Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Carmagnole in "Orphans of the Storm"

Am playing for Orphans of the Storm in Huntington tonight. Reviewing my story sheet reminded me that toward the end the townspeople dance the Carmagnole. My notes -- cribbed from some other website years ago -- on the dance read:
"The Carmagnole, an anonymous song and street dance popular during the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution (1789-1799). The carmagnole consisted originally of 13 two-line stanzas, each of which ended with a refrain praising the Revolution. The dance was a form of farandole, the ancient chain dance of France. The Carmagnole was sung and danced at revolutionary gatherings, including festivals and executions.
I went online and found a midi file of the tune (solo melody, no chords or accomp), and found a YouTube video of a 1920 French 78rpm record. Below is the video and a link to the PDF I've made of the lead sheet (in case any other accompanist searched for this and wound up here).



Click here to download the PDF.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Back to Film School: Actualities and Glimmerings of More

Back to "film school" today! Accompanied the "Actualities and Glimmerings of More" program at MoMA. Had a pretty big crowd, maybe 80-100 people.

I didn't keep count while I was playing, but am guessing it was at least 40 films. Since they were early actualities with little or no plot, and since even the story ones were so short, I was creating full melodies for each rather than doing the usual underscoring thing. The last few films on the program were a few mins long – like the infamous Rescued By Rover – and had more opportunities for my usual format. I did find a more melodramatic approach fit these films, and spontaneously found myself playing The Crafty Spy by Gaston Borch for the gypsy's scenes in Rover. Still it was a challenge creating that many complete melodies, and I was up for it. A nice change...and I get to do it all over again tomorrow.

Last week I noticed on the MoMA website's listing for the first "Auteurist" program there was a link to film notes on that program written by Charles Silver. MoMA stopped doing printed film notes in 2003, and is not resuming doing printed notes. I suggested to Charles that he look into having the notes projected on-screen while the audiences are entering the theater. I really like Charles' writing -- the intro he wrote and gave at one of our Arbuckle shows in 2006 was absolutely brilliant -- and it seemed a shame that people coming to the shows wouldn't get to see these new notes...unless they had an iPhone or web-enabled phone and it suddenly occured to them while waiting for the show to start that they should poke around the MoMA website to see if there were film notes. I arrived at the Bartos theater this afternoon before the audience came in and saw this:


All of Charles' notes are available online at this page. Go there and bookmark the page, as Charles' notes for each program will be added weekly, I believe.

Monday, September 14, 2009

"An Auterist History of Film" at MoMA begins

For those of you with weekday daytime availability, be sure to bookmark
this page on MoMA Film’s website for An Auteurist History of Film:



The first 6 or 7 months of this two-year film cycle at MoMA, curated by Charles Silver, is all silent film. A different program is shown each week on Weds, Thurs and Fri at 1:30 in Theater 3 (enter on W. 54th St). The cycle goes chronologically through the history of cinema, and showcases prints in MoMA’s collection. Piano accompaniment by yours truly at Weds and Thurs shows (no accomp on Fri). Just $10 each show (free if you’re a member, which is only $75 a year) to attend this excellent ersatz film history course.

Here are the programs scheduled so far, from Sept through Dec:
  • Sept 16, 17, 18 — actualities from 1890s made by Edison, Lumiere, Skladanowksky, and British Gaumont
  • Sept 23, 24, 25 — Edwin S. Porter doc “Before the Nickelodeon”, plus (unaccompanied) Porter shorts
  • Sept 30, Oct 1, 2 — pre-Griffith directors: films from 1902-1908 by Ferdinand Zecca, Alice Guy, J. Stuart Blackton and Wallace McCutcheon
  • Oct 7, 8, 9 — George Melies and his rivals: trick films from 1902-1908 by Melies, Zecca, and Velle
  • Oct 14, 15, 16 — D.W. Griffith at Biograph
  • Oct 21, 22, 23 — The Scandinavian Connection: “The Abyss” with Asta Nielsen and “Ingeborg Holm” dir. Victor Sjöstrom
  • Oct 28, 29, 30 — Two Danish Innovators: “The Student of Prague” and “The Mysterious X”
  • Nov 4, 5, 6 — Griffith Leaves Biograph: “Judith of Bethulia” and “The Avenging Conscience”
  • Nov 11, 12, 13 — “Cabiria” (Italy, 1914)
  • Nov 18, 19, 20 — “The Birth of a Nation”
  • Nov 25, 26, 27 — “Intolerance”
  • Dec 2, 3, 4 — Griffith’s Competitors: Ince and DeMille — “Custer’s Last Fight” and “The Cheat”
  • Dec 9, 10, 11 — More Competition: Neilan and Vidor — “Amarilly of Clothesline Alley” and “The Jackknife Man”
  • Dec 16, 17, 18 — And More Competition: Walsh and Tourneur — “Regeneration” and “The Blue Bird”
  • Dec 23, 24 — Send in the Clowns: comedy shorts with Linder, Chaplin, and Arbuckle

Visit the website for the series for individual program info and film titles at
http://moma.org/visit/calendar/films/989.

