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New Concepts In Present Day Music

From a Conference with
PAUL WHITEMAN
Secured Expressly for The Etude Music Magazine
By JAMES FRANCIS COOKE

Paul Whiteman was born in 1891, in Denver, Colorado. His father, as Supervisor of Music in the Public Schools, was one of the first to champion orchestras and bands in high schools. Paul started his career by playing the violin in one of these high school groups. Then he became the first viola player in the Denver Symphony Orchestra. At twenty-two he went to San Francisco, where in 1915 he played in the World’s Fair Orchestra. Later Alfred Hertz engaged him for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. In the following article he tells many interesting facts about the remainder of his career.—Editor’s Note.

SOUND IS WHAT I AM AFTER— sound and rhythm, for these are the materials that all composers must use, in some form, to create the designs by means of which they must express their ideas and their inspirations. Music is a thing of the ears. True, one can imagine music without sound, just as a trained musician can take a score and read it silently. Beethoven and Smetana had to do that, because in their later years they were almost stone deaf; but to most people music is meaningless unless it is heard. For years, musicians seem to have to go upon the basis that music could sound only in one way, and that only certain sounds were legally permissible. In fact, the musical lawmakers in the past were like the gentlemen in Congress who sit up nights thinking how many restrictions they can throw about life, rather than trying to make life , more prosperous, abundant and enjoyable. Nobody will ever know how much music has been held back by the verboten boys who are far more interested in telling what not to do than in making really worth while music themselves. I was brought up to believe, for instance, that parallel fifths were a venomous species of musical mayhem or assault and battery. Puccini and others have shown that, if one knows how to use fifths, they may be tremendously effective. The same obstructions applied to the introduction of new instruments. The saxophone had a fearful struggle at the start; and when we introduced banjos and guitars in our group, because there were no other instruments which could etch in the rhythm quite so well, some of the older musicians looked aghast.

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On a Sound Base

“Possibly my own orthodox bringing up has had much to do with the direction of my work. You see, my father, who was of Welsh and Scotch extraction, was a pedagog, a school music superintendent, and a rather severe and unrelenting one. He played in the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and was a strong believer in the union. He got me into the union as a youth, and I played the viola in the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (later in the Denver Symphony Orchestra) and became acquainted with the symphonic repertoire from Bach to Debussy.

“There was a union rule that, when opportunities to play turned up, the members of the union should be given the first
chance. In this way I played with visiting opera companies and thus added to my experience. The year round income from this however, was not enough to support me. My pay stopped when the symphony and orchestra season ended; and I realized that if I did not want to “go broke” I had to find some other source of income.

“Jazz was just beginning to be popular and I made the surprising discovery that, while I was able to earn only forty dollars a week in the symphony orchestra, I could get ninety dollars a week playing what was then called “jazz” fiddle. I received work in Tait’s Cafe Orchestra in San Francisco, and after a short time I was fired. I was not good enough, I who had played the classic symphony and opera repertoire. This made me mad, and I determined to find out why. The great war came on and I enlisted in the navy. Then I played all manner of vaudeville programs. Equipped with this unique experience, I faced a new problem. Of course, what there was of jazz in those days was lamentable. The music was often of a very cheap type, the arrangements inexpert, and a great deal was left to the improvizations of the player, as it is with the so-called swing music of to-day. I began to wonder if it were not possible to combine these appealing themes with something of the technic of the symphony orchestra. Was there not some way to take this music, however humble its origin, and make it acceptable to the great public and at the same time musically worth while?

In Lighter Vein

“In other words, I was convinced that lighter music with spontaneity could be written in a way which could be played from notes by expert players, with the same accuracy and precision demanded in the symphony orchestra. Would such music lose whatever flavor might come from the jazz improvizations that were derived from what is now called a swing “jam” session, in which the players extemporize upon their parts. My reply to this is that my orchestra still has “jam sessions,” and, if any of the players invents anything particularly clever in the way of a variation, this is carefully noted down and preserved so that it may be put in notes for future use. Now, it must be stated that there is a vast differ-
ence between the type of highly trained and educated musician in my band, who does this, and an absolutely untutored person who indulges in all kinds of musical extravagances which might destroy the whole harmonic structure of the work.

“What has been the result of all this? It has, in the first place, developed a new type of musical virtuosity from the standpoint of versatility, tone and technic. Our boys have to think very fast in these days, far faster than in the regular symphony orchestra. I have been obliged continually to reject symphonic players, because they do not think quickly enough for our programs. Such a player as Bix Biederbecke, is one of the most marvelous performers upon the trumpet ever known. Benny Goodman has a terrific technic. If he developed his legato and some other things, there would be no finer symphony clarinetist in the United States.

