ASMAC History: Eighty-five Years and Still Going Strong
Excerpted from an article written by Dr. Jeannie Gayle Pool for the 75th anniversary.
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.
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 analysis 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 the members.
Among the first artists to build the organization were Eddie Powell, Conrad Salinger, Walter Scharf, and many others. They dubbed their group “The American Society of Music Arrangers” (ASMA), the predecessor to ASMAC.
The first president of ASMA was Robert Russell Bennett. The original officers were Robert Russell Bennett, Adolph Deutsch, Hugo Friedhofer, and John Leipold, and included many distinguished Charter Members, including: Leo Arnaud, Scott Bradley, Leo Erdody, Johnny Green, Leigh Harline, Gordon Jenkins, Arthur Lange, Spud Murphy, David Raksin, Conrad Salinger, Walter Scharf and Herbert Spencer.
Many of these people created “The Hollywood Sound.”
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.
The Early Years
In the early years of ASMA most of its members worked in motion picture studios and were radio arrangers, but they made an effort to recruit dance arrangers into the organization in the early 1940s. At the time Arthur Lange was considered by many to be the “Dean of Arrangers.” Lange wrote “Arranging for the Modern Dance Orchestra” which was the definitive work of its day (published Robbins Music, 1926). He organized the MGM music department and was musical director for some of the earliest sound films.
By November 1941, ASMA boasted 106 members. The organization had monthly meetings with guest speakers—including Albert Coates, Leopold Stokowski, Edwin McArthur, Louis Gruenberg, Ernst Toch, Arnold Schoenberg, among others.
Also in 1941, Vernon Leftwich and Leo Arnaud organized the Beverly Hills Symphony for the purpose of playing orchestral works by ASMA members. It continued into the summer of 1942, but gas rationing during the war and the loss of the playing musicians to military service forced it to go on hiatus. It was re-activated in 1946.
During its existence the Beverly Hills Symphony played more than 100 new works by members to large and enthusiastic audiences.
In 1942 Arthur Lange was elected ASMA President to succeed Robert Russell Bennett.
Under Lange’s leadership ASMA began publishing the newsletter, The Score, in 1943, with Rudy de Saxe as the Editor. It was a monthly publication and had a subscription of 2,500 nationally. It contained industry news, including film credits and current projects of ASMA members.
By 1944 ASMA started to grapple with antiquated copyright laws, mostly by the efforts of Edward Powell and attorney Leonard Zissu. Neither a songwriter nor a publisher will give up a share of his royalty to an arranger who demands part of the royalty. He would be replaced by one who would take the job for the immediate cash involved.
In July 1946, ASMA President, Edward Powell initiated the first tentative liaison with the Screen Composers’ Association. Max Steiner, then President of the Screen Composers’ Association spoke at an ASMA meeting and declared ASMA a member of the Screen Composers’ Association.
Herschel Burke Gilbert (1918-2003) served as ASMA President for seven successive terms from 1949 until 1956.
ASMA’s promotion materials declared that ASMA “voices the problems and aims of the Arranger.” ASMA was asking for reuse and multiple use payments. At the time the same arrangement could be used for a hotel, night-club, dance band, radio broadcast, transcription, recording and motion picture all for the price of a dance arrangement which was the lowest minimum price in the field. “The Arrangers’ Resolution,” called for all AFM Locals to set up basic minimum scales and working conditions for arrangers, orchestrators and copyist. During those years ASMA continued to work closely with the Screen Composers’ Association.
ASMA NY Chapter President Eddy Manson (later National President) described a fundamental arrangers’ injustice: “Real arranging is creative work, and all music must be arranged—even rock n’ roll. We are the co-composers, for we take the melody and decide how it should be played. The ideas for hit records, the sounds, the overall design of the record, is the arranger’s responsibility. Yet, whether the record sells in the hundreds or the millions, he is paid a flat fee. Why, he doesn’t even get his name printed on the label most of time.” (Quoted in an article by Fred Danzig, “Music Arrangers Want Cut of Pop Record Take,” San Mateo Times, February 11, 1959, among other papers of the day.)
In 1961, ASMA NY Chapter President M. Russell Goudey, appeared before a subcommittee of the U.S. Congress (Senate and House), convened by Rep. John H. Dent to discuss the increase of inexpensive foreign music scores and recordings that flooded the American market. “It would be interesting to learn what proportion of the background music in propaganda films distributed by our State Department is really prepared and performed by American musicians, said Russell Goudey.” (quoted in the Abilene (Texas) Reporter-News, December 6, 1961.)
One of the founding members of ASMA, Lyle “Spud” Murphy became President in 1965 and became the longest serving President in the organization, resigning in 1977. He represented the interests of arrangers, orchestrators, copyists, and composers. After his ASMA presidency, he continued to serve on the ASMAC Board until his death in 2005.
In the 1970s, ASMA wanted “to preserve the rule which says in no case can the fee for arranging be less than the scale for orchestrating. In other words, if you do both jobs, you are guaranteed equal payment for both.” Spud Murphy took the lead in negotiating these contract terms for the Record Industry.
In the 1970s, The first Golden Score Award was presented to Hugo Friedhofer in 1978 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the organization. There were occasional lunches and annual membership meetings, which often included the Installation of Officers. The ASMA Workshops were re-invigorated in 1978 and ASMA enjoyed a close relationship during those years with the Dick Grove School. If you can imagine, ASMA even had a “Ladies’ Auxiliary” in those days.
In 1987, ASMA changed its name to ASMAC, in recognition that most members were also practicing composers. This decision was controversial and many members opposed the change, believing that including arranger and composer in the organization’s title was redundant.
In 1988, ASMA celebrated its 50th birthday with a Golden Score dinner honoring the composer John Williams, held at the Plaza Hotel in Century City, and Board members regaled Williams by playing his famous themes as a kazoo ensemble.
In 1958, ASMA announced its first series of arrangers’ workshops, to focus on compositional and arranging techniques. In the 1970s and 80s, ASMAC offered dozens of such workshops each year. During one 16-month period in 1978-79, the ASMA Composer/ Arranger’s Workshops resulted in 69 new compositions by its members.
Today membership has now grown with members worldwide and the goals and camaraderie are also continuing to expand by welcoming members who are, or have been, active in the preparation of music for movies, theatre, recording, television and live performances. Through our various events, ASMAC offers the public, including emerging professionals and students, opportunities to learn more about the art and craft of arranging and composition.
From 2020 through the end of 2022, ASMAC has held over 200 online educational events, including premier master classes, discussions with film, tv, choral, and musical composers, arrangers, and orchestrators, music prep and big band hanginars, history, and so much. ASMAC members are able to re-watch nearly all of those past events. Each event runs about 2–3 hours and typically has attendance from 50 to 400.
Thanks to Lance Bowling of Cambria Master Recordings and Archives for his help with this article and for memorabilia from The Arthur Lange Estate. Thanks also to Jon Burlingame and Charles Fernandez. ASMAC would greatly appreciate receiving any historic documents and photographs you might have for its archive.