Striking a Chord with “The Overture” Magazine, 15 May 1929

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Formed in Los Angeles in 1897, Local 47 of the American Federation of Musicians is a union for professional musicians, including those who do studio work, films, television, touring, perform in orchestras and symphonies and who are composers, arrangers, producers, engineers, and freelancers.

The first local musicians union, the Musical Protective Association, was established in 1888 during the region’s famed Boom of the Eighties, but folded within a couple of years.  Local 47 was established a year after the AFM evolved from the National League of Musicians, created in 1886.

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As with other unions, the local was founded to fight for decent pay and working conditions for professional musicians and today represents members in the counties of Los Angeles (except Long Beach, which has its own local), Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura.  The local is also allied with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the California Labor Federation and the AFL-CIO.

In the 1920s, a twice-monthly issued journal, The Overture, was established for local members and tonight’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection is the 15 May 1925 edition of the publication.  There are many items of interest in the twenty-page magazine, including meetings of general meetings and gatherings of the board of directors; advertisements from music teachers, bands, individual musicians, sellers of instruments, and many others; brief notes of interest to members; humor; and much more.

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One article of particular interest is the continuation of the sixth part of a “History of the Band and Orchestra Business in Los Angeles” by C.L. Bagley.  This portion begins during the great boom in 1887 when Henry T. Hazard, said to have been mayor of Los Angeles, though he was chief executive from 1889 to 1892—the mayor in 1887 was William H. Workman, nephew of Homestead owners William and Nicolasa Workman, built Hazard’s Pavilion at the northeast corner of Olive and 5th streets.

This wood-frame venue, which could accommodate some 4,000 people, was also known as the “Academy of Music,” and was the preeminent performance space of size in the growing city for some years.  Hazard’s Pavilion was razed to make way for the Auditorium Theatre, which was the home of the local philharmonic for many years.  Now, the site is the locale of a newly completed residential structure with ground floor retail, replacing a parking lot established when the Auditorium Theatre was torn down.

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Bagley also noted that an Electric Hungarian Orchestra, based at the new Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, came to Los Angeles for a few nights in July 1887 playing at Mott Market Hall on Main Street.  Also during the summer, the Meine Brothers Orchestra came to the City of Angels from Dallas.  In August, the Turner (or Turn Verein, a German social organization) Hall was begun on Spring Street between 2nd and 3rd streets and, after the Turners left in 1894, the venue was known as Music Hall.

The author outlined other events of note during the year, including his own arrival in mid-November for a short visit before heading to Tustin, a town that, two years later, became part of the newly created Orange County out of Los Angeles County.  He pointed out other musicians who came to Los Angeles in 1887 before concluding his article, to be continued in the next issue.

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Also of significance to members was the imminent occupancy of the local’s new headquarters about where the Staples Center and Los Angeles Convention Center are situated today.  It was announced in the issue that the architect’s plans were about done and that financial arrangements were “practically settled.”

The four-story building with a basement was to include, in the latter, a club room with pool tables, a card room, showers and other facilities for relaxation, while a cafe and music store were to be on the ground floor, along with two other stores not related to the organization’s purpose.  The second and third floors were devoted only to studios, as well as two studio apartments (though both floors were intended to be apartments only, but this provision was not consistent with city codes.)  The top floor was to be for local offices and meeting space; a kitchen with a capacity to feed 700; a large dance hall; a ladies’ restroom; and a men’s smoking room.  The next local meeting on 21 May was to include a vote to approve the plans and move toward construction.

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News of theaters where music was played, orchestras and bands, and the Pastime Dancing Academy were presented in the “Theatre Scandal” column, while short notes of news came under the heading of “Pickup Notes.  Short pieces about organ stops, a new system of musical notation and a more flexible concept of time signatures are among those articles of a technical nature.

Another interesting piece was titled “What Will The Music of 2024 A.D. Be Like?”  Because we’re only five years away, it’s interesting to read the questions of what was possible, including:

  • How will melody be delivered to your home—in the form of scores, records, rolls or in that intangible form, the long-distance radio wave?
  • What new instruments of the orchestra will have been invented?
  • How many keys and keyboards will the piano of that day have?
  • Will key signatures have been forgotten and the musical staff increased in size, to make room for eighth-tones?
  • And will major and minor be as dead as the modes of the Greeks?
  • How many divisions of the human voice will be in style?
  • Will our great-great-grandchildren listen to mezzo-tenors and super-sopranos?
  • What forms of outrage and violent death will be the subject of librettos?
  • And will there be a nightly photo-music-drama broadcast to every village?

Notably, the unnamed author referred to how Beethoven would feel if he were to be alive in 1929 and wondered how Schubert and Mendelssohn would react to Schoenberg, so the above questions were based on a presumption that classical music would still be as important in 2024 as in 1929.  If this approach seems short-sighted and overly limited, how would people in 2119 look at our predictions of where music (much less other social aspects) will be then!

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One other item of note is the stern warning towards the back of the issue asking “Are You Working With Any Of These Suspended Members” and listing the names of those whose local memberships elapsed.  This was because “if any of the following are known to be working, the fact should be reported at once” to protect the active and paid-up members of the local in their pursuit of work.

A read through The Overture is a fascinating look at the state of the professional musician in greater Los Angeles 90 years ago and reflects the growing professionalization of the industry at a time of rapid growth, though on the cusp of the Great Depression, which hit the music business hard as it did almost all lines of work in the City of the Angels.

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