Thursday, January 19, 2017

Last warning—er, notice: N.H. Philharmonic
to play my 'Kilimanjaro Suite' Sunday, 1/22

The N.H. Philharmonic rehearsing under Mark Latham on Sunday, Jan. 22.

I'm thrilled to say that this weekend, I'm not performing anywhere!

Rather, I'll be in the audience while some other very talented musicians play a concert that includes music that I composed.

It's the 'Kilimanjaro Suite' for orchestra, and the concert is Sunday, Jan. 22 at 2 p.m. at the Stockbridge Theatre, Pinkerton Academy, Derry, N.H.

There's a whole page about this concert and the music already posted, and I encourage you to check it out!

I also encourage you to attend: tickets are available at the box office or online at

And I hope you'll come not because there's music by me on the program, but mostly because the Philharmonic should be encouraged to take risks like this.

What risks? Well, agreeing to play a new work by an unknown local composer. In the rarefied world of so-called "classical" music, this is an extremely rare thing.

And yes, risky. Who is this guy who thinks he can write stuff for a bassoonist to play, plus 60 other musicians—including a second bassoon player!

Music director Mark Latham.

But music director Mark Latham and the Philharmonic musicians are living up to their mission to serve as a "living laboratory" of live concert music played by local people—and sometimes even written by local people!

And truth be told, I've been studying and preparing for this opportunity for most of my life, really.

It's just that it's not every day that a symphony orchestra comes along and asks you to dance, so to speak.

In my case, when I came back from Kilimanjaro, Mark encouraged me to create music about my journey even when I wasn't sure what it would be about.

The issue was that prior to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, I had heard and read many stories about how such an adventure is a life-changing experience.

All the time we were trekking around the mountain, I was certainly thrilled to be there. But I was still always waiting for that big lump-in-the-throat moment.

On our trek: is that a lump in my throat? Or did I swallow a rock?

The short version is that the moment never came. And for awhile I thought there was something wrong with me.

Was I too tired? Too old? Was I past my emotional expiration date? Was I no longer able to feel things?

But I later realized that perhaps Kilimanjaro was telling me something after all.

By virtue of its silence, maybe it was saying that my life didn't really need to be changed all that much.

That sounded too self-congratulatory, so I still wasn't satisfied. My life is nice, but vast improvements could be made, for my sake and for the sake of others around me. :)

Then it dawned on me—yes, like the sun rising on that summit morning—that Kilimanjaro's message to me was more general:
If my life needed changing, the mountain wasn't about to do it for me. I had to make it happen myself.
That felt right. And as soon as I realized that, the music started to take shape.

Unfortunately for Mark and the Philharmonic, it morphed from a modest musical travelogue into a full four-movement symphony all-but-in-name.

(I kept the original "Kilimanjaro Suite" title to avoid sounding too pretentious.)

To Mark's credit, he let the composing process play out, insisting that I bring all the movements to completion so the orchestra could at least run through them.

Thus we have this Sunday's premiere of the full score—the most ambitious artistic project I've undertaken since the "April Fool's" edition of the Goffstown News in 1996.

How weird to see my stuff on the same stand as music from 'The Empire Strikes Back.'

And the process of composing this work and preparing it for performance has been immensely satisfying in many ways.

For one thing, it was really rewarding to conceive of something I thought was worth saying, and then to find a way to express it.

Also, it was satisfying to draw upon all the arcane knowledge I've accumulated over the years about the orchestra, the instruments, and how a score is put together.

It's an unusual field—an archaic craft, really, not unlike glass-blowing or candle-making, except on a larger scale. So it's nice to get to make a few bottles, so to speak.

But most of all, it was gratifying to draw from the personal musical language I've developed for film scoring and use it in a concert work.

For almost 10 years, I've been improvising live musical scores to full-length silent movies, averaging about 100 screenings a year.

It's given me the time and the space to figure out some things on my own—things that I don't know if I could have discovered through a traditional teacher/student relationship.

And with the Kilimanjaro music, I can see how it's now time to make use of that language in other ways.

So now I have projects I plan to work on: scores to write, pieces to put down on paper so others can play and hear them.

My ultimate goal: an opera about the notorious Pam Smart case.

This is something I've wanted to do for some time—and for many years didn't think would ever happen. Compose new music for orchestra? I thought that train had left the station long ago, both for me and for the culture in general.

New music for a symphony orchestra that could connect with audience in the 21st century? Talk about a hopeless cause!

But though the kindness and support of so many people, I've learned that even if you've missed one train, others are likely to come after it.

And so here's an irony. After composing a whole symphony about how Mount Kilimanjaro didn't change my life, it may have done so after all.

Well, we'll find out Sunday!

P.S. It won't be announced at the concert, but go backstage afterwards to join us for a slice of Kilimanjaro-shaped cake!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

I can date my interest in vintage cinema
thanks to one man: Mr. Oliver Norvell Hardy

As I now know, this is Mr. Hardy, not Mr. Laurel.

When asked, I sometimes say I've enjoyed older movies my whole entire life.

But that's not quite accurate. To be precise, I would have to say my interest in vintage cinema dates from one exact day: Jan. 18, 1977.

Why then? Because that day happens to be the birthday of "Ollie," otherwise known as actor Oliver Norvell Hardy, one half of the comedy duo Laurel & Hardy.

And it was the announcement of Hardy's birthdate on a local radio station's almanac that morning that got my 7th-grade mind thinking.

