Category Archives: From the Director

Digitizing the Grauman Collection

I’m delighted to announce that SFSMA will be working with the American Music Research Center (AMRC) at the University of Colorado Boulder and the CU Libraries to digitize the Grauman Theatre Scores Collection and its 3,854 scores available online. This work is supported by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. As the AMRC digitizes and uploads pieces, SFSMA will create links to those works, thus helping SFSMA users find items in the CU online collection. I’ll post more details about this partnership as the project gets underway.

CU’s Press release (read original here):

AMRC to Preserve Grauman Film Score Collection
by Charles Wofford

Between 1900 and 1929, when Sid Grauman ran silent films with live orchestral accompaniment in his Hollywood “movie palaces,” he probably never imagined that the thousands of orchestral scores used by his musicians would be recognized as important Americana in their own right. A century later—with a $116,916 grant from the  (NHPRC)—the University of Colorado Boulder’s American Music Research Center (AMRC) is creating a comprehensive digital archive of the Grauman Theatre Scores Collection.

In collaboration with CU Libraries and the Silent Film Sound and Music Archive, the 3,854 scores of the collection will be digitized in multiple high-resolution, full-color formats and made available online at no charge to the public. An additional 192,700 preservation images will help preserve the particularities of the scores, such as handwritten markings from musicians and conductors. “[The Grauman Silent Film Scores Collection] is one of the most important collections anywhere,” says AMRC Director and Professor of Musicology Susan Thomas. “Because of the Grauman Theatre’s centrality in Los Angeles and U.S. film history, these scores can be considered foundational documents—not only for the cultural history of the United States, but also for the sonic construction of U.S. identity in the 20th century.”

The musical representations found in the Grauman collection inspired film composers of the following generation, such as Max Steiner and Alfred Newman; they, in turn, influenced famous film composers from Jerry Goldsmith and Henry Mancini to today’s superstars, including John Williams, Hans Zimmer and others. The collection was donated to the AMRC in 2019 by Rodney Sauer. A pianist, accordionist and director of the Monto Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, Sauer drove the roughly 5,000 pounds of sheet music from Los Angeles to his Louisville, Colorado, home in 2013, narrowly averting catastrophe in the 2013 Boulder County floods. “I want to use this music, I don’t necessarily want to own it,” Sauer previously stated in theColoradan Alumni Magazine.

The AMRC is partnering with Sauer to produce video tutorials to guide performance-oriented musicians on everything from genre selection to timing and period aesthetics. The AMRC is also working to produce music packets for K-12 musicians, especially high school orchestras, who will be able to create their own scores for specific films. “This project is not about moving the music from one dusty attic to another,” says AMRC Assistant Director and Archivist Jessie de la Cruz. “This archive will be a living part of the community.”

Grant from the Victor Herbert Foundation

I’m delighted to announce that SFSMA has received a grant from the Victor Herbert Foundation to assist with the transcribing, cataloguing, and uploading of the Carl Braun Collection. We’re grateful for this assistance, which will enable us to have the Braun Collection fully posted to the Archive by the end of Summer 2021.

Countless individual pieces by and excerpts from larger works by Victor Herbert were published as music for silent film. Works by Herbert are also heavily referenced in cue sheets, in which arrangers would list each scene of the film and make a corresponding recommendation for a piece to play with it, providing the title, composer, and melody line. Herbert works like “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life,” “Punch and Judy,” and the “Habanera” and “Vaquero’s Song” from Natoma are already part of SFSMA’s collection; and works by Herbert appear on several cue sheets already in the Archive. The Braun collection contains numerous works by Herbert—so far we’ve located more than 40 individual pieces referenced in the Collection’s cue sheets. Many of these are used more than once in the same film, functioning as a film’s major themes.


Erno Rapee, Motion Picture Moods

I am delighted to announce that at last we have a beautiful and clean scan of Erno Rapee’s Motion Picture Moods. This was scanned by Rodney Sauer of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, who generously donated his scan to SFSMA. You can now find the complete contents of this landmark reference for silent film accompaniment here. Because of the size of the book, we’ve had to break it into smaller components for downloading. If you want to combine these files into one large PDF, we recommend EasyPDF, a free resource.

SFSMA in the Journal of the Society for American Music

SFSMA’s gotten a great review by Erin M. Brooks in The Journal of the Society for American Music! Download it as a PDF here, or read the full text below.

