Celebrating the History and Achievements of ASMAC

Aug 15 • In the News

– Jeannie Gayle Pool, Ph.D.

What a grand occasion to celebrate: 75 years of an organization that has advocated better working conditions, contracts, payments, and recognition for arrangers, orchestrators, and composers, while raising awareness in the music industry of the art and craft practiced by its members. As one of our Board members recently quipped, “What lasts 75 years in our society these days!”

The founders of the organization, originally called ASMA (The American Society of Music Arrangers) and its subsequent Board of Directors and members have contributed greatly to the international musical heritage heard in recordings, films, television, video, and live concerts, not to mention hundreds of millions of published songs, scores, parts, and charts.

Arthur Lange (1889-1956), one of the founding members who served as President and articulate advocate and spokesman for the organization, wrote an article about the history of professional arrangers, published in the January 1944. Vol. 1 No. 1 issue of ASMA’s The Score: “It happened during the very early nineteen hundreds, when the arranger was unheard of insofar as the general public was concerned. He was only known to the theatrical profession and not regarded as someone very important. He could usually be found tucked away in a remote corner of a popular music publishing house, wearing a visor, smoking a pipe, and pecking at music paper with a carefully broken-in stub pen.

“He was what was then called the “House arranger,” meaning that he assumed the responsibility of doing all the arranging for that certain publishing house. In this capacity he was required to take down melodies, make commercial piano parts, vocal orchestrations, dance orchestrations, and transpositions of vocal orchestrations for vaudeville acts. All this he would do for a weekly salary, which wasn’t very much.

Or, he would get paid by piece-work. Taking down melodies paid twenty-five cents; piano parts, one dollar a page; vocal orchestrations, three dollars and fifty cents; dance orchestrations, five dollars. Transpositions paid as low as ninety cents for ‘nine and piano.’

“Of course, no arrangement was scored—orchestrations were written in the parts. But, regardless of such practice, the arranger was invariably a good musician and contributed a great deal of his own creative ability. He always supplied the Introductions, Vamps, and the much-in-demand ‘Cello counter-melodies and Flute and Clarinet figurations (then called “noodles”). Such contributions were considered bought and paid for and copyrighted by the publisher, who thereby became the sole owner.

“However, in 1920 the scene suddenly changes. From the South, and from the West came the faint sounds of squealing clarinets, moaning saxophones, and strumming banjos. These sounds crescendo-ed to a fortissimo, and soon the world was dancing to a new kind of music—Jazz. And from this the modern dance arrangements became outmoded and unusable, and dance bands were more or less forced to fake their arrangements. Of course, such practices were pooh-poohed by the old guard, who brushed it aside, saying that jazz wouldn’t last. However, the up and coming arrangers (and I was one of them), recognized great possibilities of a new expression in dance music. Here was a chance to really do something, and the dance arranger wasted no time doing it. He became a specialist, and his contributions suddenly became valuable and important to the music industry. In fact, so important that very often the arranger’s name was featured over the composer’s on the printed orchestration. Dance bands wouldn’t play uninteresting arrangements, and I remember many a time when I was at my wit’s end trying to keep up with the parade.

“Then in 1929 came another change of scene: Radio City and Hollywood. In these surroundings the arranger again found himself confronted with many new problems. But knowing his craft and being resourceful, he soon surmounted all of them; and today he is far removed from the remote corner of a publishing house. He is now an important figure in all activities of commercial music. He is carefully chosen from a long list of capable arrangers. He is consulted on production problems, sound recording, and many other branches of the radio and motion picture industry in which only highly trained musicians can qualify.

“He works hand in hand with composer, directors, and artists; and in many instances not only conducts the orchestra himself, but composes as well. Now, what does all this sum up to? Simply this: that the arranger is an indispensable and integral part of today’s music industry, an industry which depends on genius to make mass production possible. Yes, dear reader, the arranger is not only a “cog in the wheel,” as some may so glibly put it, but very often he is the “hub.”

Lange’s description of the work of the arranger is accurate for today as it was back in 1944, although arrangers work in many more fields today than 70 years ago, including television (beginning in the late 1940s) and video games. Unfortunately, many of the same issues facing arrangers in the 1940s face arrangers today. During the last twenty years the use of computer and MIDI have further complicated the issues facing arranger, orchestrators, and composers.