Don't ask me why or how I remember this so clearly, but I do. I remember it was a Tuesday—and I just checked and it really was a Tuesday! So you know this is on the level. :)

I recall sitting at the kitchen counter in our home in Nashua, N.H. poking over a bowl of cereal before heading out for the loooong walk to yet another day at Spring Street Junior High School.

Spring Street Junior High in downtown Nashua, N.H., long since torn down.

The walk was long (about 1.2 miles) because we lived just inside the limits of the school's bus routes. But that's another story.

Like many households in my hometown at the time, the kitchen radio was glued to WSMN-AM 1590, a local station that broadcast local Weather, Sports, Music and News (get it?) all day long.

Unlike Spring Street Junior High, the radio station is still around:

Back then, our morning routine was driven largely by the station's programming schedule. Example: If you were still home when the obituary report came on, you were late for school!

(Yes, they actually broadcast a daily obituary report, complete with organ music and a recording of 'The Old Rugged Cross.')

Anyway! Whoever was on air would occasionally read almanac items to fill time until the news, or the next commercial for Eddie's Bedding or Hammar Hardware.

And on that morning of Tuesday, Jan. 18, I learned that it was the birthday of noted film comedian Oliver Hardy, "born this date in 1892."

One reason that clicked was that the front entrance to Amherst Street Elementary School, where I'd just spent six years, had a big stone block embedded in it with that very date: 1892!

But there was more. I'd just discovered Laurel and Hardy through their films on Channel 38, a UHF station out of Boston that at the time was heavy on old-time programs: re-runs of sit-coms, the Three Stooges, and occasionally older stuff like the Laurel & Hardy shorts and features.

I enjoyed it all, just like any other TV-mesmerized kid of my generation.

But something about hearing that today was the birthday of one of the people I'd been watching—and the realization that he was a real person and not just some cartoon on TV—pushed my 13-year-old brain into curiosity mode.

Oliver Hardy. I remember actually thinking the fat one was "Laurel" because that sounded to me like what a fat guy would be named, and so the skinny guy must be Hardy. Was that right?

And if today was his birthday, and he was born in 1892, I figured he was now...87 years old! And I was 13, so together that made 100.

But did I have the right guy? Was he the fat one or the skinny one?

This led me to pick up the thick "1975 WORLD ALMANAC and BOOK OF FACTS" that was laying around (our version of Google in the pre-Internet era) and found a page on "Celebrity Births and Deaths."

Wow! I found a picture of the 1975 World Almanac AND paneling that's exactly like what was in our semi-finished basement and rumpus room!

And sure enough, there he was: Oliver Norvell Hardy, film comedian, 1892-1957. What? Mr. Hardy wasn't 87 years old. He was dead!

And I still wasn't sure if he was the fat one or the skinny one, but something about it started me on a journey that took me to the shelves of film books at the Nashua Public Library, which had a handful of books on comedy and yes, was able to get a much better idea of the lives of both Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy, including who was who.

Not long after that, a music teacher at Spring Street named Mr. Salvo began bringing in 16mm prints of the Chaplin Mutuals (his immortal two-reel comedies from 1916 and 1917) to run in study hall to entertain bored students.

Most students remained bored, but thanks to my research on Mr. Hardy, I was now ready to find out a lot more about Mr. Chaplin. Who was he? What was he like? What were his dates?

So back to the library I went. And journey of discovery, although put aside at times, has never really ended.

And so today, on Jan. 18, 2017—a full 40 years later to the day!—I say thank you, Ollie. And happy birthday once again!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Two recording projects in the works:
'Homecoming' (1928) for ReelClassicsDVD,
and 'Zaza' (1923) for Kino-Lorber

Original promotional art for Gloria Swanson in 'Zaza' (1923).

Excited about something unusual for me: not one but two separate silent film score recording projects coming up.

Tomorrow (Saturday, Jan. 14), I'll record music for a re-release of 'Homecoming' (1928), a German drama about World War II that will soon be re-issued on DVD by

And then next Saturday (Jan. 21), I'll lay down tracks for 'Zaza' (1923), the Gloria Swanson film being re-issued this spring in Blu-Ray by Kino-Lorber.

In both cases, I'll be recording the music in the recital hall of the Manchester Community Music School in Manchester, N.H. Many thanks to Judy Teehan, Valerie Gentilehomme, and the entire staff of the music school for making the space (and the nice grand piano!) available.

Also, I need to thank N.H. filmmaker Bill Millios in advance for helping me engineer the recording. I'm in the process of putting together my own set-up to record and edit music files, but I'm not quite there yet, and Bill is willing to help bridge the gap.

All this is unusual for me because until now, I've generally resisted having my film score work recorded.

Why? I don't know if this is something people can understand, but let me try to explain anyway.

I've found when I create live music in the moment, largely through improvising while a film is playing, it takes about 10 minutes or so to get into what I call the "silent film accompaniment zone."

What I mean by that is that it takes about 10 minutes for me to settle into the mental place where the music seems to flow naturally and freely from wherever it comes from.

This is the time needed for all the self-editing and self-consciousness and critical judgmental functions to fade away, at least for me. After that, the music seems to come easily.

In other words, I get to a place where my critical faculties are minimized and I stop second-guessing myself. And that's when the magic starts.

However, I've found that when I'm aware that I'm being recorded—when I'm aware that every note will be preserved for posterity—it's been difficult for my critical self to fade away.

