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MMD > Archives > December 1996 > 1996.12.19 > 16Prev  Next


Preserve the Words on the Rolls!
By Craig Brougher

The old-fashioned way of putting words on rolls seems to be, so far, the only way that anybody can do it. The city-block-long stencil isn't exactly a technique easily duplicated, and as a result, all the great old popular music of the teens, twenties, and thirties is still lost -- that is, if the words are lost.

Classical music seems to be the main thrust to preserve, but one day it will be discovered that the more important music to have saved will have been the popular music of the day. It is in this venue that the true spirit of the time is actually captured in paper firmware, forever, along with the words explaining it.

Wagnerian classics on rolls are great, but in that era, they're just recuts of the same stuff. They do not give anyone a clue as to the actual spirit of the day. Our grandparents living today must also evolve with their culture, and so become a volatile and contradictory source of information. The spirit they grew up with really isn't with them anymore. But it IS on rolls! The problem is, some of the very best tunes of all were never recut, and the best rolls were long ago thrown away, after having been played to death.

So while old saws like "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" and Red Wing" have been re-mastered because they represent (to the manufacturers of the rolls at least) player pianos and the good old days, tunes like "Look For The Happy Ending," "Ching Chong," "ILO," "In A Tent," "The One I Love," and specialty stuff like "Let Your Tired Girlie Sleep," -- fun stuff that's just pure music for music's sake -- has disappeared! Probably forever. We've lost the humor of the time, the syntax, the phraseology, the verbiage, etc. "Get Out and Get Under" some may still know about, but it won't be long before anyone will really have an inkling what they were talking about. The music is only half of it!

This is just crazy. What a waste. And without the words, the tune has no root or meaning. And yet off we go, trying to find some other particular artist's rendition of "William Tell Overture." The classics are great, and I love them. But they will not have the value or respect someday that the few remaining pop tunes of the era had.

Why? Because the true spirit of the day is actually understood only in its music! The fallacy of believing history as a chronicle can already be seen by our (pre-boomer) generation, as modern "historians" (so-called) are busy revising and rewriting the facts, and excerpting old movie reels and archives to prove their points. It has always been the historian's lot to put the real facts in context, and display only the things he wants to focus on. But the music of the age denies him that luxury, ultimately.

If we preserve the music, and the words, then the heart of our fading roots are accurately preserved, especially in an age in which truth is belittled and scribbled over like pictures in a coloring book. The music and lyrics of contemporary music represent the heart and soul of a society who supported it. (Listen to the music of the twenties, and then listen to the music of the thirties. Night and day! Read the words. What a total about-face it is!)

I wish there was some way, other than penciling-in the words, that rolls could be annotated. Pin printers are just about a thing of the past, and laser printing and ink jet have taken over the business. So how do you go about professionally copying the words on new paper? We can take pictures of them from now on, but if they're frozen in a vault of someones estate, then they are useless. Unless we have pianos to play them on, and rolls to play, we will still believe that what our forefathers played day and night was "Red Wing" and "The Old Rugged Cross."

Another aspect of this question is in the relative difficulty of composing a truly successful pop tune. Classical music is largely composed of "cliches." As a matter of fact, since Bach, the "champion of musical cliches," every composer since has fed upon the idea of theme and variation, which is just another word for "cliche." Theme and variation is the bread and butter of classical music. It also speeds things up considerably in the composition department. From the three themes you choose, you are able to elaborate, and to prevent getting dull, dry, and boring, you fill it with the extremes of expression, which, as a composer, you know that your audience will be borne up to the heights as you pump their handle, so to speak. (I realize this is a rather cool expository of emotion, but a fact, nevertheless.) You cannot do that with pop music.

What sails along in classical, flops mightily in pop. While you might pick a few measures in classical music to turn into pop music and chuck out the rest, there are tens of thousands of great pop tunes which you could turn into classical music, and none of it is filler. You would have to fluff it up -- "add lots more butterflies" -- to get a 30-minute performance, but the material is all there. Liszt knew these possibilities were endless, and what we are liszt-ening to in many cases are the pop tunes of his age extended into the classic venue. Liszt immortalized the great tunes, and we recut his stuff, and throw our stuff away.

We have here the perfect forum to get something done about this wasteful- ness, and leave a lasting memento and archive to our great grandchildren. When they start asking questions, do you want them to be handed the latest history book by the most recent crop of graduates and told, "Here, read this!"

Were they able to listen to our music, could not even an uneducated person use these archives as a buffer to understand and retain the sparkle, the joy, the interests, and mystery, the fascination, the spirit, and the successes of a peppy, energetic era?

We very much need a method to print words, as well as to cut paper. Are there any modern-day Gutenbergs out there?

Craig Brougher

[ Editors note:
[
[ I know a lot of classics are shown in lists of recuts, but I suspect
[ that the "best sellers" by quantity are the jolly pop tunes. We have
[ some Digest members selling recuts; perhaps they can tell us more.
[
[ Although the modern wax-coated piano roll paper doesn't respond well
[ to impression or offset printing, it's _fabulous_ in a laser printer!
[ Try it! The wax electrolyte "grabs" the static charge, so that lots of
[ toner is deposited, and then the heater melts the toner nicely into the
[ wax. It looks beautiful, and it's very durable.
[
[ But a laser printer for 11.25-inch wide paper of unlimited length
[ is not readily available; I imagine it might cost several thousand
[ dollars. That's not within my budget!
[
[ Robbie Rhodes


(Message sent Thu 19 Dec 1996, 15:27:20 GMT, from time zone GMT.)

Key Words in Subject:  Preserve, Rolls, Words

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