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Something Alchemical Happens

I’ve long had a fascination with magicians and have tried numerous times to incorporate them into ACM concerts with varying success.  I once wanted to do a fundraiser where there was an escape artist in a water tank who only makes it out safely if we hit our goal.  Obviously no one really voiced any support for that plan so it didn’t go anywhere but I still think of it fondly and hope to bring it to life one day, perhaps virtually.

We did a CD release party a few years ago in Chicago that featured a sleight-of-hand magician but that was kind of a bust too because he was so amazing that he completely and thoroughly stole the show. To this day people talk about the awesome ACM event with the magician and completely forget that it was a freaking CD release party.

Perhaps my most successful foray into the magical arts was when I asked another sleight-of-hand magician, (I used to know a lot of magicians but have sadly had a falling out with the guild) to perform on our Green Mill series. The Green Mill is a really famous jazz club in Chicago and ACM did an annual concert there for years.

For the intermission one year the magician did his thing and I accompanied him in D-minor from the piano behind the bar.  Because sight lines are bad at the Green Mill we put up a screen and projected his hands onto it.  People loved it which was great because the previous year’s concert had been hijacked by a rogue a capella vocal group and I was eager to erase that painful memory.

My takeaway from the Green Mill magic act though wasn’t to ask the magician back the following year, largely because I was getting tired of being upstaged by magicians, but to think of other things we could do with a screen and projector.  After much thought I came up with the idea of commissioning new scores to play live to modern silent films.

That was fifteen years ago and we’ve produced the Sound of Silent Film Festival every year since. This year, in two days actually, we’re presenting it virtually and I couldn’t be happier.  The films are the best they’ve ever been and the music is wonderful.  Our musicians did a fabulous job recording sixteen pieces in two marathon recording sessions in the theater and our conductor, audio/tech director and video director outdid themselves as well.

For the 2009 festival I wrote filmmaker Guy Maddin and asked if I could write a new score for his classic short Heart of the World.  Incredibly he wrote back and said yes.  He loved my score and gave me permission to perform it live whenever and wherever.

Pressing my luck, I asked him if he’d contribute a quote for the Sound of Silent Film Festival.  He wrote back with this.  “Of all the art forms, music takes the shortest route to the heart, and this is especially true of live music. Something truly alchemical happens when film gets a live score.”

As I sat in the empty Davis theater watching the musicians play to the films I could only agree with Maddin. It’s absolutely magical. I hope you can join us this weekend.


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