Popular Music for Orchestra Part 5 - Dick O'Connor

Between 1880 and 1900 a new breed of music publisher entered the field. T. B. Harms, Willis Woodward, M. Witmark, Charles K. Harris, Howley, Haviland and Dresser, Stern and Marks, Jerome H. Remick, Leo Feist, and other young firms chose to concentrate on popular music of  broad mass appeal. Aggressively competitive, they invented formulas for the composition of successful songs based on analysis of current hits, tried out their wares in variety theatres, music halls, saloons, and on city streets, then attempted by persuasion, influence, favors, or outright bribery to place them with popular vaudeville performers, minstrel companies, and in musical comedies , extravaganzas, and burlesque venues. They were tireless promoters, sending singing stooges to shows and sporting events, dispatching demonstration pianists to sheet music counters of department and retail stores across the country, organizing song-slide sing-a-longs and song sessions, planting printed copies in papers and periodicals. Give the public what it wants, putting it across so as to lodge it in their consciousness – this was the philosophy and sales strategy of the Tin Pan Alley man. By 1905 these companies dominated the music industry in America.  

As vaudeville matured variety houses began installing small orchestras. Vaudevillians, proud and loath to credit their success to anything but their own charisma, talent, personality, and hard work, nevertheless soon found it prudent to approach a pit pianist, violinist, or theatre conductor for a simple instrumental setting to accompany their act. By the mid 1880s a small number of free lance musicians in New York and other cities were specializing in this kind of writing.  

Tin Pan Alley was not slow to realize how valuable a good song arrangement could be in “putting it across”. A proper setting could add solidity, depth, color, and humor, as well as ear-catching and attention-getting melodic hooks, rhythmic breaks, and other musical effects. Around 1890 some companies began hiring arrangers specifically to prepare these settings for small theatre orchestra, offering them free of charge to performers who agreed to feature the songs on regular theatrical circuits. Their format was basic – an introduction, vamp (to mark time until the artist was ready to start singing) , verse, song chorus, and a more full second chorus that could be utilized for dancing, patter, funny  business, or additional singing. Star stage attractions often merited custom settings for the same courtesy. When a song became successful the arrangers were directed to write a purely instrumental account for distribution to key theatre and music hall orchestras that might further promote it during intermissions or between acts and shows. So popular did these instrumental editions become that surprised publishers began making them available for general sale. Pit bands could now purchase a ready-made score of a current hit tune to vary their featured repertoire of overtures, marches, dance pieces, and light intermezzi. Dance groups found them useful as well, and they made novel additions to the programs of salon ensembles and amateur combinations. In this manner the publisher’s printed popular song orchestration, later commonly termed  the “stock arrangement” made its bow. 

European music houses offered popular or potentially popular orchestral music in versions for ensembles of different sizes. For instance, a work might be issued in an eight-part, a twelve-part, and a sixteen-part arrangement ( referring to the number of instrumental parts ) . American firms, selling to a smaller, more restricted, and less varied market, developed a more ingenious and democratic, if less aesthetically sensitive,  tradition : a “one-size-fits-all” method of arrangement whereby a single orchestration could be effectively rendered by any number of musicians from a piano-violin duo to a substantial orchestra. Thus the important melodic lines, accompaniment figures, bass and harmony notes would be assigned first to instruments most likely to be encountered in the average ensemble – a violin, a cornet, a cello, a second violin, a flute or clarinet, a piano. Instruments less likely to be present – a viola, a trombone, a French horn, an oboe and bassoon, and additional violins, cellos, cornets, clarinets, etc. – would be given  complementary, color, less important , or optional lines and harmony notes, or would “double” those already existing. Such an approach to scoring was not new, nor was it unique. The early brass band journals and wind band publications utilized basically the same approach, as did the above-mentioned vaudeville orchestrators in preparing an artist for a tour of engagements in theatres whose instrumental forces might range from a single piano player to fifteen musicians. It has become prevalent in the writing of educational band and orchestra music, and is likely to be found in all printed ensemble pieces designed for amateur performance. Yet so closely did it become associated with published instrumental popular song arrangements that it became known as “stock voicing”. 

