Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Cue The Organ

Radio’s serial dramas seemingly had to feature three things—soap commercials, someone with amnesia preyed upon by an evil woman, and an organ.

Organs were extremely useful instruments around radio stations. You could get a variety of sounds of out them, and they were great for dramatic stabs and stings, and triumphant fanfares. Oh, and an organ was cheaper than even a small orchestra. So it was that radio game shows like “Truth or Consequences” utilised an organ as well.

Organs made the transition from radio to television. The organ music that sticks in my mind from the 1960s was the jaunty small Wurlitzer, accompanied by a celeste, on Hugh Downs’ “Concentration.” Some time ago, I was listening to some 1951 transcriptions of the Bob and Ray radio show from NBC and my ear concluded the organ and celeste arrangements sounded just like what I used to hear on “Concentration” (also an NBC show). There was a good reason. The organist on both shows was a gentleman named Paul Taubman.

In the early days of network radio, organists got their own music programmes; Ann Leaf, Lew White and Jesse Crawford were among them. Taubman was one of a number of anonymous organists toiling away on various series, though he did get his own show on WOR in 1950 and received credit on the aforementioned Bob and Ray 15-minuter. He was a music teacher (one of his students was future astronaut John Glenn) who supplemented his income playing instruments at night. He appeared at New York’s Ambassador Theatre in 1932, then moved to Penthouse Club in 1939, which he eventually took over. During the ‘40s, after a stay in the U.S. Army infantry during the War, he started adding network radio work to his portfolio. And he made the jump to television, as we noted about his music accompanying Concentration announcer Bob Clayton reading a list of prizes, or while the camera panned the audience in studio 6-A at Radio City.

One of the reasons I enjoy the transcribed Bob and Ray shows upon their arrival at NBC is Taubman’s trio offers a pleasant little break between the comedy bits. (Prior to arriving in New York, Bob and Ray’s organist and pianist were allotted two musical numbers. The organ at WHDH was a Kilgen, in case you wondered).

Taubman became known enough that a number of newspaper stories were written about him. One thing’s for certain: Taubman treating organ playing for soaps and games very seriously. First up, let’s pass on a syndicated story from July 5, 1957. Long before Jeopardy had canned “think” music (that netted Merv Griffin tons of cash in royalties), Taubman had to come up with his own on the spot.
Taubman Writes Quiz Mood Music

"My greatest compliment," Paul Taubman told me, "was one I got from a friend recently. He asked me what I was doing and when I told him that, among other shows, I was musical director for "Twenty-One," he seemed perplexed. 'Oh,' he said. 'I didn't know there was any music on "Twenty-One."' That proves I've been s success. The music doesn't detract from the show."
In addition to 'Twenty-One," Paul is also musical director for "Tic Tac Dough," "Edge of Night," and "Bride and Groom." He's on the air for 20 programs a week and has an hour and half of rehearsal time for each show. In addition, Paul composes all the music you hear on all the shows. 'Bride and Groom' is a natural for me," he said. "I was schooled as an organist."
You'd think that, with all his TV work, Paul would have enough to do, but the man isn't lazy. He also owns New York's fabulous Penthouse Club. (You guessed it, he started out as club pianist and wound up owning the place) and breeds Doberman pinschers in his spare time.
'Music for Situation'
Though the themes from "Twenty-One" and "Tic Tac Dough" are in the process of being recorded, they don't even scratch the surface of the music required. • "I'm there to compose music for the situation," Paul Taubman explained. "I have no vast shelf of music to draw from. The music must be made to fit the mood, the situation and the comic or dramatic elements. I don't compose music for the individual contestant, but I find I must create 'music to think by,' for those dead spots while the contestants try to find the answers. One of my most important selections is 'music to enter a soundproof booth by.'
"Since I always write more music than we need on any show, I've never yet had to write 'music to stall by," but if I had to, I would. Another important type of number is 'music to get you into and out of a commercial.' After a commercial, you have to bring the audience back to the show without being abrupt, not as easy as it sounds.
"There's also 'money music', with different music for different amounts and very triumphant music for the winners. I could go on, but you get the idea. Without music, a lot of time on quiz shows could be pretty deadly."
I’ve always been a fan of the old production music libraries. Taubman wasn’t. But he knew exactly why they were used on television, as he expressed to the Associated Press in an interview published February 28, 1958. Producers of Westerns, he seemed to think, should be like the big movie studios and hire a composer, arranger, copyist and orchestra and score to the moods of each scene and add the music in post production. Even Poverty Row studios didn’t always do that; they had a stock library of cues. Television was forced to do use the same thing; it didn’t have the luxury of time to create individual scores even if it had the money. So viewers were forced to hear the same Spencer Moore dramatic cues on TV Westerns whose producers bought the fully-orchestrated Capitol Hi-Q library.
Little Live Music on TV Listed Shows

