Having been most fragrantly fooded as described in my previous post, we headed out towards The Helix, which is a venue on the campus of Dublin City University (the same DCU mentioned in the spiffy graffiti I posted about earlier) in Glasnevin, North Dublin.
We were running a little late, but we fortunately got a taxi more or less straight away, which took us right to the front doors of the venue.
Kvetch went inside to sort out the tickets we’d booked online (for that rather annoying “convenience fee” of a euro each) whilst I stayed outside to finish the cigarette I hadn’t had time for before getting into the taxi.
I then went inside, found kvetch, found the loo, went to the loo, and with mere minutes to spare, navigated to Door A of the Mahony Hall
(pronounced: ‘ma: həni) through which our seats were to be found.
- Recording the Oz Music
- In this publicity still, Herbert Stothart, house composer for MGM, conducts the studio orchestra in music for a scene later cut from the film. The scene shown is part of the musical “Triumphal Return” sequence deleted before the film’s release, showing the return of Dorothy and her friends to the Emerald City with the Wicked Witch’s broomstick. Stothart composed the background music for the film, as well as leading the orchestra in synchronizing the music with the on-screen action.
- Image and text sourced from the Library of Congress. The only current copyright information they appeared to have on this image was this text:
- “Publicity still showing music for The Wizard of Oz being recorded. Hollywood: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939. Copyprint.”
As reported (all too briefly) here:
- “Conductor and arranger John Wilson has transcribed Harold Arlen’s score for the film”
Actually, Wilson must have (at least primarily) transcribed Herbert Stothart‘s score for the film, since the printed notation for Harold Arlen‘s composed song contributions appears to be widely available.
According to this Wikipedia page, a couple of lines up from this, the transcription premièred on 7 January, 2007 in the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. Since it’s now December, 2007, I find it difficult to believe that John Wilson was all of a sudden so rushed into providing information about his project to the press, that he made such a misattribution that it was only Arlen’s score he was transcribing.
I did have difficulties imagining that printed copies of the full score to this iconic, well documented film do not exist anywhere. But having done some cursory internet searching, I can see that the full written score, including the incidental music, may very well be completely unavailable.
I was unable to determine whether full orchestral scores of the songs are available in printed notation, so it’s possible that John Wilson had to re-orchestrate the extensively available piano reduction versions. If he’d had to do that, it would have been a hugely annoying pain, so he has my sympathies if that was the case.
However, I don’t feel too fabulous about the fact that John Wilson permitted this project to be advertised as a complete transcription of Harold Arlen’s score, when clearly much (if not all) of the work will have been done on Herbert Stothart’s score. This inaccuracy and mis-credit, considering he must have spent a considerable amount of time working on this project, seems difficult to fathom.
On IMDb.com (and indeed anywhere else one cares to look), the musical composer for the Wizard of Oz is listed overtly everywhere as Harold Arlen. However, Arlen solely composed the music for the songs for the film, and nothing else.
The full credits listing for the Wizard of Oz, on closer inspection (way, waaaaay down the list) credits Herbert Stothart as the generally uncredited composer of the quite fabulous incidental music for the film. This is even though Stothart won what was perhaps the only Oscar ever awarded for Best Original Score where the winning score was the incidental film music underscoring a musical.
As a side note, it’s even more astonishing to me that Stothart won the 1939 Oscar for Best Original Score, because in that same year, Gone With The Wind was the recipient of most of the other available Oscars. Between them, Gone With The Wind, and the Wizard of Oz garnered most of the Oscars they were eligible for, plus a few honourary ones.
- [insert rant here for the avaricious wasteful ingrates of the studio system, who failed to properly credit and preserve the works of their most talented, yet underpaid and under appreciated artists.]
So, although the sheet music for all the songs by Harold Arlen featured in the Wizard of Oz appears to be widely available (at least in piano reduction form, if not in full orchestral form), it would seem that printed notation for the incidental music by Herbert Stothart is not.
