MORE GREAT HAL ROACH BACKGROUND MUSIC COMING
In l982, over dinner at his home, Hal Roach reacted with a low chuckle and shook his head in wonderment when he was told that an enterprising, extraordinary, dedicated band leader in New York named Vince Giordano was trying to research, perform and record the compositions of LeRoy Shield and, secondarily, Marvin Hatley, which were used as background music for l930s Roach comedies.
A sometimes-jazz musician, but full time writer-director-actor, named Woody Allen, was impressed with the skill and devotion of Vince Giordano, but Hal Roach was not. At least not openly. As was often the case, Roach may have felt complimented, but would not let it show. He would never allow himself to betray any sign of what he regarded as weakness or sentiment, which in his case were interchangeable components of behavior.
"Why would anyone want to do that?" Roach asked in response upon learning of Vince Giordano's pioneering endeavor. He could not understand it. Roach had created this product, this film library, had enjoyed himself doing so, was proud of his accomplishments, but he himself was not a consumer, and not a fan. He was amused that anyone should be interested in listening to background music from his films for its own sake.
Explaining the music's appeal as a pure, early jazz, timeless sound was not enough for Roach, nor was the fact that these tunes resonate as the cheerful and nostalgic subconscious soundtrack of the American Baby-Boomers generation which grew up with these films on television. He smiled throughout the discussion; he was frankly amused by it. But the compositions of LeRoy Shield or Marvin Hatley were hardly what he would choose for listening pleasure.
Neither Roach's indifference, however, nor any other obstacles deterred Vince Giordano throughout the l980s from unlocking the secrets of this music.
Then others with remarkable dedication independently joined this archeological endeavor -- Ronnie Hazelhurst of the BBC in London, and Piet Schreuders of The Beau Hunks orchestra in Amsterdam.
What an undertaking this would be. The sheet music, and the complete original recordings on disc and film (except as edited for use within the fully-mixed motion picture soundtracks) were presumed lost. Also, commercial recordings had never been released. All of these researchers would have to painstakingly reconstruct the Shield and Hatley melodies on the basis of note-for-note transcriptions.
Then arrangements would need to be prepared according to imagined instrumentation for musicians to work from. After careful study, researcher Piet Schreuders determined that, for instance, in the case of OUR RELATIONS, "the orchestration was much fuller and broader than Shield's work of the early l930s: in addition to the usual dance band complement, he used two flutes, an oboe, a bassoon, four violins, two violas and a `cello."
Next a conductor who appreciated every nuance of the sound would have to guide rehearsals. When everything was ready, recordings would be made using period overhead microphones.
With such patience, diligence and authenticity, it was The Beau Hunks who succeeded in issuing compact discs that pleased discerning music critics around the world. BILLBOARD called these all-new recordings of familiar old stock themes "uncanny replicas of the originals ... a delightful surprise."
THE NEW YORKER hailed The Beau Hunks as "a crackerjack orchestra."
THE NEW YORK TIMES praised the collection of melodies as "light, spry and awash with innocence that is now rare."
Graphic artist Robert Crumb (subject of the acclaimed documentary) enthused, "This is something I've been looking for all my life. A great musical accomplishment."
"I love it," said Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys. "It triggered off a very beautiful sentimental chord in my soul."
All of which has led up to The Beau Hunks' most ambitious project to date -- a reconstruction, performance and recording of the complete, unabridged score LeRoy Shield was commissioned to compose for OUR RELATIONS. Screening the film, we hear most, but not all the tunes Shield wrote that were designed to complement the varying visuals, synchronized to each successive scene. In all, these melodies comprised a full, integrated feature film score -- about 50 minutes of new music.
Based upon a cache of hand-written sheet music newly discovered between 1994 and 1996 by Piet Schreuders, and Rob Stone of the UCLA Film and Television Archives, it was apparent that Shield wrote more music than was heard in the finished film -- perhaps nearly twice as much! Three sequences were evidently filmed, possibly scored, then edited out to tighten the pace after unsatisfactory previews in July of l936. So, according to one line of speculation, as this footage was deleted, so too was the accompanying background music.
