Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Art of the Descriptive Selection(1892-1905)

The descriptive selection is a forgotten art. It is much like the monologue with orchestra accompaniment. The descriptive selection was a sort of recording made primarily in the late-1890's that described a scene from life or a scene of anything really. They described everything from a telephone conversation to a battle against the Cuban army. The exact purpose of these records has not exactly been determined, but part of the reason they were sold was to illustrate scenes that people from far away could never experience, or people that had great imagination. they really were a trend that died out all too quickly, as it was a true art while it lasted. The idea of selling descriptive scenes on records came to record company owners around 1892, one of the first popular descriptive selections was "The Night Alarm". As many record nerds might be able to notice, this selection was really never dropped out of any of the record catalogs until about 1905, as it was re-recorded countless times by all the house orchestras from 1892 to 1905. To begin, I will go through many popular descriptive selections and fully describe the sequence with extra information if needed. A sample of each one will be given.

The Night Alarm(written by David Wallis Reeves) other variants of the title include" Midnight Fire Alarm": A scene describing a fire department being awakened in the night from their capers to go out to a fire, and the band strikes up as they ride off to the fire accompanied by horse clops on the groups until a single flute sounds they put out the flames. They all sing together at the end in celebration for the flames put out, while the band plays. 

example recording:

Charge of Roosevelt's Rough Riders(written by Tom Clark, Fred Hylands, George Schweinfest and the Columbia orchestra):  A well-planned scene beginning with the the assembly of the troops and then the bugle calls sounding for "to arms" then another call sounds, "forward march!". Then begins the charge of the brigade. The band plays a quick paced march until the troops set up in their trench and the calls of the bugle return, "Commence firing!" The dogs of war are then set free, and the firing fills the field, with madness falling everywhere. Once the firing passes, the troop celebrate with "A Hot time in the Old Town" with all the band playing and singing joyfully after the battle. (Fred Hylands is very audible when they all sing at the end)

example recording:

On the Midway(probably written By Edward Issler and his orchestra, later adapted by Len Spencer): First begins the Irish Village, to come and see them and their Shillelagh in the dance with their jigs. Then a little farther down the path you'll find the German village with their steins of fine, come and get your sandwich and beer here! Farther downward, you'll find the Leopard boy! This year the boy is white, but next year, the boy will be black! One dollar for to see him! The creature is unveiled and the crowd is dazzled by the white leopard -like skin, and anxiously awaits to see him turn black. Now then you'll see the "Hoochie-Koochie" dancing girls with the "pearl of the harem" in their dance, they'll do all the work boys! Guaranteed! Admission is one dollar! While the girls begin their very scandalous dance, the band begins to play an oriental air while all the beads and pearls shake around like snakes as the girls dance. The band plays with drums and tambourines.(Hylands and Spencer audibly hum the tune as they play it on the later take, and Issler is probably the one who hums it on the 1894 take), the crowd is dazzled once more! 

example recording(s): in 1894) in 1898)
A drawing I did of one of the scenes depicted on the cylinder:

The Virginia Skedaddle(written by Monroe Rosenfeld in 1891), adapted by Edward Issler and his orchestra: A descriptive selection in disguise, as it is describing a "dance in Darktown" with a band of "Nigger Musicians"(pardon the language, that is what it was called, listen to what Spencer calls them at the beginning). This act is one that is meant to describe a "cake-walk" in 1892, with the playful dancers loving the rhythms of the band playing, you can hear the clicks of shoes done by Spencer throughout the record. This was likely one that was performed at the shows of Spencer's Columbia minstrels, or at those lavish gatherings held at the Waldorf by the Easton's. They were listed as taking part in these performances as according to The Phonoscope

example recording(s): in c.1894)
queryType=@attr+1=1020&num=1&start=1&query=cylinder5225(recorded in 1900)

The Levee Scene(Len Spencer/Tom Clark?): This one is a little bit more explanatory for itself. It's a steamboat wharf in New Orleans, with the boat full of cotton bales arriving at the shore. All the strong workers throw off the cotton bales, and sing while the work goes on, while the band plays quick to imitate the movement. After the work is done, all the boys have a hot time when the band comes along to play their levee dance, and everyone joins in with the dance and singing.(they ran out of time at the end!)

example recording: in 1903)

*Just an interesting note about the record just listed above, the number on that one is no. 1551, and if any of you know about no. 1555, and 1556, those are both Rag-Time numbers, 1555 being "Peaceful Henry" and 1556 being "Dixie Girl". Just really interesting to think that these were probably recorded within the same week of later 1903. 