Really. The presence of a live microphone really makes my self-conscious. And it never seems to subside, and so it's much tougher to reach that "silent film accompaniment zone" where everything comes so easily.

If one thing goes wrong, I overreact. I overthink. I question myself all the more. And so on.

So rather than record anything, I've gotten along for quite awhile now thinking of myself as a "live performance" artist only: one whose work exists only in the moment, in one place, and in one way before a certain audience. To get it, you had to be there.

So what's with this sudden spurt of recording projects?

Well, a couple of things. For one, I think I've been doing silent film accompaniment long enough to have a good sense of my own style and how to use it effectively. At the risk of sounding too full of myself, I have something to contribute, however minor.

But also, I'm at a point where I sense it would be good to stretch myself—to push into areas that I've shied away from, if only for the satisfaction of making an attempt.

Writing down music (as in my Kilimanjaro Suite) is one way.

And recording it is another.

I was having these thoughts last fall when Mark Roth from ReelClassics contacted me about doing music for 'Homecoming' (1928) and a companion short, 'France and the Great War.'

So it seemed like fate or chance or whatever was in agreement that I should try to get more comfortable with recording.

After agreeing to score 'Homecoming,' I was contacted by Bret Wood at Kino-Lorber at doing music for 'Zaza' (1923), which I had accompanied earlier in 2016 at the Packard Theatre at the Library of Congress campus in Culpeper, Va.

'Zaza' was pretty big news because it's a Gloria Swanson picture that's never been reissued in modern times. So I need to thank Rob Stone at the Packard Center for bringing me in to accompany the film last year, and then for recommending me to Bret.

But Bret upped the ante by asking that I create a score using as much as possible music from an original cue sheet for the film that he'd found at the George Eastman House.

As an accompanist who specializes in creating my own music to score silent pictures, I've found that having to pieces from other people, no matter how good, is another barrier to me being able to reach that "silent film accompaniment" zone.

Even if I memorize music so that I could play it while reciting the alphabet backwards, the scoring of a film just doesn't happen naturally for me when it's someone else's stuff.

But Kino-Lorber had a vision for this, and had already paid for the cue sheet. So I gave it a look and found that every single melody in it (just the opening phrase, and no supporting chords) was something I'd never heard of in my life!

Ouch! Undaunted, I contacted the one person in the silent film world I thought would know where I could find at least a few of these pieces: Rodney Sauer, the founder and pianist of the famed Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, based in Boulder, Colo.

And I'll be darned if Rodney didn't reply almost instantly with word that he had sheet music for about a dozen of the cues, accompanied by his own cheeky observation that some of them "are actually good music."

So Rodney sent what he had to me—a mix of obscure tunes, sentimental ballads, and "photoplay music" written specifically for silent film musicians to use. And for the past week, I've been reading through it and trying to "make it my own" as much as possible in advance of the recording session a week from tomorrow.

Well, wish me luck on these two recording projects. I would like to do more, but that will only happen if I can get through these without completely screwing them up.

And the trick to doing that, I think, is to somehow forget that I'm being recorded at all, and hope that the music flows naturally.

Can I do it? We'll find out soon enough!

Monday, January 9, 2017

'Peter Pan' (1924) on Thursday, 1/12 at Flying Monkey; also, Sunday's 'Metropolis' sell-out

Original poster art for 'Peter Pan' (1924).

Up next on the accompaniment calendar: the original silent film version of 'Peter Pan' (1924), which we're running on Thursday, Jan. 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H.

More details about that screening are in the press release pasted at the end of this post.

For now, bulletin from the recent past, meaning Sunday, Jan. 8:

A capacity crowd cheered 'Metropolis' (1927) last night, which I accompanied at the Aeronaut Brewing Co. in Somerville, Mass.

And when I say "capacity," that's what I mean. The brewery's main room, which doubles as a performance space, was absolutely packed from one side to the other.

That "standing room only" syndrome often creates the kind of excitement that helps a silent film come to life, and that's what happened last night.

Also, with outside temperatures hovering around 0 degrees Fahrenheit, it helped keep everyone warm and cozy!

Look for details soon about a special "pre-Valentine's Day" silent film screening at Aeronaut on Sunday, Feb. 12.

I haven't looked back at the records, but 'Metropolis' is probably the one film I've accompanied live more than any other.

It's a perennial favorite and seems to always produce a strong turn-out—heck, we did it at Aeronaut just last April, and this repeat show still sold out. People just never seem to tire of it.

Because of how frequently I've done music for it, I have a set of 'Metropolis' melodies and chord sequences that I've come to use in scoring the film.

The music always comes out differently, because during the screening I improvise freely. But I draw from the same set of maybe a half-dozen themes that I've developed over the years.

There's a set of chords and a melody for the machines and the great city. There's another melody for Freder Fredersen, and one for his father, both of which get used extensively beyond just signifying the each character.

Freder's tune comes to signify the noble aspirations of the brotherhood the working man, while his father's tune gets used when needed to illustrate the imposition of the will of the upper class in oppressing the working people.

And one melody is a favorite: a kind of futuristic brassy Broadway dance tune that gets used when the "machine Maria" first seduces the upper class, and then comes to signify her insidious influence in leading the workers to rise up.

There are others, but one that I've never had a satisfying tune for is Rotwang, the mad scientist.