“All this has made a new field for musical arrangers. Special arrangements have had to be made; and my bill for arrangements has run at times as high as forty-two hundred to six thousand dollars a week. Ferde Grofé played the piano in my group and had new and fresh ideas upon arranging which have since made him famous. It was Grofé who advised with George Gershwin in constructing the famous Rhapsody in Blue; and then he (Grofé) made one of the most famous orchestrations in recent musical history. This does not reflect in any way upon the obvious genius of Gershwin. Grofé supplied what Gershwin did not have.

We Invade the Classics

“One of our first attempts was Rimsky-Korsakoff’s “Song of India,” which has essentially a dance rhythm and lent itself marvelously to the new style. There was a great hue and cry about “jazzing” the classics. We were ruining musical taste. What was the result? Mme. Alda and Fritz Kreisler had made records of this, for the Victor Talking Machine Company. After the popularity of our records the sales of the Alda and Kreisler records increased three hundred percent. Surely no injury was done to the classics by our widely heard version.

“The great music of the past is a storehouse of musical thematic material. I refer particularly to Bach. Bach is a mint of themes of great value from a dance music standpoint. There are literally thousands of them tucked away in the contrapuntal fabric of this great master who is the basis of everything in music. Combine the glory of Bach with the sweetness of Mendelssohn and the grandeur of Beethoven, and you have touched the horizons of all music.

“I look upon the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy as the greatest musical instrument of its type in the world. There has never been anything in the way of an orchestra so exquisitely perfect and responsive. In my opinion the best orchestras in England could not stand with our foremost similar American organizations. The English orchestras are superb in their finish, but the rich color is not there. Combine the fire of Ole Bull, the vibrato of Elman, the youthful vigor of Menuhin, and the soul of Kreisler, and you have them all in the Philadelphia Orchestra. The fastest developing symphony orchestra in America, to my mind, is unquestionably the National Symphony Orchestra under Hans Kindler.

“The orchestra I use in broadcasting at present is made up as follows:
   9 saxophones
   These expert players all double;
   that is, they play the following
   instruments when the arrangements
   call for it:
   9 play clarinet
   5 play bass clarinet
   3 play flute
   2 play oboe
   2 play English horn
   2 play bassoon
6 brass including
   3 trumpets and 3 trombones
2 pianos
2 guitars
2 drums
1 string bass
6 violins
2 violas

(I am often asked why we do not use horns. Well, if a horn player in a symphony orchestra is an expert, he is usually too old to learn to play our complicated rhythms. If he has not this technic, it takes him too long to get it.)

“After many years of experience and innumerable tours with my group, during which time we have combined with the greatest symphony orchestras in the land, to show the public what this new form of music is; I am coming to the opinion that we do not belong with a symphony orchestra, and a symphony orchestra does not belong with us. In fact I am continually looking for something new, as the opportunities of the times make this possible.

The Ever Widening Horizon 

“Broadcasting and radio have made new and important obligations. Many people, who are acquainted only with the established type of symphony orchestra, in which the player takes one place at the beginning of the concert and never moves until the intermission, are amazed when they attend one of my broadcasts and find the players continually moving about. One humorous observer said that they seemed to dart from here to there on the stage like goldfish in an aquarium. This is not done for visual effect, of course, but merely to bring certain groups nearer to the microphones so that some particular part will be properly stressed. For instance, the drummer may run up to the microphone with a cymbal and a wire fly-swatter and, holding both right up before the “mike” hit it one swat. That is because that particular sound effect would be lost to the air if the drummer were in his usual place. All these things must be very carefully studied and tried out many times, before they are introduced.

“Some years ago (in 1924), I gave the first concert of music in the modern style at Aeolian Hall, which included the famous Rhapsody in Blue and also an original work written for the occasion by Victor Herbert. Besides Gershwin and Herbert, almost the whole concert consisted of well-established jazz numbers, such as Yes, we have no Bananas.

“Last Christmas night, at Carnegie Hall, I gave another program which included for the first time music especially written for electrical amplification, and many different novelties, embracing the new palette of musical colors and tonal values made possible by modern conditions. We have now in our orchestral scores new musical pigments which are adding to music a new interest. I am seriously interested in the future possibilities of this expansion of musical materials, as may be understood when I state that, although the house was sold out on Christmas Eve, the various expenses of the concert exceeded the receipts of six thousand dollars.

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A HISTORIC MEETING
This group came together to discuss the famous Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin. From left to right the individuals are Ferde Grofé, who made the memorable orchestration of the composition; Deems Taylor, composer; Paul Whiteman; Blossom Seeley, and George Gershwin, the composer



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