If you imagine what it would be like to sit in front of a film such as The Wizard Of Oz, and transcribe by ear alone, as from dictation, manually, every bit of verbal dialogue without the benefit of having a script or any other aids to help you, I think you can get some idea of the huge scope of the massive undertaking it would have been to transcribe the music.
Even though the score for the songs will have been available, I can imagine what a task it will have been to have sat down with the film, and play rewind, play rewind, play rewind, ad nauseum, until:
- every pitch, interval, ornament, and grace note;
- every key signature and accidental;
- every motif, melody, counterpoint, and harmony;
- every time signature, rhythm, note duration, dot, tie and rest;
- every tempo marking, articulation, and dynamic;
- every solo and tutti;
- which instrument was to do what and how many of each;
- every musical element was separated out from underneath other distracting audio elements such as dialogue, foley, and sound effects
and then note down all of that accurately.
That whole list just seems full of headaches to me.
It’s an interesting task to consider, and I wouldn’t rule out doing something similar myself in future, but the sheer enormity of the scope of this undertaking would have me waiting for a long time until I was sure I had the mental energy to even get started.
- (starting’s always the hardest part for me, I don’t know about you. All that inertia, it just seems to pile up on me like a big piley-uppy thing)
So, anyhow, that should give you at least some idea of what this project entailed.
- View of the ground floor seating plan in the Mahony Hall in The Helix at DCU.
The woman who was there to direct people to their seats looked at our tickets, and gestured towards two seats at the other end of a row which was filled with people who would all have to stand to allow us to pass.
She took a moment, asked us if we would prefer to sit on the aisle (we certainly would!) and directed us to (better!) seats directly to our right, which we happily settled into.
So, instead of sitting in seats 3 and 4 on the inconvenient end of row T in the side section below Door A (as you look at the seating plan, we sat instead in aisle seats 10 and 11 of row T in the middle section of the tiered stalls below Door A.
- The Mahony Hall at The Helix
This image illustrates that the Mahony Hall was designed to be an acoustically live environment (as opposed the acoustic deadness of being in, say, for example, a wardrobe full of clothes). Note the acoustically reflective panels suspended from the ceiling.
Sitting in the hall during the performance, I found the venue to be incredibly live. I don’t know whether this effect would have likely been significantly different if there had not been a huge black curtain and screen for the film hung behind the orchestra, as in this image, taken by kvetch during the interval:
- Mahony Hall, taken during the interval of the performance. The interval began just as Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion arrive in the Emerald City.
You can see the edges of the big black curtain behind the orchestra a couple of metres or so back from the far corners of the front of the stage.
The small orchestra (I would estimate ±40 players) resonated at a really creditable volume throughout the performance. So creditable, in fact, that on a number of occasions (more often than I would have liked), the volume of the orchestra obtrusively overshadowed the soundtrack of the film. But I think this issue is only partially to do with the acoustic liveness of the hall. I think there was another problem.
I thought that the sound engineers responsible for maintaining balanced sound levels could have been significantly more successful in their efforts.
I really felt that the sound engineers, whatever problems they were facing, could have done a lot more to optimise the performance. Not only were the dialogue, foley, and sound effects levels often too low to be heard over the orchestra (although they were loud enough to indicate that they were meant to be there, and not cut out deliberately), but in some instances the dialogue had clearly been faded out, and the cue to bring it up again was frequently badly timed.
The overall performance could have benefitted greatly from increasing the volume levels of the film soundtrack to better blend with the live levels of the orchestra, and the cues to fade the film soundtrack itself in and out could have been much more punctilious.
I regretted having missed some of the dialogue, foley, and sound effects from the poor timing of some of the soundtrack fader cues.
With the performance running from 19-22 December, I can only hope that by the evening of 22 December, there had been significant improvement. I shudder to think how the performance must have gone the day before we went.
I have to say that for all that went wrong wit the audio engineering, I found the entire performance a most delightful experience.
When the film started, minutes after we settled into our seats, I was astonished by the overwhelming experience of watching the Wizard of Oz with a live orchestra.