* * * * *

An Auteurist History of Film
September 9, 2009–Ongoing


This two-year screening cycle is intended to serve as both an exploration of the richness of the Museum’s film collection and a basic introduction to the emergence of cinema as the predominant art form of the twentieth century. The auteurist approach to film—articulated by the critics of Cahiers du Cinema in the 1950s and brought to America by Andrew Sarris—contends that, despite the collaborative nature of the medium, the director is the primary force behind the creation of a film. This exhibition takes this theory as its point of departure, charting the careers of several key figures not in order to establish a formal canon, but to develop one picture of cinematic history.


Organized by Charles Silver, Curator, Department of Film.
Yamaha Modus H1 piano generously provided through Yamaha Artist Services, New York.

"Headless Horseman" at Hudson River Museum - Sun 9/13

The newly revamped Hudson room at the Hudson River Museum does not have its grand piano available just yet, so I brought up my Kurweil PC2, OnStage keyboard stand and a few audio cable and adapters for this show. Being able to bring a keyboard is occasionally a factor in some shows, and being audio-tech-savvy comes in handy as well. This show was teched by someone deployed by Sound Associates in Yonkers (they're also in NYC), so I arrived to find everything all set, with a 1/4" cable plugged into a D.I. box all set and ready. Sometimes my knowledge of operating a Mackie mixer and owning a variety of attenuating audio adapters has been useful at certain venues, but wasn't needed this time. I picked up a few tips on assembling a 9x12 fast-fold screen from the tech while we were waiting for the show to start, so that was another plus for me.

It was a glorious day outside, and so we had about 25 people, mostly seniors and a couple families. The film went over quite well, and my brief intro talk was on Will Rogers' career in silent pictures. The film was shown as part of the "Dutch New York" exhibit.

I have to say Mark Roth's DVD (available from his label ReelclassicDVD) looked really good projected. No noticeable artifacts, and image quality was pretty good considering it was a transfer from a good 16mm print. I noticed a lot of artifacts in the Kino DVD of "The Ring of the Nibelungen" which I played for at Bard in August...surprising considering that release is on dual-layer discs.


A closer view of my Kurz set-up. folding chair was a little low for me, but manageable.


This historic 1800's house is part of the original museum; the show was held
in the newer building, very modern-looking (like something out of "Sleeper")



A view out the window/terrace at the back of the meeting room the show was in,
giving you a pretty good idea where most Yonkers-ites were instead of at the show.


Washington Irving exhibit in the hall outside the Hudson room.


Closer view of one of the images on the wall.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Fall 2009 kicks off

Here's a snapshot of what's what with me. It's going to be a very busy and exciting fall, with 15-20 shows each month. I'll try to be better about posting, and will try to retro-actively post about the shows I did in August bit by bit.

I'm back in NYC, after a great week in Tromsø, Norway. At right you see me with Martha Otte, festival director of "Stumfilmdager i Tromsø", on opening night. I accompanied MoMA's new print of The Mark of Zorro on the Miditzer, and the film brought the house down, and everyone was wowed by the sound of the theater organ. Probably the 2nd time the sound of the Wurlitzer has been heard at a silent film in Norway (the first being my accompaniment last year in Tromsø of Nell Shipman's Something New).

In Norway when an audience's applause builds and builds, it morphs into a rhythmic clapping (about 120bpm, quasi march tempo). It just does that. All by itself. I should ask about that one of these days...

Have hit the ground running and am catching up on emails from theaters, orchestras, etc and tidying up travel arrangements for out-of-town shows between now and Xmas. I think we're going to be able to route the Miditzer through a different/better sound system at the Lincoln this year and be able to access the sub-woofers under the stage, so those 16' bass notes will be felt as well as heard. The Yamaha HO1 Modus piano (left) has arrived at MoMA's Bartos theatre, and will be there for the duration of Charles Silver's An Auteurist History of Film -- well, for the 6 months of silents anyway.

Down-to-the-wire...we have now at long last secured a venue for the Silent Clowns Film Series, the Arclight Theatre on W 71st, just off Bway (no link here because the theater has no website). It's a church basement theater, but much nicer than what you're probably picturing. We have to bring in and hang our own screen and I'll come in a couple times this month to rassle with their upright to get it in shape, but at least we've got a place to hang our hats. This space hunt was a real nail-biter, and I've been looking for a venue since February. Having to relocate is an added stress to our usual pre-season prep, and the lack of venues (esp the affordable kind) in the Upper West Side made for a heck of a challenge. We'd hoped to return to the West Side Y's "Little Theater", now that it's all beautifully renovated, but they want $1,000 a show (!). We will present our holiday/Dec show in partnership with the Museum of the City of NY, which works out well since Dec 6 wasn't avilable at the Arclight.

This Sunday I'll accompany The Headless Horseman, starring Will Rogers, at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers. They'd wanted to do something to tie in with their "Dutch New York" exhibit, and I suggested this film since it was also shot in the Hudson Valley, and since the DVD edition already has my score credit on it. The museum worked out a license with Mark Roth at ReelclassicDVD for the show, and will cover my transportation since I have to bring my Kurzweil (their acoustic grand is unavailable right now). This is my 3rd or 4th show for the Hudson River Museum.

Okay...my time's up. Gotta go! See you at the silents!

Ben