Every time I do 'Metropolis,' I try to come up with something for Rotwang that's distinct and helps his pronouncements and actions stand out. But I never seem to get it just right.

Until last night: at the Aeronaut, I surprised myself by playing a nervous melody that squirrels around a bit for a few notes, and then jumps up to two higher notes as if surprised, and instantly I knew I had it!

In 'Metropolis': Rotwang finally gets his own tune.

It's funny, too—the music I use for 'Metropolis' rarely gets recycled for other films that I accompany. It just doesn't fit any other movie but 'Metropolis,' I think.

So now that I have a full set of material for 'Metropolis,' I'm thinking of writing it out in some way so that it's not just in my head.

Because the movie is structured in three parts, and each is labeled with a musical term, it seems natural to get the music into a three-movement form that mirrors that outline.

With the upcoming premier of my 'Kilimanjaro Suite' for orchestra, I've been eager to put more music to paper, and this sounds like a natural to add to the list.

About the 'Kilimanjaro' piece: I don't want to overdo it, but here's an update.

One unfortunate by-product of last night's 'Metropolis' screening was that I was unable to attend a New Hampshire Philharmonic rehearsal in which they played through parts of the score.

But they'll be rehearsing again next Sunday, and you can bet your buttons I'll be on hand for that. :)

In the meantime, we'll have press releases going out this week to all local media about the concert, and I'll post them here (on my Kilimanjaro page, at right) when the time comes.

First up, however, is 'Peter Pan' (1924), which probably runs a close second to 'Metropolis' in terms of how many times I've accompanied it live.

Hoping for a strong turnout for the screening on Thursday night. Here's all the info in a press release:

* * *

Betty Bronson in 'Peter Pan' (1924), the original silent film adaptation of J.M. Barrie's famous fantasy.

For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Silent film version of 'Peter Pan' at Flying Monkey on Thursday, Jan. 12

Magical family movie classic to be shown with live musical score

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—It was the film that introduced movie-goers to visions of flying children, magical fairies, human-like animals and menacing pirates.

It was the original silent film adaptation of 'Peter Pan,' a picture personally supervised by author J.M. Barrie. The film was a major hit when released in 1924, with audiences eager to get their first big-screen look at the wonders of Neverland.

Movie fans can see for themselves when the first 'Peter Pan' (1924) is screened on Thursday, Jan. 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth.

The program will feature live music for the movie by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. The film is appropriate for all ages, making for a unique evening of family entertainment. Admission is $10 per person.

Thought lost for many years, and overshadowed by more recent adaptations, the original silent 'Peter Pan' maintains its freshness and charm 90 years after its original release.

In the story, first presented as a stage play in 1904, three children in London are visited one night by Peter Pan, a youth in search of his shadow. Pan shows his new friends how to fly, and then convinces them to join him in a journey to Neverland.

There they encounter Indians, mermaids, and a band of pirates whose leader, Captain Hook, is Pan's sworn enemy. The children are captured by Hook and taken prisoner aboard his pirate ship, setting the stage for an epic battle, the outcome of which will determine if the children may ever return home.

Though the Peter Pan story is well-known today due to subsequent adaptations (and also merchandising that includes a ubiquitous brand of peanut butter), the tale was virtually new when Hollywood first brought it to film in the early 1920s.

In England, author Barrie gave his blessing to the first-ever screen adaptation, though he retained control over casting and insisted that any written titles in the film be taken directly from his own text.

After a major talent search, Barrie settled on unknown 18-year-old actress Betty Bronson for the title role, and filming began in 1924. The role of Captain Hook was played by noted character actor Ernest Torrence, who invented the now-iconic villainous pirate persona that would become a Hollywood legend.

The film's highlights include special effects that maintain their ability to dazzle even today. The film's memorable images include a group of mermaids entering the sea, a miniature Tinkerbell interacting with full-sized children and adults, and a pirate ship lifting out of the water and taking flight.

'Peter Pan' also includes a cast of animal characters played by humans in costume, including the family dog Nana and an alligator who serves as Hook's nemesis, lending the film a magical quality.

After the film's release, no copies of the original 'Peter Pan' were known to exist, and for many years the film was regarded as lost. However, in the 1950s a single surviving print turned up in the George Eastman Archives in Rochester, N.Y., from which all copies today have descended.

Accompanist Jeff Rapsis specializes in creating live musical scores for films made prior to the introduction of recorded sound. Based in New Hampshire, Rapsis specializes in improvising music for silent film screenings at venues ranging from Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. to the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in San Francisco, Calif.

Rapsis creates film scores in real time, as a movie is running, using a digital synthesizer to reproduce the texture of a full orchestra. He averages about 100 performances per year, and has created music for more than 250 different silent feature films.

"Improvising a movie score is a bit of a high wire act, but it can result in music that fits a film's mood and action better than anything that can be written down in advance," Rapsis said. "It also lends a sense of excitement and adventure to the screening, as no two performances are exactly alike."

'Peter Pan' is the latest in a monthly series of silent films presented with live music at the Flying Monkey. The series provides local audiences the opportunity to experience silent film as it was intended to be shown: on the big screen, in good-looking prints, with live music, and with an audience.

Rapsis said it's currently a new golden age for silent film because so many titles have been restored, and are now available to watch at home or via online streaming.

However, the Flying Monkey series enables film fans to really understand the power of early cinema, which was intended to be shown on a big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"Put those elements together like we do at the Flying Monkey, and films from the silent era spring right back to life in a way that helps you understand why people first fell in love with the movies," Rapsis said.