Why don’t they put on films this way more often?? Fantabulous!
I felt immersed in the images, the story, and the sounds, much more so than I’d been when I’d seen the film so many times before on a small screen.
I took some photos before the interval:
- Dorothy and friends on their first approach to the Emerald City, after overcoming the poppy incident, and just before they had the interval.
- The Wizard Of Oz © 2005 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.
During the interval, I went through some of the cool pictures I’d taken of the performance:
- Kvetch took this picture of me during the interval as I was going through the images on my camera, after he came back from the bar with a small glass mixer bottle of diet coke (for 4 euros!?!).
After we’d gone back in for the second half, I was enveloped again as the experience wrapped me up in its warm embrace. I think this image kind of says it all:
- Glinda waves her wand as Dorothy begins chanting: “There’s no place like home… There’s no place like home…..”
- The Wizard Of Oz © 2005 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.
After the film ended, there was enthusiastic applause for the orchestra, who stood to receive it. John Wilson went in and came out again several times to take a bow (he did seem to be milking it quite a bit :p ). I felt pleased and happy to be applauding their efforts.
- (I was quite glad none of the sound engineers came out to bow, because I’d’ve had a hard time finding much sincerity to applaud for them, to be honest)
I stopped off in the loo before we followed all the other people trickling out into the street in front of the venue. Kvetch was a bit concerned about where we were going to find a taxi. Everybody else seemed to have come by car and was heading towards the car park. We spotted some of the brass section heading to the car park as well.
We were heading out towards the main road, and I was just suggesting to kvetch that perhaps we might be better off going back inside The Helix and ringing a taxi from there, when we saw a taxi with its light on coming in towards us. I stuck my hand out and waved. It stopped, and we got in.
We told the driver where we wanted to go, and we started off. I asked the driver, as a matter of interest, where a person would go around there to wave down a taxi, and he paused, and smiled, and paused some more, and I laughed, and said:
- “Ah, as easy as that, is it?”
I asked the driver whether he’d been dropping off, or if somebody had ordered a taxi, and he said he’d just pulled in there on the off chance.
So I marvelled with kvetch how fortunate we were to have gotten a taxi so easily on a cold night, and how swimmingly everything in the whole evening had gone from start to finish.
Normally I don’t go to the cinema, because my ears hurt from the incredible volumes, and because my eyes hurt from the incredible brightness of the screen in a more or less completely blackened environment. But none of those issues were problematic at this performance.
Actually, it was really fabulous to be able to watch the Wizard of Oz on the big screen. This was the first time in my life I had done so, even though I have seen the film multitudinously a lotness of timage before. I loved seeing and hearing everything so big, and being surrounded by other people also responding to the story. The big screen really helped to bring out the gloriously vivid colours of the production. Films these days just don’t have colour like that anymore, unfortunately.
As a result of the volume levels of the film being determined by the volume levels of the live, unamplified orchestra, and as a result of the film soundtrack having been recorded in the days prior to the enthusiastic utilisation of subwoofers, nothing was too loud for my sensitive ears. Aside from the balance and cueing issues, I truly savoured being enveloped in the soundtrack and music of this film.
As a result of the performance being in a concert hall venue and not a cinema, it wasn’t too dark for the brightness of the film on the screen to hurt my eyes. It was a genuine thrill to be entertained by the Wizard of Oz on the big screen in this environment.
The combination of the big screen, the dimly lit concert hall, with the sounds of a live orchestra wrapping me up in a blissful sensory experience, left me wishing that more films could be presented in this way. I’m sure I’d attend a lot more performances like this if they were produced.
Plus I loved the way the whole evening, from wakening up, to being coffee’d, to being fooded, to being taxi’d to The Helix, to getting there on time, to getting better seats, to getting safely, easily, and speedily home again, went perfectly smoothly without any hitches at all. How often do you get a night like that? Cos I’ll tell you, that almost never happens to me.
And now it’s all preserved and stuff in this blog post so I can come back and enjoy it all over again. :)
I hope you enjoyed it too. :)