Sinfonia presents Buster Keaton’s ‘College’ this weekend

Posted on November 18, 2013

Buster Keaton in color

Erskine Sinfonia offers entertainment for music lovers and film history buffs this weekend.

Sinfonia, the Erskine College instrumental ensemble directed by Associate Professor of Music Dr. Brooks Kuykendall, will present the 1927 silent film College, starring Buster Keaton, featuring a musical score by Kuykendall and piano interludes performed by junior Nathan Holben. Screenings are scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 23 at 3 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 24 at 9 p.m. in Memorial Hall.

Kuykendall offers an explanation of the College scoring project in the program notes, pointing out that so-called ‘silent’ films were never intended to be screened in silence.

“Film directors counted on the noises of the communal reactions of the audience (whether laughter, gasps, or screams) while also relying on some sort of musical accompaniment which could serve to drown out the noisy film projector as well setting a mood to guide the audience through the film,” he explains.

“As film musicians did in the 1920s, I use a number of popular tunes of the day (for example, ‘Charleston’ and ‘Mary’s a grand old name’), but also light classics of the turn of the century (by John Philip Sousa and Scott Joplin) or earlier still (for example, Emil Waldteufel’s celebrated Les Patineurs (‘The Skaters’ Waltz’) of 1882, which we perform during the lengthy Track-and-Field sequence).”

Kuykendall said the score also includes classical themes and uses a number of film-scoring techniques, “including recurring musical figures associated with particular  characters or situations, synchronized ‘Mickey Mousing’ (where the music is calculated to illustrate specific on-screen actions in real time), and an inexorable tendency toward a grand symphonic finale.”

During the silent film era, large urban theaters might offer orchestral accompaniment, but most used piano music. Thus the orchestral music offered by Sinfonia harks back to the experience of big-city filmgoers in the 1920s, while the piano music played by Holben approximates the experience of most 1920s movie audiences.

The film runs for 65 minutes. There will be one intermission, during which popcorn will be available in the atrium adjoining the auditorium.