Journal of the Society for American Music (2020), Volume 14, Number 4, pp. 522–524

Silent Film Sound & Music Archive: A Digital Repository. In fall 1929, letters to the editor of Photoplay hotly debated pros and cons of the new “talkies.” Reactions ran the gamut, from a movie musician who claimed talkies would save her from apathetically “sawing through thousands of performances” to a spectator who expressed her intense annoyance with the new “canned music” replacing live theater organs and orchestras.[1] These exchanges offer a glimpse into the radical shifts in film music practice around 1930; prior to this, so-called “silent films” were accompanied by a huge variety of sounds, from generic mood music and cue sheets to compilation scores and original (“special”) scores.[2] As the movie industry transitioned to the sound era, many of these early musical resources were destroyed, stashed away, or gradually amassed in archives. Yet the work of silent film advocates, investments in silent film collections by research institutions, and the resurgence of silent film screenings accompanied by live music have all increased the prominence of silent film sound in recent years.[3]

The Silent Film Sound & Music Archive (hereafter SFSMA) preserves and disseminates music of the silent era (ca. 1895–1930). Established in 2014, SFSMA is headed by founder and executive director Kendra Preston Leonard, a musicologist whose work includes a focus on silent film music archives. Scholars specializing in a variety of film musics serve as SFSMA directors and officers. The archive is a 501(c)(3) organization supported by donations, ranging from individual and institutional gifts of silent film materials to operational grants from both people and
entities such as the Grammy Foundation and the Society for American Music. SFSMA’s nonprofit status underscores the archive’s mission to make silent film musics freely available to scholars, performers, and other individuals; all works are posted under an Open Data Commons Attribution license. The archive is very much an ongoing project. New materials continue to be uploaded to the website, usually announced via the News tab as well as SFSMA’s social media accounts.[4] To use the archive, visitors enter text into a search box to peruse by criteria such as composer/arranger/editor, title, date, publisher, and instrumentation. The search function also pulls up music associated with the various “moods” of silent film music; entering “hurry” or “misterioso,” for example, yields dozens of results. Users can likewise dip into different formats—such as sheet music or cue sheets—or browse tagged items. The music is well cataloged, typically with detailed bibliographic information and sometimes OCLC numbers.

As a cursory tour through a few SFSMA holdings, a 2016 “Sight and Sound” subvention from the Society for American Music funded twenty-five recordings by silent film accompanist Ethan Uslan.[5] The recordings, drawn from SFSMA sheet music, are excellent resources for class or public lectures. Other items assist performers by including orchestral parts (rare in most theater and film music collections).[6] Some works within the archive are heavily marked with performance indications, offering insight into silent film performance practice. Items from specific performers, such as cinema accompanists Claire Hamack and Adele V. Sullivan, offer tantalizing research opportunities; these collections both highlight the central role of women as motion picture accompanists and invite case studies of individual musicians and theatrical scenes. Indeed, while SFSMA broadly focuses on preserving printed music, the archive’s rich materials assist with crafting historiographies focusing on gender, sexuality, race, and class. Moreover, archive holdings provide a refreshingly decentralized view of film music in the United States through examples from places other than New York or Chicago.[7]

The archive is aimed at a broad swath of users, including researchers, performers, and educators. There is a small amount of specifically pedagogical content, from a guide to citing the archive to a short essay on music for silent film. The archive’s research value is abundantly clear, and it is likewise easy to envision students using materials from the archive. The pedagogical utility could be expanded, how- ever, by adding a tab with additional guidance for newcomers to silent film music— many users may need more help in deciding what to search for or in comprehending the context of collections such as Erno Rapee’s Encyclopedia of Music for Pictures or the four-volume Sam Fox Moving Picture Music.

There is plenty of potential to expand the archive. Although the recordings by Uslan are a good resource, increasing video and audio materials seems both a natural fit for silent film and a means of increasing the attractiveness of the site. Continuing to add images, multimedia posts, and essays would greatly enhance the overall user experience of this excellent repository. Such projects may already be underway; the webpage notes initial work in digitizing period recordings ofSFSMA sheet music holdings. Of course, adding to the site necessitates donations of materials, money, and time. Hopefully SFSMA will attract a burgeoning number of individuals and organizations willing to support this work. An expansive, openly-accessible online archive of silent film scores would be an incredibly valuable resource. Although its digitized collections already showcase a compelling sample of silent film sound, SFSMA has the potential to serve as a pivotal gateway to this material if the repository continues to grow and forge partnerships with other institutions.