NEW YORK (AP)—Did you know that with a few exceptions the only television programs using live music these days are quiz shows and, of course, musical varieties? Do you care?
If you have observed the fact or at least noted the tinny and repetitious quality of some of the canned music heard on television then you'll delight the heart of every musician—and especially of Paul Taubman.
Taubman currently is the musical director of three quiz shows on NBC-TV—"Twenty-One," "Tic Tac Dough" and "Dough Re Mi"—and of the CBS-TV daytime serial, 'Edge of Night."
"The producers of quiz shows realize what an integral part an orchestra plays in creating the mood of a program," he said the other day. "Can you imagine on 'Twenty - One' for example, how deadly that 15-second trek forward of a contestant would be without music?
Fall Flat
"Supposing, after Charles Van Doren won that $129,000, he'd just turned around and walked out without a heraldic fanfare of trumpets. It would have fallen flat.
"It's too bad that the producers of more dramatic shows don't waken up to the beneficial dramatic effects of an orchestra instead of taped music."
"U. S. Steel Hour" is the only regular dramatic show now regularly using live music, says Taubman, and Jack Benny, "a man of great know-how, wouldn't be caught dead using tape on his show." Besides the variety and musical programs, "Wide Wide world" and the Jack Paar show are two that enhance their entertainment value, Taubman believes, by using music that's fresh instead of from a can.
Mood Music
If you're an inveterate television viewer it's true that you hear the same "mood music" repeated again and again within a period of two or three days. Westerns, especially, sometimes seem to draw all their canned music from the same shelf.
It's true, too, that actors, writers, directors and a great variety of technicians have widened the area of their activities as a result of television. But the musician, with rare exceptions, has not benefitted.
Of 38,000 union card-carrying musicians in New York today, only about 200 a week are employed on television, Taubman says. Since radio also has turned to tape as its chief source of music, there are innumerable fine musicians who simply cannot find employment in their chosen field.
"I'm proud of the fact," says Taubman, that I'm able to employ fine musicians who spent years playing under the direction of Arturo Toscanini."
Taubman continued to bash production library music on television. Here he is in an interview published in the Binghamton Press, January 13, 1962. Taubman was making more on TV than probably most of the people who appeared on camera at the time.
Lack of Live Music Deplored

