Silent film and live performance workshop

The AHRC-funded Research Network The Sounds of Early Cinema in Britain has announced a ‘Silent Film and Live Performance’ workshop, to take place at Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham on 27 October 2010.

The workshop will feature:

  • a morning masterclass for students with silent film pianist Neil Brand (for which funding available: see below)
  • an afternoon Research Network workshop to include (1) early cinema session featuring silent film pianist Stephen Horne: exploration of some published accompaniment systems; of ‘film funning’ when accompanying with popular songs; and of ‘voices behind the screen’; (2) early narrative cinema session in which one film will be approached from a variety of perspectives, including the use of live tonal accompaniment (Neil Brand); contemporary laptop mixing; reconstruction of part of original score; reconstruction of original live prologue.
  • an evening screening of Comin’ thro’ the Rye (Cecil Hepworth, 1923), with live accompaniment by Neil Brand.

To apply to participate in the silent film accompaniment master class with Neil Brand, please state your name, university/college affiliation, address, email address, and include a 300-word statement outlining relevant experience and how participating will enhance your music studies or research. Preference will be given to instrumentalists willing to play live, but we will also consider participants who submit a recorded accompaniment. Successful applicants will be supplied with a short section of film to prepare in advance. Email to Dr. Julie Brown (Julie.Brown [at] by 5pm, Friday 24 September 2010.

At least two RMA Scholarships (towards travel to, and up to 2 nights’ accommodation in, Egham) are available to facilitate a student’s attendance and participation in the master class, or participation in the day as observer. To apply, please state your name, university affiliation, address, email address, estimated cost of travel and whether you will need accommodation, and include a 300-word statement outlining how participating in the day will enhance your music studies or research. If you have applied to participate in the master class, simply state clearly that you would also like to be considered for a scholarship. Email to Dr. Julie Brown (Julie.Brown [at] by 5pm, Friday 24 September 2010.

2 responses

  1. I’m somewhat amazed at there being no mention in the description above of pipe organs. Pipe organs were used to accompany silent films in the UK for about 10 years (i.e. all of the 1920s).

    Once picture houses became too large to comfortably hear a solo piano, a great many installed pipe organs instead of either a piano or small orchestra, although some had both organ and orchestra. The early organs were basically church organs, although sound effects started to be added to them. By the mid 1920s instruments we would today recognize as cinema organs were being introduced and the first Wurlitzer organ from the States came over here in 1925.

    Cinema organs were designed to be one man orchestras and the range of sounds, tonal variation, expression, volume and impact was far greater than just a mere piano, although they only required one person to play them and didn’t necessarily require music to be written for them – the silent film organists became extremely skilled in the art of improvising an accompaniment to the films.

    Cinema organs continued to be installed in cinemas throughout the 1930s in order to provide musical entertainment, and by 1939 there were nearly 500 such instruments in cinemas in the UK.

    Anyway I do hope that organs will be featured or at least mentioned in these workshops – really they ought to be held in a venue with an original cinema organ in and a suitable organist provided to demonstrate the techniques.

    So far my company has presented two silent film presentations at Catford’s Broadway Theatre featuring the mighty Compton theatre organ as accompaniment. There will be more to come.



  2. I think the idea of the workshops is to encourage young musicians to engage with the live accompaniment of silent films, something which is going to be far easier for them with a piano (or smaller instrument) than a pipe organ. Organs were of course frequently used to accompany silent films in the 1920s, and there is a strong tradition in the USA for experiencing silent films today with organ accompaniment – less so here in the UK, notwithstanding your own efforts. As it is, I know that Stephen Horne has done organ accompaniments to silent films, and probably Neil Brand as well.

    Do contact the workshop organisers to let them know you think.

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