The earliest stocks do not often credit their writers, and many of them are now obscure figures known only from music and show business memoirs. A good number were immigrants with formal European training. Almost all were theatre musicians. Ned Straight, Paul Ritter, Carlo Vitozzi, Siegfried Stenhammer, Herman Hermanson, and Hilding Anderson were among the first, as were David Braham ( musical director and composer of the popular Harrigan and Hart shows ) , John Stromberg ( musical director of the Weber and Fields extravaganzas ) , William T. Francis ( ditto for Weber and Fields and later for producer Charles K. Frohman ) , George Rosey ( Rosenberg ) ( pioneer vaudeville orchestrator ) , Gustave Luders ( composer of Viennese – style operettas ) , his associate William Schaeffer, Max Hoffman ( known especially for his treatment of coon songs and ragtime ) , and Max Dreyfus ( who in the early 1900s would come to own the T.B. Harms firm ) . Bob Recker, Tommy Hindley, and later Jules Lensberg, George May, Julius Vogler, and Paul Schindler led vaudeville house orchestras in New York City.  

Of similar backgrounds and following soon after were Karl Hoschna, Harry Carroll, Albert Von Tilzer, Abe Holzman, William Christopher O’Hare, J. Bodewalt Lampe,  Frank Meacham, Harry Alford, and Frank Saddler , all successful hard-working  mainstream musicians. Later on J. Zamecnik, Carleton Colby, W.C. Polla, Ray Henderson, Olly Ades, George Trinkhaus, and Arthur Lange contributed, and  after 1920 Ferde Grofe, Milton Ager , Frank Berry, Walter Paul ( Dauzet ) , Art Mckay, Brewster – Raff, C.E. Wheeler, Louis Katzman,  and David Kaplan  were very active. 

Associated primarily with concert or “classical” music publishing houses but influential in stock and popular orchestration as well were Otto Langey, Paul Steindorff, and Harold Sanford, who made available for mass consumption the works of Victor Herbert, among others, the brothers Hugo and Otto Frey, and former opera conductor and future captain of radio arrangers Adolf Schmid. 

When the dance band supplanted the theatre orchestra as the characteristic American popular music ensemble stock arrangements reflected the succession as yet another generation of imaginative writers brought new life and freshness to the medium. From the mid 1920s the work of Frank Skinner, Ted Eastwood, Mel Stitzel, Elmer Schoebel, Charles Cook, Tiny Parham, Joseph Nussbaum, and Arcie Bleyer appealed especially to younger musicians and was employed in recording studios and even acquired  and utilized by “name “ dance outfits. Skinner’s “charts” became so celebrated that forthcoming publications were heralded in trade newspapers. In their wake came Jimmy Dale, Spud Murphy, Jack Mason, Ken Macomber, Jimmy Mundy and later Johnny Warrington, Will Hudson, Larry Wagner,  and Teddy Black, to name only a few of the more prominent. 

 Many musicians tried their hand at “stocks”, among them cornet virtuoso Herbert Clarke, songsmith Harold Arlen, future motion picture composer and conductor Max Steiner, theatre orchestrator Robert Russell Bennett, arranger Gordon Jenkins, and radio conductor Andre Kostelanetz. Famous bandleaders and their arrangers sometimes wrote, or supervised the writing of, stocks of their hit recordings and most popular numbers. 

The proliferation of professional, semi-professional, and amateur dance orchestras at this time and over the next thirty years led to the sale and purchase of great quantities of these arrangements. Consisting of an introduction, verse ( later omitted or non-existent ) , two choruses of melody that duplicated but alternated interplay between brass and saxophone  sections followed by a modulation leading to a climactic half-chorus of greater drive, swing, and complexity in a new key written to give the performers a chance to “pull our all the stops” and really “show their stuff”, stocks could be altered, adapted, and tailored as needed to feature a vocalist or particular soloist, to fit a certain length of time, or to be strung together with other tunes to create a medley. Some were written and published as medleys. Many dance band stocks also offered optional or doubling parts for a string section, and a number of symphonic orchestras during this period included them in “pops” concerts.  

After the early 1950s the business declined but the field continued to attract talent such as Glenn Osser, Jerry Sears, Ernie Houghton, Robert Lowden, Lenny Niehaus, Dave Wolpe, Sammy Nestico, Dennis Howard, and John Pace who carried the tradition well through the rock age. 

Many have questioned, with reason, the absolute artistic value of these arrangements. While some of the writing was very good, much of it was dull, hackneyed, and mechanical. What might sound vibrant and flexible when played by a smaller number of instruments often came across as thick and plodding with a full ensemble. For many years stock orchestrations rapidly incorporated the latest styles, trends, idioms, and novelties of popular music, codified them in light of current practices,  and published them, placing the professional popular arrangement within the reach of all and enabling musicians far and wide to closely reproduce the sounds of favorite bands, orchestras, and hit recordings. As such they went far towards spreading, homogenizing, and standardizing popular culture, at the same time educating, encouraging, and even inspiring several generations of arrangers and performers. From 1915 to 1955 their influence was pervasive, and their importance in the history of American music must be recognized.

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