Upcoming silent film titles at the Flying Monkey include:

• Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, 6:30 p.m.: 'The Clinging Vine' (1926) starring Leatrice Joy. Recover from Valentine's Day with this gender-bending comedy in which a high-powered female executive yearns to become more feminine. Surprisingly androgynous performance by Joy, wife of MGM megastar John Gilbert.

• Thursday, March 16, 2017, 6:30 p.m.: 'Sadie Thompson' (1928) starring Gloria Swanson, Lionel Barrymore. Intense drama of a "fallen woman" who comes to an island in the South Seas to start a new life, but encounters a zealous missionary who wants to force her back to her former life in San Francisco.

• Thursday, April 13, 2017, 6:30 p.m.: 'King of Kings' (1927) directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Just in time for Easter: Cecil B. DeMille blockbuster includes crucifixion scene complete with earthquake, landslides, and a cast of thousands.

• Thursday, May 18, 2017, 6:30 p.m.: 'Speedway' (1929) starring William Haines, Ernest Torrance. Fasten your seat belts! We mark the traditional Memorial Day running of the Indianapolis 500 with a vintage race car drama filmed right on the famed track—at speeds topping 115 mph!

‘Peter Pan’ (1924) will be shown on Thursday, Jan. 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H. Admission is $10 per person. For more info, call (603) 536-2551 or visit For more info on the music, visit

Sunday, January 8, 2017

After illness, returning to the keyboard
with 'Metropolis' at Aeronaut Brewery on 1/8

What time is it? Time to return the keyboard!

Very excited about my first big show of the new year: doing live music for 'Metropolis' (1927) on Sunday, Jan. 8 at 7 p.m. at the Aeronaut Brewing Co. in Somerville Mass.

More details in the press release below!

First, a personal note: In show biz, they say timing is everything. And that's certainly true in the very tiny corner of it occupied by silent film.

So get this: Three days before Christmas, I woke up to find the hearing in my left ear was messed up!

For some reason, what I heard through my left ear was distorted, and also sounded far away.

Also, there was a cluster of frequencies—tones around middle C on the musical scale—that were physically painful to hear, producing that "nails on a chalkboard" effect.


I had no other symptoms, and couldn't imagine what was going on. There was no wax in my ear, and I hadn't been exposed to loud noise. There was no sign of any physical damage, and nothing felt wrong with my ear.

Annoyingly, voices in the "weird" range were hard to take. When I heard news on the radio read by a woman in that alto range, I had to switch stations.

In my left ear, a dial tone sounded about a whole step higher, and distant, and also would shift pitch slightly upwards if I tried to listen to it.

Another weird sound effect is that at home in the evenings, I would hear a rushing sound, like the water was running somewhere in another room. But it was a completely phantom thing—there was no water running anywhere.

I wangled a doctor's appointment that day and nothing was found. I was told to take Sudafed as an anti-inflammatory, and Naproxen as well, and if nothing changed over Christmas weekend, to get an appointment with an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist.

Well, nothing changed, except over Christmas I came down with a monumental head cold that quickly took over and spread throughout my throat and respiratory systems. Uck!

With my hearing still screwed up, I then found that trying to get a referral to a specialist in the week between Christmas and New Year's is like expecting an invitation to join the American Academy of Arts and Letters. It just ain't gonna happen.

So I was getting a little panicky there, as my cold worsened and with my hearing awry and with some other problems that all happened at once.

I got through doing music for a screening of 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' (1926) on Christmas Day, but found I had to point one of my speakers away from me because its output was just too painful to take at the volume it had to be at.

What does this have to do with timing? Well, I was very fortunate, I felt, for this to happen at the one time of the year when I don't have a lot of silent film screenings. Count your blessings!

And it was a good thing, because this went on for two solid weeks. Over this time, my hearing has gotten closer to normal, which is a relief. But the cold got worse, causing me to stay home in bed for two entire days last week.

And then I finally got an appointment with a specialist, which took place yesterday.

Alas, the hearing loss in my left ear isn't related to the head/sinus cold I've had. The hearing loss is "Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss," a condition that happens spontaneously to a relatively small number of people. It occurs when something disturbs the process of how signals are carried from the ear's hardware to the brain, and is little understood. Read on:
About half of people with SSHL will recover some or all of their hearing spontaneously, usually within one to two weeks from onset. Eighty-five percent of those who receive treatment from an otolaryngologist (a doctor, sometimes called an ENT, who specializes in diseases of the ears, nose, throat, and neck) will recover some of their hearing.

Experts estimate that SSHL strikes one person per 5,000 every year, typically adults in their 40s and 50s. The actual number of new cases of SSHL each year could be much higher because the condition often goes undiagnosed. Many people recover quickly and never seek medical help.
If my hearing doesn't recover, the next step would be to take a course of steroids (yikes!) and wish for the best. Hope it doesn't come to that, and I'm encouraged that the left ear seems to be coming back.

Even so, next week I'm having my head scanned as a precaution (hooray!) due to the very small chance there's a disruption (i.e. tumor!) that's causing this.

Meanwhile, the cold is dissipating. Today (Saturday, Jan. 7) is the first day in two weeks I've felt back to normal, or as close to it as I ever am.

Alto voices no longer make my teeth chatter, which is a huge relief. A dial tone sounds almost the same from one to the other.