In 1938, a group of composers and arrangers writing music for movies, being dissatisfied with the lack of appreciation for their efforts, decided to band together and form an organization to promote their general interests. This group of arrangers and composers were outstanding practitioners of their art: the original officers Robert Russell Bennett, Adolph Deutsch, Hugo Friedhofer, and John Leipold, and many other distinguished Charter Members, including: Wayne Allen, Bill Anthens, Leo Arnaud, R.H. Bassett, George Bassman, Robert Russell Bennett, Frank Black, Scott Bradley, Charles Bradshaw, David Buttolph, Lucien Cailliet, John Cascales, Roy Chamberlain, A.H. Cokayne, Sidney Cutner, Murray Cutter, Adolph Deutsch, Jos. S. Dubin, Ted Duncan, Charles Eggert, Leo Erdody, Ted Fiorito, Ned Freeman, Fran Frey, Hugo Friedhofer, Emil Gerstenberger, Joe Glover, Robert Gordon, Chas. Grant, Johnny Green, Ralph H. Hallenbeck, Jr., Glenn Halley, Lou Halmy, Herman Hand, Leigh Harline, Ray Harrington, Bill Hatch, Marvin Hatley, Wally Heglin, Ray Heindorf, Charles Henderson, Frank Hubbell, Harriss Hubble, Carroll Huxley, Howard Jackson, Gordon Jenkins, Arthur Lange, Vernon Leftwich, John M. Leipold, Arthur Kay, Paul Marquardt, Charles Maxwell, James Mayfield, Paul Mertz, Charles Miller, Felix Mills, Albert Moquin, Lucien Alfred Moraweck. Spud Murphy, Joe Nussbaum, Eddy Ocnoff, George A. Osborne, George Parrish, Frank S. Perkins, Edward Plumb, E.B. Powell, Andrew Phillips, Leonid Raab, David Raksin, Max Reese, Milan Roder, Edmund Ross, Conrad Salinger, Tom Satterfield, Walter Scharf, Rudolph Schrager, Lyle E. Sharpe, Leo Shuken, Marlin Skiles, Frank Skinner, Frank M. Smith, Paul Smith, William Sodeburg, Herbert Spencer, Frederick Stark, Herbert Taylor, Robert Taylor, Dave Terry, Dave Torbett, Clifford Vaughan, Jack Virgil, Arthur Ward, John R. Weber, Clarence Wheeler, Charles Wolcott, and Harold Zweifil.

We have reproduced this list because many of the names are easily recognized by those familiar with the history of ASMAC. They often referred to themselves in ASMA materials as “The Hidden Men of Music.” Today’s professionals working in the music industry stand on the shoulders of these musicians. Evidence of their work is found in all aspects of the arranging-orchestrating business today. Many of these men were colleagues, friends, and mentors of our current members.

An examination of the Hollywood studios music libraries reveals that many of these people created “The Hollywood Sound.” These names appear on the published charts and arrangements of the 1930s through the 1980s and the results of their creativity is the foundation of what is known world-wide as the sound of American popular music and jazz.

Despite the fact that the founding members were also composers, they decided to stress their importance as arrangers, where their rights were sadly nonexistent. At that time, there were eight major studios— each with its own thirty-five to fifty-piece staff orchestra on the payroll. One of ASMA’s first goals was to also be fully employed. When they tried to get a royalty for their orchestrations, they were dismally bound for failure, a situation that still exists to this day. They concentrated on other issues, like screen credits, better working conditions, improved union scales, even parking privileges, and anything they could think of that might not be too objectionable to studio executives.

On January 13, 1938, when ASMA was formed, the original purposes were stated:

• To further the progress of our art
• To gain greater recognition of our work
• To establish a closer bond among members of our professions
• To provide opportunity for social discussion and analysts of our work
• To promote a mutual understanding with our contemporaries; and,
• To work toward the fulfillment of the co-ordinate needs of all of members.

Robert Russell Bennett was President of ASMA during four successive terms while his career in radio, stage shows, and film, required him to shuffle back and forth between New York and Los Angeles. He conducted several network programs of symphony orchestra music, including compositions of ASMA members. Vice President Adolph Deutsch, who covered for Bennett in Los Angeles during this crucial time, remembered for the ASCAP “strike” and the controversial formation of Broadcast Music, Inc. When BMI started, it employed over a hundred and thirty arrangers, copyists and proof-readers, employing many who had not much work during the Depression. They hoped to receive royalty payments for their work but the outmoded copyright laws put a stop to it. A big issue emerged at this time related to the AFM weekly rate for radio. During a week an arranger would produce enough score pages of orchestrations to amount to four to five hundred dollars a week, computed at union scale, but the weekly rate was a mere $160. ASMA protested and got the AFM to change it. By 1940, ASMA was working closely with Spike Wallace, Joe Weber, J.W. Gillette and Frank Pendleton of the American Federation of Musicians to secure more lucrative contracts for arrangers.

From the very beginning of ASMA there were New York members and Los Angeles members. Some members worked in both cities and moved back and forth, based on assignments offered them. A formal New York chapter was established in 1944 and continued to function until the 1970s. Several prominent founding ASMA members served as NY Chapter President; the address for NY ASMA remained the same for decades: 224 West 49th Street. Throughout the 1950s, NY ASMA held monthly workshops for arrangers and composers.


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