"The only television shows that seem to appreciate live music are soap operas—they hire one musician each—and game shows, which sometimes employ as many as two musicians. Take away these and the few variety shows, and there's no music on television—certainly no live music."
Those are the thoughts of Paul Taubman who admits to making somewhere in the vicinity of $250,000 a year as a television musical director for 20 shows per week.
Despite his own personal success in and loyalty to the medium, Taubman feels the cause of music and musicians is in a bad way in both radio and television and, what's even worse, isn't getting a fare share of the publicity.
For example, Taubman feels that FCC Chairman Newton Minow did music a disservice by failing- to mention it in declaring television a vast wasteland. He notes that of some 32,000 musicians, only 195 are making a living in the radio and television industry in New York and that many only because of the network flagship stations' contracts with the American Federation of Musicians.
"Everything is sold with music, but music isn't being sold," is one of Paul's favorite themes. He also bitterly resents the fact that most of the musical backgrounds heard on television series are recorded in Europe by European musicians at "slave labor prices."
He feels that if the public is apprised of this fact and realizes that it is throwing American musicians out of work they will boycott the sponsors and force a change.
"Look at the furor Minow created," Taubman returned to his theme, "and he didn't even mention music. I think Minow is right—the public is being cheated, but it is also being cheated of the right to get good music on the screen. People shouldn't be spoonfed with the type of music they get on TV."
On the affirmative side, Paul feels that Leonard Bernstein has done a fine job in bringing good music to the public in a way that doesn't scare them off. "What is culture anyway?" Taubman insisted. Poetry, prose, music and art—and nobody says a word about music. I'm disgusted!
"I got a beer company to sponsor me," he went on, "and I go out in the streets and in the parks and to places like Coney Island and I give free concerts. And the people are so glad to hear music. I was recorded, but so many of the people who heard the concerts can't afford to buy the albums. Why should they be deprived of music? I'm fighting for live music and next summer I'll go into the parks again and I'll continue to draw thousands and thousands of people. Who knows, maybe eventually I'll be able to do a program on television.
"1 have been approached by all three networks to do a musical program," Paul said, "but not as a public service. I can't go out digging for sponsors. I think the networks should sponsor such organizations as the symphony of the air and create their own orchestras and chamber music groups and jazz groups. Jazz—those poor guys have to earn their livings in smoke-filled dives.
"I think the networks should support and encourage all forms of music and put these groups on the air. Let the public be exposed to good music and it will like it. Who knows, maybe the networks could even develop some successfully sponsored programs if only they'd let the public see for themselves."
It seems odd that such a cry for cultural TV music should come from someone whose career began with what became clichéd organ chords and effects on soaps.

Taubman moved on to other things. He conducted an All-American Big Brass Band that toured Africa in 1965 under the auspices of the U.S. State Department. He sold the Penthouse and began work in December 1976 in client relations for Emil Ascher Music which, among other things, sold production libraries. And he reunited with Bob and Ray in 1984 on their show on National Public Radio, retiring to Florida in 1988.

Paul Taubman was born in Winnipeg on May 10, 1911 (Taubman’s father was a Russian-born bookkeeper) and died in Sarasota on May 30, 1994. Taubman never saw his wish fulfilled. Other than late night shows, live music on TV is as obsolete as a soap opera organ.


  1. Excellent article here, Yowp. Odd that, as well as cliched organists like Mr.Taubman complaining about canned music, here was a solo organist playing, an easier alternative to either live ORCHESTRAS or canned music but still playing for hire live for each soundtrack (of course many organists and pianists music would wind up in stock libraries all the same..)SC

  2. There was a man by the name of Crandall Hendershott that was "Staff Organist" at WEWS-TV 5 Cleveland from 1948-73..(or at least into the early 70's). He had a number of his own shows but by the end was organist for Exercise Guru Paige Palmer and the local Romper Room program..

  3. I mentioned in another post that 1950 was when networks cut back on music after the AFM demanded trust fund payments on top of the musicians' wages (rescinded in 1958 after James Petrillo's retirement). Shows that had orchestras would be reduced to smaller combos, organists, or library music. "Screen DIrectors' Playhouse," NBC's answer to "Lux Radio Theatre," fired its orchestra and used the same well-worn library cues that were heard in so many NBC shows of the early-mid '50s. "Let George Do It" already forsook its small orchestra in favor of an organist (Eddie Dunstetter, then Gaylord Carter) early in 1949.

    1. And 1958 yet was also the year that a musicians strike occured in Hollywood, meaning that Warners used library music for some of its cartoons...I also am a fan of these (that said, I can fully understand Paul Taubman 's point of view favoring live music..of course the distinction applies his approach and stuff like, say, the Screen Gems animation, the Warner Cartoons not scored with stock music had that "matching to the action' whcih would never work in live TV, especially in soaps and those domestic sitcoms..)SC