And just in time for a big gulp of a screening: 'Metropolis' (1927) on Sunday, Jan. 8 at 7 p.m. at the Aeronaut Brewing Co. in Somerville, Mass.

I'm afraid seating is limited, and it sounds like they're very close to selling out. So before you trek down to Somerville for this, please check their online listings for info about ticket status, or call them directly using the contact info in the press release below.

Happy New Year and looking forward to making a lot of music (and hearing it, too!) in 2017!

* * *

Vintage poster art for 'Metropolis.' (1927)

For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Restored sci-fi classic 'Metropolis' to screen at Aeronaut Brewery on Sunday, Jan. 8

Landmark early fantasy movie about a dystopian future, with half-hour of rediscovered footage, to be shown with live music

SOMERVILLE, Mass.—A silent film hailed as the grandfather of all science fiction fantasy movies will be screened with live music on Sunday, Jan. 8 at 7 p.m. at the Aeronaut Brewery, 14 Tyler St. (near Union Square), Somerville, Mass.

This special screening with live music is open to the public and is part of the Aeronaut's commitment to showcase local music, art, and performance.

Admission is $10 per person. Tickets are available online at; search on "Aeronaut Brewery."

"This is one of the great all-time classics of cinema, and we're thrilled to present it so fans can experience it with an audience and live music," said Aeronaut spokesperson Christine Holmes.

Original music for 'Metropolis' will be performed live by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer and silent film accompanist who performs at venues in New England and around the nation.

'Metropolis' (1927), regarded as German director Fritz Lang's masterpiece, is set in a futuristic city where a privileged elite pursue lives of leisure while the masses toil on vast machines and live deep underground.

The film, with its visions of futuristic factories and underground cities, set new standards for visual design and inspired generations of dystopian fantasies from Ridley Scott's 'Blade Runner' to Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil.'

In reviving 'Metropolis' and other great films of cinema's early years, the Aeronaut aims to show silent movies as they were meant to be seen—in high quality prints, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who will improvise an original live score for 'Metropolis' on the spot. "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early cinema leap back to life."

In 'Metropolis,' the story centers on an upper class young man who falls in love with a woman who works with the poor. The tale encompasses mad scientists, human-like robots, underground spiritual movements, and industrial espionage, all set in a society divided between haves and have-nots.

A scene from 'Metropolis' (1927).

The version of 'Metropolis' to be screened at the Aeronaut is a newly restored edition that includes nearly a half-hour of missing footage cut following the film's premiere in 1927. The lost footage, discovered in 2008 in an archive in Argentina, has since been added to the existing 'Metropolis,' allowing plot threads and characters to be developed more fully.

When first screened in Berlin, Germany on Jan. 10, 1927, the sci-fi epic ran an estimated 153 minutes. After its premiere, the film's distributors (including Paramount in the U.S.) drastically shortened 'Metropolis' to maximize the film's commercial potential. By the time it debuted in the U.S. later that year, the film was only about 90 minutes long.

Even in its shortened form, 'Metropolis' became a cornerstone of science fiction cinema. Due to its enduring popularity, the film has undergone numerous restorations in the intervening decades in attempts to recover Lang's original vision.

In 1984, the film was reissued with additional footage, color tints, and a pop rock score (but with many of its intertitles removed) by music producer Giorgio Moroder. A more archival restoration was completed in 1987, under the direction of Enno Patalas of the Munich Film Archive, in which missing scenes were represented with title cards and still photographs. More recently, a 2001 restoration combined footage from four archives and ran at a triumphant 124 minutes.

It was widely believed that this would be the most complete version of Lang's film that contemporary audiences could ever hope to see. But, in the summer of 2008, the curator of the Buenos Aires Museo del Cine discovered a 16mm dupe negative of 'Metropolis' that was considerably longer than any existing print.

It included 25 minutes of "lost" footage, about a fifth of the film, that had not been seen since its Berlin debut.

The discovery of such a significant amount of material called for yet another restoration, a 2½-hour version that debuted in 2010 to widespread acclaim. It's this fully restored edition that will be screened at the Aeronaut.

" 'Metropolis' stands as an stunning example of the power of silent film to tell a compelling story without words, and reach across the generations to touch movie-goers from the real future, which means us," said accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

To score a silent film, Rapsis uses a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra. The soundtrack is created live in real time as the movie is screened. Rather than focus exclusively on authentic music of the period, Rapsis creates new music for silent films that draws from movie scoring techniques that today's audiences expect from the cinema.

The restored 'Metropolis' will be shown on Sunday, Jan. 8 at 7 p.m. at the Aeronaut Brewery, 14 Tyler St. (near Union Square), Somerville, Mass. Admission is $10 per person. Tickets are available online at; search on "Aeronaut Brewery." For more info about Aeronaut Brewing, visit

For more information on the music, visit

Below are the links to the Facebook page and EventBrite page:


“'Metropolis' does what many great films do, creating a time, place and characters so striking that they become part of our arsenal of images for imagining the world.”
—Roger Ebert, 2010, The Chicago Sun-Times

“If it comes anywhere near your town, go see it and thank the movie Gods that it even exists. There’s no star rating high enough.”
—Brian Tallerico,

— 30 —

For more info, contact:
Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •
Images attached.
More high-resolution digital images available upon request.

Friday, December 30, 2016

I knew him as 'Commissioner Gordon'...
But Neil Hamiton was a silent-era leading man

"Is this the Caped Crusader? Come to Gotham City Police Headquarters at once!"

