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University of Iowa News Release

Sept. 26, 2005

Images: These illustrated song slides were used by Vaudeville performers to
accompany their songs and engage the audience.

Altman To Transport Saturday Scholars Audience To 1905 Through Song Oct. 1

A century ago, in an era when theatergoers expected to take part in the entertainment rather than simply observe passively, Vaudeville performers and music publishers teamed up to create a way to involve the audience in the performance and simultaneously tap the market for the sheet music for new popular songs. The result, illustrated song slides, had audiences singing along with their favorite performers and snapping up the music to play on their home pianos.

Rick Altman, professor of cinema and comparative literature in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, will share the magic of early 20th-century entertainment when he presents "From Vaudeville to the Nickelodeon: Tin Pan Alley Singalongs," on Saturday, Oct 1, at 10 a.m. in room E105 Adler Journalism Building. This lecture and discussion session is free and open to the public as part of the college's annual Saturday Scholars series.

In a preview of his Oct. 1 presentation, Altman will be a guest on "Talk of Iowa," WSUI AM-910, WOI AM-640, KTPR FM-91.1, and KOWI FM-90.7 on Thursday, Sept. 29, at 10 a.m.

From the late 19th century to 1913, one of the country's most beloved activities was the theater singalong. Since songs changed from week to week, the performers needed a way to share the lyrics with the audience. The performers, and later music publishers, created illustrated glass slides, one for each line of a song and one for the chorus, and projected them onto a screen with a "magic lantern."

By the time cinema became a mainstay of the small storefront theaters called "nickelodeons," illustrated song slides were being made commercially -- a title slide, one slide for each line and a slide providing the words of the chorus so that the audience could sing along. For the better part of a decade, illustrated songs were America's most popular activity. Alas, the gorgeous hand-colored glass slides were easily broken, and often discarded as soon as this week's hit song dropped off the charts. Only recently have scholars like Altman discovered the importance of illustrated songs for the history of American music, cinema and culture.

Altman plans to take his Saturday Scholars audience back in time with more than 100 song slides interspersed throughout his presentation. He'll play the piano and lead a singalong, providing insight into the form of entertainment preferred by ordinary Americans just a century ago. The Iowa City audience is in for a treat as Altman shares a presentation that has previously educated and entertained audiences at the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Library of Congress and the Louvre in Paris.

Altman, who joined the UI faculty in 1974, teaches courses on American cinema, film sound, cinema theory and the history and theory of narrative. He has published extensively on Hollywood genres, especially the musical, and on film sound. His books and articles have won numerous prizes, including the French film critics' prize for best film book, Katherine S. Kovacs prize for best film book, Limina prize for best film book and the Theatre Library Association Award. He holds a doctorate from Yale University.

Saturday Scholars was developed by Linda Maxson, dean of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, to give members of the public a chance to hear about the latest teaching and research innovations by faculty members in the college. The sessions last about an hour, including time for questions. Refreshments are served. All presentations begin at 10 a.m. Though this Saturday's presentation takes place in room E105 of the new Adler Journalism Building, across from the Main Library, future presentations will take place in room 40 Schaeffer Hall.

Upcoming lectures in the Saturday Scholars series include:

Oct. 8: "Down and Out: Women's Poverty, Crime, and Imprisonment," Karen Heimer, Department of Sociology

Oct. 15: "Crossing the Road Safely: Children on Bicycles," Jodie Plumert, Department of Psychology

Oct. 29: "Through a Glass Darkly: Dark Energy and the Fate of the Universe," Robert Mutel, Department of Physics and Astronomy

Additional information is available at

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires an accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in advance at 319-335-2611.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACT(S): Media: Mary Geraghty Kenyon, 319-384-0011,; Program: Carla Carr, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, 319-335-2818.