The Bugler's Dream(probably written by Tom Clark): The dream of a war hero, though it's just a bugler. The first part of the queer dream is the band playing "Just Before the Battle, Mother", then the brigade assembles at the line, "To arms!" sounds, then the bugle blows to begin the battle. All hell breaks loose! All his comrades go off to the field and many are killed on the spot, but those who survive to the final call of the bugle are victorious! The final song played by the band begins as "Nearer, My God, to Thee" and it ends the dream of the battle. 
The actual description: The Spencer's had to do an awful lot of balancing to get this the way that it is, and we can clearly hear it by how everything is placed, and how all of the shouts and cheers are not really that well balanced. The 1898 take is especially rowdy, as you can clearly hear by the part where they begin the firing of the cannons. You can even hear how far away from the horn Tom Clark is, as he's well over a few feet away by the echo of the room(it's their big room by the way). Hylands is very close to the horns, as he's  very prominent in the recording, and he can be heard swinging around one of those God-awful wooden clicker things, as are most of the performers in the room. It's an amazing recording really! Both takes! 

example recording(s): in 1898)
/search.php?queryType=@attr+1=1020&num=1&start=1&query=cylinder8235(recorded in 1903)

Children's Games Lanciers(unknown composer/arranger): This is a very odd one. This one is like many of its kind, the "Lanciers" records of the 1890's were very popular selections describing dances of various kinds. These Lanciers were actually danced done by large groups of couples, much like a Cake-Walk, just without the raucous Rag-time and high-stepping. Tom Clark leads this one, and all the children are dancing to the band playing, all in their pretty bright clothes, and joyfully cherishing their friendships. The announcement in the middle is just like usual, with the leader of the band making an announcement to the children that his little girl will be having a birthday party next week, and all the kids are invited to the party. The band continues to play just after mister leader man announces the next part of the lanciers and it trails to the end. 

example recording: 

Scene at and Irish Ball(unknown composer/arranger): This is a descriptive selection from 1895 illustrating a ball out on the Bowery, full of Irish wit and might. One of the dancers calls out to the Professor(Frank Banta that is...), and Mister leader man calls out to the band to play "Gems of Ireland Quadrille". After the "let 'er go!" the band strikes up the quadrille. The calls are given out to the dancers until someone yells out that someone took their watch! A fight breaks out! just as it continues, another yells,"play up an overture professor, someone has lost a watch!". They tune up quickly and then play the next half of the quadrille, and dance continues just as planned, until the end of the cylinder. in 1895 in Chicago)

The Village Orchestra(Unknown composer): This is one that not all people who listen to it will understand what the point happens to be. It's describing an orchestra in a small town or village playing for their villagers. The first part consists of them warming up and getting tuned up, kind of. Once they get going, they begin playing a somewhat patriotic tune, that then leads to playing "Pop Goes the Weasel". After that is played, mister leader man(Fred Hylands) yells "Encore! Encore!" They then strike up "Annie Laurie", playing it in that most pathetic way that did do. It falls apart practically by the end of the tune, and once they get through, the villagers are all happy with their smart instrument men, especially mister leader man(Fred Hylands in this case). Someone yells,

 Tom Clark/ George Schweinfest: "Say, do ya fellows know 'Annie Laurie'? 
Fred Hylands:"Why, that was Annie Lau-rrrie" 
Tom Clark/ George Schweinfest: "Aww, well, can't beat ya no how!" 

example recordings: in 1899)

this take is a little different: in 1901)

Well, there are so many of these descriptive selections out there that I didn't list, mainly because of the fact that they are not digitized online for all to hear just yet, but there are more online than those I listed here. Go out in the internet or into your record collections and dig out some of them! You won't be sorry!  The descriptive selection was a fantastic marketing scheme, but it was more than that, it was a great way for everyone to imagine what scenes were being described, and to encourage creative thinking. I would even categorize the minstrel records of the 1890's and 1900's as descriptive selections, as they were fully describing a minstrel show, something that now everyone could afford to go to or want to go to. With all of these bizarre scenes illustrated, they are actually a fantastic and rare look into what the 1890's was truly like, not just what we all hear about it now, what could be better than hearing how it was from a voice that actually witnessed it go by them! It's a very unique way to peak our heads into the 1890's for just under three minutes. 

I hope you enjoyed this! I took me several days to write this post, sorry about that...

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