In creating music for early cinema, I continue to be surprised by all the connections that exist between silent film and the pop culture of my childhood.

The above gentleman falls into that category: as a kid, I knew him as Gotham City's "Commissioner Gordon," ready to use his red "hotline" telephone to reach Batman at any time.

But four decades prior to that, audiences around the world knew him as affable leading man Neil Hamilton, seen above in the silent film version of 'The Great Gatsby' (1926), one of his more notable roles. Alas, the picture is lost.

But many of his others aren't, and one of them is part of this year's silent film schedule at the Manchester City Library, 405 Pine St. in downtown Manchester, N.H.

'The Shield of Honor' (1928) is a police-focused crime drama starring Hamilton and also Thelma Todd in an early appearance.

The film never gets shown, which is why it's on the schedule this year in Manchester.

At left, Hamilton as Commissioner Gordon the 'Batman' TV series, with perennial stooge Sergeant O'Hara.

See, the focus of the series is to give neglected films a chance to be shown in the environment for which they were created: in a theater with a big screen, with live music, and—most importantly—a live audience.

That's where you come in. (And I hope you do!)

For the audience part to work, we need people. Duh, right?

So in 2017, if you're within traveling distance to Manchester, N.H., I hope you'll make it a point to drop in on a few screenings and see for yourself.

The Manchester City Library as depicted on an old postcard.

It's surprising now many pictures not regarded as classics still hold up when shown under the right conditions, which we try to recreate once a month in the library's Carpenter Memorial Auditorium.

First up is a light-hearted drama, 'The Power of the Press' (1928), directed by none other than a young Frank Capra!

Starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Jobyna Ralson (known best as Harold Lloyd's leading lady through much of the 1920s), it's missing a few scenes but has the potential to be a real winner.

So it may not be recognized as an official masterpiece. But with big names associated with it, 'The Power the The Press' has an impressive pedigree and I think deserves a chance, don't you?

If you do, please join us on Tuesday, Jan. 3 at 6 p.m. for the kick-off screening of the 2017 silent film series at the Manchester City Library.

Admission is free, with donations accepted to help defray expenses. Carpenter Memorial Auditorium is located on the lower level of the Manchester City Library, 405 Pine St., Manchester, N.H.

For more information about the film, and all the titles we've lined up for 2017, check out the press release I've pasted in below.

Thanks—and Happy New Year to all!

* * *

An original poster for 'The Power of the Press' (1928), which we're showing on Tuesday, Jan. 3 at the Manchester (N.H.) City Library.

For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Comedies, dramas, thrillers—plus an early appearance of Batman's 'Commissioner Gordon'

Manchester (N.H.) City Library announces 2017 schedule of monthly silent film screenings with live music

MANCHESTER, N.H.—Films that first caused audiences to fall in love with the movies will be shown throughout 2017 at the Manchester City Library, 405 Pine St. in downtown Manchester, N.H.

The library's monthly series of films from cinema's early years, shown with live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, will continue throughout the coming year.

The programs are free and open to the public, with donations accepted to defray expenses. The shows, which take place generally on the first Tuesday of the month, begin at 6 p.m. and are held in the library's Carpenter Memorial Auditorium.

The series is designed to show early cinema the way it was intended to be seen: with a live audience, on the big screen, and with live music.

"Put those elements back together, and the films can sometimes leap right back to life," said Rapsis, a New Hampshire resident who accompanies silent film screenings around the nation.

The library's series focuses on reviving films that rarely receive screenings.

This year's schedule includes an early Frank Capra drama, a Shakespearean adaptation from Germany, and a police drama starring Neil Hamilton, a young leading man who many years later would go on to play Commissioner Gordon in the popular 1960s "Batman" TV series.

A scene from German director Paul Leni's visually imaginative drama 'Waxworks' (1924).

Rapsis said audiences are surprised at how much entertainment value remains in the works of early moviemakers.

"When these films were playing in theaters, no one called them "silent movies," Rapsis said. "They were just "the movies," and told their stories visually and with music, so no one felt anything was missing."

Today the films also function as visual time capsules, allowing audiences to see vividly how daily life was lived a century ago or more.

To score a silent film, Rapsis uses a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra. The soundtrack is created live in real time as the movie is screened.

Rather than focus on authentic music of the period, Rapsis creates new music for silent films that draws from movie scoring techniques that today's audiences expect from the cinema.

First up in 2017 is 'The Power of the Press' a light-hearted drama from 1928 directed by Frank Capra and starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Jobyna Ralston. Clem Rogers (Fairbanks) is a cub reporter writing obits and weather reports when he gets a chance at a story so big he's sure to get the front page.

'The Power of the Press' will be screened on Tuesday, Jan. 3 at 6 p.m. in the Carpenter Memorial Auditorium.

Other screenings this year at the Manchester City Library include:

• Tuesday, March 7, 2017, 6 p.m.: 'The Shamrock and the Rose' (1927) starring Mack Swain, Olive Hasbrouck; prepare for St. Patrick's with this vintage ethnic comedy about the Irish Kellys family and the Jewish Cohens, neighbors in home, rivals in business—and now forced to deal with an unexpected inter-family romance!

• Tuesday, April 4, 2017, 6 p.m.: 'Othello' (1922) starring Emil Jannings, Werner Krauss; we celebrate Shakespeare's birthday (he died this month, too) with an early silent version of the bard's immortal tragedy as brought to the screen in an early German version.

