Wednesday 2 May 2018

Dotto Schmidlapps

Who pays attention to incidental music during game shows? Besides fans and maybe musicians, I mean.

Well, columnist John Crosby, for one. He wrote a column about it that began appearing in print on August 22, 1958. Back then, mainly due to union rules I suspect, the music was live on at least some game shows. You can hear Jack Meakin’s orchestra on You Bet Your Life. Paul Taubman’s little combo chugged away on Concentration into the ‘60s. As time progressed (and Cesar Petrillo of the AFM died), live music was replaced by recordings. Thus you had several dozen electronic music cues pop up on the 1970s, post-Bill Cullen version of The Price is Right.

In this story, Crosby interviews Hank Sylvern. Like Taubman, he had been an organist on radio shows before making the leap into television. He died in 1964. His most interesting revelation in the story has nothing to do with game shows. He wrote the “Be Sociable, Have a Pepsi” jingle that was heard on recorded commercials starring “Kay” and “Charlie,” the Sociables. I’ve heard the spots on the Bob and Ray radio shows on CBS. I’ve always wondered who played the parts; “Charlie” was a New York-area freelance announcer because I’ve heard him on other commercials from that era. I’ve read plenty about the jingles and Pepsi’s saturated radio ad campaign but nothing about the long-forgotten Kay or Charlie. Sylvern had been the organist for George Olsen in the ‘30s. As you can see, he got caught in the quiz show scandal fallout. He survived the rest of his days running a singing jingle company called Signature Music and being involved with several professional associations in New York.

How to Score A TV Quiz Show

NEW YORK, Aug. 22. YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED that all those money quiz shows are orchestrated to a fare-thee-well, with a blast of specially-arranged music every time the contestant furrows his brow. Privately, I have always called it isolation-booth music, but actually it is much more complex and far-flung than that. You may not know it but the quizzes now have "cross-over" music, played while contestant crosses the stage to Mr. Emcee. There is, of course, "challenger" music, "think" music and of course, those triumphant chords or "Hey, Ma, I won" music.
My authority for all this is Hank Sylvern, who was musical director of the now defunct "Dotto." Sylvern is an old pro at the broadcast music dodge. He has been writing "stings" since he was 13, and has worked for everyone from Arthur Godfrey to Bob Hawk. He also writes scores for commercials. His recent ones include the new Pepsi-Cola commercial ("It was like writing a new 'Star Spangled Banner'") and the Helene Curtiss commercial (I'm the only one writing a cosmetic score who doesn't use a harp. I’m proud of that").
"When the quiz show begins, the first thing you have to do is announce it. That is 'attention-getting' music. We usually open with the tympani banging out two or three heart-beats and then we go into the 'look, who's here' music. This announces the host and contestant. Then there's the commercial music and then we go into 'challenger's' music.
"'Challenger's' music is especially designed to arouse suspense and yet to put the new challenger at ease. He is usually at the point where he isn't smiling with his eyes yet. This gets him to have confidence in himself. When a buzzer rings, this means the contestant is going to answer the final question. This is 'point-of-no-return' music. It has the essence of suspense in it. There's no retreating here.
"If the contestant is wrong, we, of course, have 'he's wrong' music. Otherwise, we have, 'he's right' music. Along the way we have 'think' music, 'champion' music, 'underlining' music and lots of schmidlapps. A schmidlapp is just a fill-in of two syllables oo-be-oo-be. See?
"I also have music with two eyes for a title. That means—watch the time. On 'Dotto' we even have different kinds of 'dot' music. We have music for five dots—quick music, get-on-with-the-game music. Then we have 10-dot music full of sharp-tongued flutes, still quick music but more triumphant in tone.
All this sound came out of a fairly small but versatile orchestra which Sylvern ruled with an iron hand. "I signal with all the intensity of a general giving a signal to fire on the enemy. I wear earphones to keep in touch with the control room, but I also keep a close eye on the host (Jack Narz) and the contestants. I have the winner's music in one hand and the loser's music in the other just so I'm ready for anything. All my men are marvelous musicians, highly trained and virtuosos on more than one instrument. We can make a lot of sound for so small a band."
Sylvern points out that you may not think you hear the music in a quiz program, but it's very important. In fact, you get the impression Sylvern thinks it is the most important part of the show, certainly the one with the most to say.
"The only music that should be played for these shows is live music. It is the only music that can get the right effect at the right time and get off at the right time. Recorded music can't think. For instance, I did the music for the famous Orson Welles 'War of the Worlds' broadcast (which scared the bejabbers out of half the country). The music had to begin on the instant and end on the instant; one half-note or quarter-note longer and the theme would have been killed.
"The same goes for quiz shows. You have to play 'stings' (accents) where they belong, gentle music where it belongs, or you kill the feeling. We even had an arrangement so that 'Dotto' could get off the air right on the beat, which is a good trick musically."
With "Dotto" off the air, Mr. Sylvern is at liberty again in case you're looking for a musical director for a quiz show. You couldn't find a better man. His "schmidlapps" are handled with care, his "stings" with genuine affection.

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