John Tuttle is exactly right about many modern "tunes." Try to whistle
one, sometime ;~o [ that looks like a winking whistler to me ;-) ]
QRS does a good job on roll arrangements as long as the score can be
musically enriched with beautiful progressions, key changes, chord
modulation and embellishments.
When you want the words to the music, you've got it. And when you want
to have a really good time with a player piano, you need the words.
Otherwise, you may as well fold up the tent and go home. The basic
reason to play that music is for its inherent entertainment value as a
stand-alone product that doesn't require fireworks, costumes, gyration,
goofy hair, and a light show. It's playful, pretty, and fun. It's to
goof around and sing along with. Works just like it used to.
That said, most modern tunes are so contemporary you forget what it
was you were bumping and grinding to before the roll is even
completely rewound. As you are putting it back in the box you say to
yourself, "I wonder what this one sounds like?" Maybe that's their
way to keep the curiosity piqued.
But the money is still in the "classic" American tunes, up to about
the 60's or 70's in some cases (excluding Broadway). It is also these
tunes that are fun to sing along with, and it is the excerpts to these
tunes that American advertisers use to sell their products. They are
about as "out of date" as a wide screen TV with surround-- since
that's what's playing them today. They are also where modern show
arrangers get their ideas-- so much so that some of the old tunes
can be made to play along together with them for 2-3 measures (and
more). They are where everybody goes when they want a theme song, a
new fight song, a political rally song-- whatever makes the money.
That's why I think it's time to rearrange many of these great old
tunes and reissue them, not to mention writing new ones with a melody
line statement. Put some "sophisticated" riffs or rhythm in them,
re-chord them, whatever you'd like to do, and they will sell. (Frank
Sinatra ran into the same problem, but he didn't let it bother him,
I have about 100 songs now on SOFI (a large orchestrion) that plays
via MIDI or orchestrion rolls, but we prefer the new arrangements of
the old songs. I would not waste my time with something from the newer
genre, because even though SOFI would play it, you wouldn't have
anything after you finished-- and those arrangements take a lot of
time and work. So I stick with classics-- whether pop or serious
music, and she really comes alive.
Now, there are some good rock music songs by the way, and those I may
sometime arrange also. I don't dislike the rock music style, per se.
What I dislike is the "stale popcorn" the major medium dumps out every
ten minutes. There's zero variety, and almost no musical ideas or
individuality in it. The only purpose of these "songs" is to showcase
a group of medevial performers. Trying to find a good one that stands
on its own merits makes one feel like the homeless. It's like
rummaging through garbage to find something you can eat. Why embellish
and decorate a moldy grapefruit rind? Will it be more appreciated when
you finish? And time has not made most of it more acceptable-- just
more forgettable, luckily. So understand what QRS must deal with. This
is sad, frightening, sensual, and hopeless music. Player pianos play
happy, creative, playful, lyrical, and beautiful music. There IS a
But time heals all things in the music world, too. And the latest
popcorn just makes music lovers more aware of the difference between a
truly creative classic that can be arranged and expanded on, and the
"shock effect" bumper car music of today which redefines these old
classics as truly great music. If it wasn't for our modern pop
culture, we might never fully appreciate what a treasure we have, and
in comparison, how little this generation has left.
It's a good exercise to play a mod rock number on a player piano once
in awhile to remind ourselves just how lucky we are. Ask yourself, "If
this is the music player pianos had started with in the teens, and
these represented the bulk of the old rolls remaining, and there were
no songs like S'Wonderful, or "You are My Lucky Star," how long do we
think player pianos would have lasted?"
It's a daily treat to know so many of the greatest melodies ever
written, and to have them, from time to time, "run around my brain.
You can't escape.." their charm, and I don't wish to, but it's
something major that defines me and makes my life worthwhile. I love
it because I realize that this is a real treasure, and regardless
what else may come, 'They Can't Take That Away From Me."