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Silent film fest in Chaumont Feb. 22 to feature the lost art of live organ accompaniment

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CHAUMONT — The lost art of live organ accompaniment will be featured in a program hosted by the Lyme Community Foundation on Saturday, Feb. 22.

Watertown organist Jason D. Comet and a musical colleague of his in Tennessee began searching last year for folios of music specifically for silent films. A folio is a book or other collection of sheet music.

“These songs were not something you’d hear on radio, in church or at concerts,” Mr. Comet said.

The music came out in the early part of the 20th century — before 1927 when “The Jazz Singer,” the first “talkie” motion picture, hit theaters.

Mr. Comet said the advent of sound in films led to the disposal of many folios for silent films.

“Unfortunately, there are very few available,” Mr. Comet said of the silent film scores. “My colleague and I have been digging through garage sales and looking on eBay and different places online trying to find old scores.”

Mr. Comet said he and his colleague have found six scores to match six films. All are in the public domain.

Four of those scores will be performed by Mr. Comet, along with their movies, beginning at 7 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Chaumont Presbyterian Church on Route 12E. Mr. Comet will bring in an electronic organ for the concert.

“The Lost Art of Silent Film Accompaniment” is the latest in a series of film-related programs hosted by the Lyme Community Foundation. Mr. Comet thought his search for silent film scores would be a good fit for a foundation program.

The program will feature a new 9-foot-by-16-foot movie screen purchased by the foundation. The event is being held in the church to accommodate the screen size and a larger audience.

The four silent shorts to be shown are: the cartoon “Felix in Hollywood,” 1923; “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” 1912; the spoof “Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride,” 1925, starring Stan Laurel, and “The Goat,” 1921, starring Buster Keaton.

quality music

Mr. Comet said he is amazed at the quality of the music in the old movie folios.

“It’s a lot of beautiful music and stuff that’s really well done that basically got thrown out overnight,” he said. “I found three or four beautiful pieces so far that I’ve added to my repertoire for concerts, church services and weddings.”

Mr. Comet, a 2000 graduate of Watertown High School, has a bachelor’s degree in sacred music from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J. In May 2010 in Los Angeles, he won first place in the Roland Atelier Organ Fest in the professional division. He also has performed with the New York Philharmonic.

Mr. Comet is the owner and founder of Comet Music Studio, Watertown, where he teaches group piano lessons to children ages 5 and up.

Mr. Comet said the era of live organ accompaniment for silent films in the north country was short-lived. Early in films, pianos were often used for accompaniment. But, according to the history found on the website www.theaterorgans.com, four theaters — two in Watertown, one in Carthage and one in Massena — installed Wurlitzer organs in the early part of 1927.

“In October of 1927 came ‘The Jazz Singer,’” Mr. Comet said. “Literally, six months of silent films were shown in these four theaters. After 1928, the organs pretty much had no use.”

sound effects

The sound of the movie house Wurlitzer organs, Mr. Comet said, were vastly different from organs at churches.

“They were set up with what we call toys; the glockenspiels, xylophones, bells, drums, ahooga horns for cars and steam whistles. They had sound effects galore.”

The organ that Mr. Comet will bring to the Feb. 22 performance also will have such sounds, but done digitally.

“I’m recreating the sound and the experience of what (moviegoers) would have had in the early theaters of the era,” Mr. Comet said.

He hopes not to attract too much attention at the program.

“You are accompanying the film, you are not the showcase,” he said. “If you are not seen, you’ve done your job.”




The details
WHAT: Silent film festival featuring the lost art of live organ accompaniment, sponsored by the Lyme Community Foundation
WHEN/WHERE: 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, at the Chaumont Presbyterian Church, 27532 Route 12E
COST: The suggested donation is $10.
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