For instance, the composition entitled JUST A KISS was written for OUR RELATIONS but not used in the extant version of the film as we know it. Not until a year later did this melody turn up on the track for something called DAILY BEAUTY RITUALS, the Roach experimental Cinecolor short with Constance Bennett.
Still it is equally probable that the preview print was not scored at all, and someone such as editorial supervisor Elmer Raguse simply made a unilateral decision not to utilize certain compositions where Shield had intended. Because while Shield had in mind his work should constitute a rich, seamless orchestral suite, the actual decision of which cues to employ, and where, rested with Raguse.
In any case, all that has survived of Shield's complete, original score, as he intended it for OUR RELATIONS, was this nondescript sheet music, hidden away, silent, and silently for more than six decades. Now, at last, with the highly specialized Beau Hunks orchestra (performing along with The Metropole Orchestra) releasing a CD album faithfully recreating Shield's "lost" score, the music need no longer remain in the background. Shield's melodies can be appreciated for their own sake, as works of art too long neglected. Which, in turn, can only enhance our appreciation of the film for which the music was written.
Marvin Hatley would score the next Laurel & Hardy film, WAY OUT WEST, and receive an Oscar nomination for his efforts. LeRoy Shield's stepson, Mahlon Dolman, has an opinion on Hatley's ascendancy and the dissolution of Shield's relationship with the studio. "Well first, Roy was in Chicago, so far away," Dohlman explains. "And then his duties at NBC were taking more and more of his time and his interest. I think he was finding greater satisfaction in deeper, heavier music. He was writing tone poems, for instance. He was increasingly drawn to serious, symphonic music, which Katherine (my mother) encouraged."
So being pulled in another direction -- away from scoring Hollywood comedies -- was one reason for Shield's absence after 1936. There were others. It cost the studio less money to use Hatley. Shield was paid $500 per week on OUR RELATIONS and not until 1939 did Hatley earn even $200 a week. Shield was harder to schedule for a picture whereas Hatley was always right there in Culver City every day, available for any and all musical assignments both before and behind the cameras. Shield was employed as NBC's music director for RCA, while Hatley worked for Roach directly and nearly everyone on The Lot of Fun knew and liked him. No one disapproved Shield, but he was an outsider. As the younger Hatley gained more experience, Roach was more inclined to increase his responsibilities.
Another consideration: since Shield was tied to RCA Victor, his publishing arrangement was with Southern Music. The studio originally contracted with Southern Music also, which was operated by Ralph Peer. Roach's former vice-president, Henry Ginsberg, didn't seem to care for Peer, who understandably returned the sentiment. This disaffection hurt Shield, who was close to Peer. "Shield was tight with (Elmer) Raguse, too," Marvin Hatley observed, "but that didn't help him when Roach took it upon himself to change the direction of the studio by making a different class of pictures."
Perhaps the determining factor was that in l935, under pressure from Loew's and M-G-M as exerted through Ginsberg, Hal Roach Studios dropped its music publishing arrangement with Southern, in favor of Robbins Music. It turned out that Nicholas Schenck, who ran Loew's, had a financial interest in Robbins; that's why Roach was pushed to sign a new deal. Leaving Southern sealed the fate of Shield as the studio's primary composer. The balance of power -- if either man enjoyed any power to begin with -- shifted away from Shield toward Hatley. When David Loew, son of Loew's late founder, Marcus Loew, succeeded Henry Ginsberg as the new general manager at Roach, the decision was made to award future Laurel & Hardy assignments to Hatley.
With the arrival of the new Beau Hunks CD album, hopefully Shield will be back, will be rediscovered, and will be celebrated for all the joy his ever fresh-sounding and joyous and infectious melodies have brought to fans -- both music fans and film comedy fans -- for seventy years.
Read the complete OUR RELATIONS essay by Richard W. Bann.
Find out more about Beau Hunks music cds available from Basta Audio/Visual.