Erin M. Brooks

[1] “Brickbats and Bouquets,” Photoplay, August 1929, 10, and September 1929, 142. These were by no means the only viewpoints; later that fall Photoplay published a letter from a theater organist heartily defending his profession.
[2] Many scholarly works discuss early film accompaniment styles in detail; for example, see Martin Miller Marks, Music and the Silent Film: Contexts and Case Studies, 1895–1924 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).
[3] For a summary of archival resources for silent film music, see Kendra Preston Leonard, “Using Resources for Silent Film Music,” Fontes Artis Musicae 63, no. 4 (October–December 2016): 259–76, or the longer guide in Leonard, Music for Silent Film: A Guide to North American Resources (Middleton, WI: A-R Editions, 2016).
[4] SFSMA has an active presence on Facebook and Twitter. These accounts regularly feature posts on both the archive and other news related to silent film music. The Twitter feed is also accessible as a sidebar on the SFSMA website.
[5] For more information, see Kendra Leonard, “New Audio Recordings by Ethan Uslan,” Silent Film Sound & Music Archive, last modified July 26, 2016, audio-recordings-by-ethan-uslan/.
[6] For example, see roughly three hundred pieces and around 2,300 instrumental parts within The Silent Cinema Presentations, Inc./Ben Model collection, digitized thanks to a grant from the Grammy Foundation. On how to locate these items, see From the Director, “New Posts Going Up,” Silent Film Sound & Music Archive, last modified October 13, 2016, posts-going-up/.
[7] At the moment, SFSMA seems to primarily include sources connected to the United States film industry. Problems with a narrow focus on New York (“gothamcentrism”) in theater or film studies have been discussed by Robert C. Allen, “Decentering Historical Audience Studies: A Modest Proposal,” in Hollywood in the Neighborhood: Historical Case Studies of Local Moviegoing, ed. Kathryn H. Fuller-Seeley (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 20–33.

Black Lives Matter

The Board of the Silent Film Sound and Music Archive condemns the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and far too many other Black people. We stand with communities that have been subjected to violence and discrimination. SFSMA acknowledges that many of its holdings were created in support of white supremacy and bigotry and that racism is endemic in early film and its music, and that the disciplines that study these materials have engaged in perpetuating white supremacy. We support Black Lives Matter, and we ask those who use our Archive to consider and reflect on the legacy of racism in early film. As a Board and as individuals, we are committed to taking anti-racist actions that will help create a more equitable world.  

New Acquisitions

SFSMA is delighted to announce the acquisition of three new collections for the Archive. We’ll be scanning materials and creating database entries for these over the next several months. If you’re interested in helping out by doing cue sheet transcription or record creation, contact Executive Director Kendra Leonard at–we can always use the help!

Coming soon:

The Judith Brunvand Collection, a small collection of sheet music and albums from a theater in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Eric Grayson Collection, several hundred scores and other materials, some from the Library of Congress.

The Carl L. Braun Collection, including more than 500 cue sheets and other heavily marked sheet music, representing the entire collection of Braun, who was a cinema accompanist in New Haven, CT at the Paramount Theater.


New: Cue Sheets from the Adele V. Sullivan Collection

We’ve just added 41 cue sheets from the collection of Adele V. Sullivan, a Colorado cinema accompanist whose papers are part of the Silent Film Music Collection at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Sullivan’s papers are unique in that her work bridged the transition to sound. She performed from cue sheets for silent and part-talkie movies, then became responsible for synching up phonographs with films. The cues for the phonographs are fascinating and we’ll be posting them soon.

For today, though, we’ve catalogued the traditional cue sheets from her collection, which include cues for a number of lost films such as The Chinese Parrot, Code of the Scarlet, The Magnificent Flirt, and Shanghai Bound.

SFSMA on NewMusicBox!

SFSMA Executive Director Kendra Leonard has authored four articles for NewMusicBox on music for silent films old and new! Check out the first installment of this series at New Music for a New Art Form: Photoplay Music, which includes information on music for early cinema, excerpts from SFSMA-held scores, and recordings by Ethan Uslan.

Future articles will be on topics including how accompanists used (and altered and ignored) cue sheets; scoring silent films today using yesterday’s music; and new music for silent film.