• Tuesday, May 2, 2017, 6 p.m.: 'Let's Go' (1923) starring Richard Talmadge, Eileen Percy; light-hearted romp with Talmadge playing scion of a family-owned cement company. A business trip brings headaches over a paving contract, but also a chance at romance.

• Tuesday, June 27, 2017, 6 p.m.: 'Tempest' (1928) starring John Gilbert, Camilla Horn; epic drama in which an officer in the Czar's army (Barrymore) falls hard for a haughty princess (Horn), who spurns him and causes him to be stripped of rank. But the tables are turned with the Russian revolution, which upends the aristocracy and puts the soldier and the princess at the mercy of forces that no one can control.

• Tuesday, Aug, 1, 2017, 6 p.m.: 'Christine of the Big Tops' (1926) starring Pauline Garon, Cullen Landis; raised in a traveling circus, young orphan Christine is eager to prove her worth on the trapeze. But her real challenge is choosing between the affections of her Guardian and a young doctor.

• Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, 6 p.m.: 'The Shield of Honor' (1927) starring Neil Hamilton; long before he played Commissioner Gordon in the iconic 1960s 'Batman' TV show, Neil Hamilton was a leading man, saving the day and getting the girl in a steady stream of films throughout the silent era. This vintage crime drama is a good example of his output.

• Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, 6 p.m.: 'Waxworks' (1924) with Emil Jannings, Conrad Veidt, and Werner Krauss; just in time for Halloween: in this masterwork of the German Expressionist movement, a trilogy of terror is woven around the wax figures of a carnival sideshow.

• Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, 6 p.m.: 'What Price Glory' (1926) starring Dolores del Río, Victor McLaglen; in the midst of World War I, two American GIs battle each other for the affections of a local girl in France. Comedy/drama was a big sprawling hit.

• Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, 6 p.m.: 'Upstream' (1927); backstage intrigue is the name of the game in this John Ford-directed feature film that was considered lost for decades until a copy was recently unearthed in New Zealand.

All screenings are free and open to the public, and take place in Carpenter Memorial Auditorium, Manchester Public Library, 405 Pine St., Manchester, N.H.

The next film in the Manchester City Library's series of silent cinema with live music is 'The Power of the Press' (1928), directed by a very young Frank Capra, which will be shown with live music by Jeff Rapsis on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 at 6 p.m.

For more information about the Manchester City Library's programming, call (603) 624-6550. For more information about the silent film series, visit

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Thoughts for 2017: I'm right about where
I wanted to be when I was 18 years old

A vintage trade ad for 'Tramp, Tramp, Tramp' (1926).

We enjoyed a big turnout at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre for the venue's final silent film show this year: Harry Langdon in 'Tramp, Tramp, Tramp' (1926) on Christmas afternoon.

It was also my last show for the year, too. People responded strongly to the program, which also included Laurel & Hardy's classic short 'Big Business' (1929). So it was nice to go out on a high note.

And perhaps appropriate, as the new year brings with it several musical milestones for me:

• In the first part of January, I'm scheduled to record scores for Gloria Swanson's 'Zaza,' which is being issued on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber, and for 'Homecoming' (1928), a silent German drama being reissued by Mark Roth of ReelClassicsDVD. com.

• On Sunday, Jan. 22, the New Hampshire Philharmonic will perform the world premiere of a piece for orchestra about Mount Kilimanjaro that I've written. (Lots more on that later!)

• On Sunday, Jan. 31, I'm guest for the day of the music department at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., where I'll lead workshops in improvisation and accompany a screening that evening.

• On Wednesday, Feb. 8, I make my debut "across the pond" at the Kennington Bioscope, a well-known film theatre in London, England which runs occasional silent film programs—er, programmes.

• On Sunday, Feb. 19, I'm manning the mighty Wurlitzer organ at the Orpheum Theatre in Sioux City, Iowa for a program of silent comedies, part of this year's prestigious Sioux Falls International Film Festival. I'm eager to do more theater organ, and this is a big break for me!

• On Friday, Feb. 24 and Saturday, Feb. 25, it's the 21st Annual Kansas Silent Film Festival, where I'll collaborate with Marvin Faulwell and Ben Model to accompany a wide range of shorts and features.

• On Thursday, March 2, it's a Chaplin program at the Carnegie, an art museum in Covington, Kentucky (just across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati), where I've appeared before and where it's always a pleasure to return.

• And on Friday, March 3 and Saturday, March 4, I'll be in Cleveland, where John Ewing, director of the Cleveland Cinematheque, has invited me to accompany screenings at the Cleveland Museum of Art as well as his theater.

So lots to look forward to in the first part of 2017.

I'm very grateful for the opportunity to make music in so many venues, and to work and collaborate with so many talented people.

In the years since I've returned to making music a large and regular part of my life, I've learned a lot.

I've also developed, little by little, my own sense of the musical language that works for me. And with that, I'm eager to devote more time to fully written-out pieces, either for film scoring or other opportunities, such as the N.H. Philharmonic concert next month.

So it's an exciting time. I've been telling people that in terms of music, I feel I'm finally where I hoped to be at about age 18.

For now, let me just wish everyone a great New Year's holiday.

Thank you for your interest in silent film and your support of the music that I do for it.

Hope to see everyone often in the coming year!