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Playing the Music On Screen When It’s Not a Match

There’s a pleasant little moment in Sunrise (1927), after the couple has rescued a runaway pig from an arcade game. The dance band strikes up a peasant tune and asks the couple to dance. There’s even a close-up of the music, to let us know that the big city band is playing a peasant tune.

We hear the tune in the recorded soundtrack on the film. The weird thing is that what we hear almost matches the sheet music.

Sunrise Midsummer Peasant Dance
frame grab of the insert shot showing the music the band will play in “Sunrise”. It almost matches what’s heard on the soundtrack, but not quite.

I usually play something that is in 3/4 time that matches the mood and feel of what’s onscreen. Recently I took a look at the screen grab you see above, in prep for a show, and tried to look the piece up online. It may exist, but I didn’t turn it up. Search results weren’t even close.

I thought for half a minute of transcribing the onscreen music, but noticed that what’s on the soundtrack is only close to what’s written out. Except for the music at the end of the page. That’s a match. Another head-scratcher.

What I wound up doing is playing a sound-alike that more closely matches the recording, in that it’s a piece in 3/4 (or 6/8?) that starts in a minor key, then switches to its relative major, then back. I also adjust the tempo or added little pauses during the gag with Eddie Boland and the young woman’s dress strap.

Someday, perhaps, the identity of the actually tune onscreen will make itself known to me. Perhaps someone, a folk musicologist, will turn up at a show and let me know.The idea, for me, was that I gave it a shot.

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