pasadena and then drove it back to Colorado for two days,” Sauer said. “On the second day, I almost stopped overnight at Eagle, but I had no clean clothes left and luckily decided to drive home. I arrived in Denver the night of the floods and Coal Creek was raging as I drove into Louisville, and the next day the County Road bridge I drove over had been swept away.
Sauer made it home safely, but dared not attempt to move the vast collection of sheet music until the heavy downpour had subsided.
“I left the collection in the truck for several days — looking for leaks — until the rain subsided enough to move it into the house,” Sauer said.
He donated the extensive set of sheet music to AMRC in 2019 and it will soon be available to the public online. The vintage sheet music is currently being converted off-campus by Colorado-based company MSI: Information Management Solutions.
In collaboration with CU Libraries and the Silent Film Sound and Music Archive, the collection’s 3,854 scores will be digitized into high-resolution color formats. An additional 192,700 preservation images, including handwritten notes from musicians and conductors, will also be available.
The project is made possible by a grant of $116,916 from the National Historical Publications and Records Committee.
Soon, music fans will be able to access and learn scores from composers Eric Coates and Rudolph Kopp, among many others.
Grauman was instrumental in creating the first movie theaters. Without his influence, the independent multiplex or arthouse theaters we know and love today might never have surfaced.
“Grauman was one of the first people to invest in a theater specifically designed for showing movies (the Million Dollar Theater in Los Angeles),” Sauer said. “Before that, most theaters were either low-budget showcase operations or converted vaudeville theaters suitable for movies. Grauman saw that the films were here to stay and invested a lot of money in creating the most opulent showcase for them in Los Angeles. And some of the music in this collection has proprietary stamps from this theater.
In addition to this massive addition, AMRC is home to many collections ranging from stage and screen music to the swing era and American big band music.
“Receiving the Grauman Theaters Silent Film Scores Collection in 2019 was a huge boost to AMRC’s already significant silent film music holdings,” said Susan Thomas, CU’s AMRC Director. “It’s a truly remarkable collection. Not only is it in pristine condition with full orchestral parts for the performers, but it also gives us a chance to really consider what cinema was like in one particular city – Los Angeles – at the start of the 20th century.
Once the scores are available to the public, AMRC hopes to organize live events featuring the various compositions.
“One of the most exciting things we do is have College of Music students create pre-made scores for short comedy silent films – like (filmmaker and comedian) Buster Keaton – that are based on some of the most popular music. more technically accessible in the collection,” said Thomas. “We will make these scores available to teachers (K-12), primarily at the secondary level, so that student orchestras and the families who support them may have the experience of bringing silent films to life.”
The buzz around the esteemed collection has already caught the attention of local educators.
“Ryan Woodworth, Boulder High School’s conductor, offered to let us work with his students once we’ve created the scores, so we can really work out what works in a high school environment and what doesn’t. doesn’t work,” Thomas said. . “We were hoping to create our first score with them this spring, but due to COVID delays, this will most likely happen next school year. We’ll also be hosting at least one feature film screening next year, so that’s something local audiences can look forward to.
Thomas expects to receive the first set of scans this month.
“Our team at CU Boulder University Libraries, led by Erik Radio, will begin processing these images in batches as they come in,” Thomas said. “So I would expect users to start seeing this music become available digitally by the end of March. We want the entire collection to be digitized and online by the start of the month. ‘summer.
The extensive collection is sure to impress those familiar with the music that hit theaters in the early 20th century and moviegoers keen to get a glimpse of the fanfare and electrifying scores that took movie watching to another level.
“It’s an incredibly rich and deep repertoire of music and always gets a great response from those who come in contact with it, whether they’re listening to it or playing it,” said Sauer, who will set up tutorials video for interested musicians and conductors.
While soundtracks are still such an expensive part of filmmaking, those scores of yesteryear provided even more emotion and range – because the audio dialogue was not yet part of the film.
“I think the Grauman Collection and silent film music, in general, is a powerful art form that shapes the collective mood of the public,” said Jessie de la Cruz, Archivist and Deputy Director of American Music Research Center. “All of that, of course, changed depending on the accompanist, the musical selections and the instrument. I think what will be so exciting about preserving and accessing these collections is seeing how musicians will weave together preserved historical music to tell stories in new and creative ways.
Whether it’s the soft wails of the violin or the jolly, fast piano tunes, music has always provided a gateway to the mood of a movie scene or the innermost feelings of a complex character.
“There’s something deeply human about music,” de la Cruz said. “When we preserve and provide access to songs from our past, we connect and understand the human experience from a very moving place.”