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  • Music for Silent Film: A Guide to North American Resources by Kendra Preston Leonard
  • Tim Shorkey
Music for Silent Film: A Guide to North American Resources Kendra Preston Leonard A-R Editions, Inc., 2016, 277 pages

One of the most commonly held misconceptions regarding cinematic history is that there was a so-called silent film period. To be sure, prior to the advent of sound-on-film technology (and Al Jolson's breaking of the sound barrier), film stock did not have the capacity to save a film's audio alongside its visual material for convenient synchronous exhibition. But that certainly doesn't mean that the cinematic experience existed in silence. Certainly, even from the dawn of film as a new medium—W.K.L. Dickson was experimenting with sound film a few short years after the first Edison camera tests were shot—there were efforts to provide audiences with a fuller experience, complete with (often synchronized) sound from a source outside the film stock itself. While others have performed research on early cinema's soundtrack over the years (Richard Abel and Rick Altman come to mind, for example), nowhere is the catalog of primary and secondary sources so conveniently itemized than in Kendra Preston Leonard's essential reference text, Music for Silent Film: A Guide to North American Resources.

The book is among those contained in the Music Library Association Index and Bibliography Series, and as such, approaches the material with the intent "…to collect the major resources in the United States and Canada into one volume that can be used by enthusiasts, performers, and scholars—anyone with an interest in music for the silent screen" (vii). In other words, the author approaches the material not from a scholarly perspective so much as that of a musical performer. Indeed, the book contains "information on how to find music, publications from the period about how and what to play for the movies, and scholarship about the music used for the silent cinema" (viii.). [End Page 66]

The text is broken into a section on primary sources (Part 1) and another on secondary sources (Part 2). Part 1 contains seven chapters, each detailing a different grouping of original materials. Chapter 1, "Archives," annotates the online Silent Film Sound and Music Archive, along with contact information for several brick and mortar archives located throughout Canada and the United States. Similarly, Chapter 2 specifies "a few libraries that lend out or rent music for silent film" (17). Chapter 3, "Instruction Books," provides a brief introduction to source books for potential accompanists, all but one of which "are held by libraries or archives in the United States and Canada either in print or microform" (19). Chapter 4, "Photoplay Albums," chronicles "known albums or anthologies of music for the silent cinema" (25). Chapter 5 offers a detailed listing of interviews with silent film accompanists, including subjects "from both the silent era and the present day" (31). Chapter 6, "Books," is the shortest chapter, listing only four references that would not fit into any other category. Conversely, Chapter 7, "Articles," is the longest chapter, and it includes published industry periodicals and articles from contemporaneous sources. Part 2 contains just two chapters: one on scholarly books and the second on scholarly articles.

One of the book's strengths is its multiple indices; for it includes a name index (for authors as well as subjects), a title index (for an alphabetical listing of the titles of all articles, books, and chapters), a film title index, and finally, a subject index. So, for example, if my local civic organization wanted to screen D. W. Griffith's Hearts of the World (1918) on its 100th anniversary, I could look it up in the title index to find it referenced by three different items (the text's citations are all numbered from one to 1862, and the indices refer to these, not page numbers). The first, item 403, turns out to be a primary article from Moving Picture World that discusses suggested music cues for the picture, useful information to a potential screener striving to replicate the total experience. This hypothetical nicely illustrates one of the author's...


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