Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Finishing 2014 with Charlie Chaplin comedy
program in Wilton, N.H. on Sunday, Dec. 28

Pontificating prior to a show on Saturday, Dec. 13 at the Tuscan Opera House in Dixfield, Maine. Photo by Nick Waugh.

And so we finish off the 2014 year with a program of Charlie Chaplin comedy shorts on Sunday, Dec. 28 at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre.

But not before we finish some business here.

Info about the Chaplin program is below. But as 2014 winds down, I thought I'd take a moment to gather my thoughts about the past year of presenting silent film with live music, and explore what 2015 might bring.

• I feel in 2014, I reached a level where my accompaniment makes use of a definite musical vocabulary that's very much my own.

So now that I've gotten to this point, in 2015 I'd like to devote more time to writing down finished music: not just silent film scores, but other pieces, too. I think it's time.

My recent reconnection with the music of composer John Adams has pushed me into a place where I'm excited about the possibilities of new music.

Also, I'd like to seek out opportunities to collaborate with other musicians on projects involving silent film or perhaps other material. Plus, I'd like to finally use my big bass tuba in a score.

• In 2014, I ramped up the use of new social media channels to promote and discuss what I do. In 2015, I hope to continue this process and make more use of Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms to connect with audiences, supporters, and others in the vintage film community.

• Also in 2014, I surpassed my goal of creating music for screenings of 200 different feature films. The numbers added up especially fast when I did a half-dozen programs of "animal" films this past summer in Wilton, N.H.

Most of the animal shows were double features, and a couple were triple features, all of films I'd never done before. And many were quite good!

For 2015, I think it'll be less about scoring films that are new to me (although I'll always want to keep exploring) and more about solidifying the material I have for some of the great films that are often requested for programs.

• 2014 saw my first big "technology" acquisition in a long while. After years of lugging around a bulky old Korg Triton LE keyboard/workstation and two powerful compact Roland speakers, it was time to invest in something new. (For one reason, the synth and speakers were literally falling apart.)

After checking around, I found I wasn't satisfied with anything currently on the market. So instead, I found fairly new versions of my trusty (but worn out) equipment, and so renewed my gear that way. Thanks, eBay and Craigslist!

I suppose at some point I'll actually buy some genuinely new stuff and get out of the "vintage synthesizer" rut. But for now, I think I'm all set for at least a few more years.

For 2015, what I really need to do is work on getting more out of the Korg than I have been. The machine is cursed with a not-very-intuitive interface, so I never seem to get around to programming it to make the most of what it can do in live performance.

• Total number of shows in 2014: 107 performances. For 2015, I'd like to still hit 100 just to keep up the pace, but I'm not going to obsess about it.

Also, I've sometimes found I don't have enough prep or preview time prior to a film, and so don't have a chance to develop solid new material to work with when it's film scoring time.

Also, I need to find room in my schedule to work on my keyboard technique and ability. I've developed some exercises to help me get around a little more nimbly and fill out chords on the fly, but I haven't done them consistently enough for the moves to be second nature.

Okay, about the upcoming Chaplin program on Sunday, Dec. 28 in Wilton, N.H.

I thought it was a fitting way to end 2014, which is the centennial of the 'Tramp' character as well as Chaplin's entry into the film world.

For many in the silent film community, Chaplin was the "gateway drug" that got us started in exploring the field.

That was certainly true in my case. My first exposure to silent film was my 7th grade music teacher running Chaplin two-reelers in 16mm as a way to keep students occupied during study hall.

I remember the first one I saw: Chaplin's 'One A.M.' (1916), notable because Chaplin is the film's only performer, other than a brief scene right at the start with Albert Austin as a taxi driver.

In more recent times, I've encountered more than a few film buffs who look down on Chaplin for whatever reason. But the thing is, his name still draws a crowd (more than any other silent film performer, I've found), and his films cam still produce gales of laughter in an audience that is otherwise not into silent film.

So Chaplin is well worth reviving, especially due to the likelihood that someone new to this old art might become intrigued enough to explore it further.

I'm not exactly sure yet which titles we'll have on the Dec. 28 program. But I'm confident we'll all have a great time laughing.

For more info on the upcoming Chaplin program, please check out the press release below.

* * *

Chaplin causes roller-skating mayhem in 'The Rink' (1916).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Chaplin's best short comedies in Wilton, N.H. on Sunday, Dec. 28

Family fun to cap off Christmas weekend: Classic silent comedy shown with live music

WILTON, N.H.—Charlie Chaplin's iconic "Little Tramp" character remains popular around the world more than a century after he first skidded onto the silver screen.

But Chaplin's popularity first began with a series short comedies he produced and starred in during the early years of his career.

See the films that first made Chaplin famous when the Wilton Town Hall Theatre presents a program of Chaplin's best short comedies on Sunday, Dec. 28 at 4:30 p.m.

Live music for the movies will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is free; a donation of $5 per person is suggested to help defray expenses.

The program will include several comedies made during Chaplin's "Mutual" period of 1916 and 1917.

These two-reel films (each about 20 minutes long) are fast-paced, full of sight gags, and widely regarded as Chaplin's most popular short comedies.

They show Chaplin in full command of his character as well as the then-new movie medium. Many were reissued and re-released to theaters throughout the silent period, even when Chaplin had moved on to make feature films.

The program is family friendly and suitable for all ages. Newcomers to silent film with live music are especially encouraged to attend and rediscover this unique art form.

"Seeing Chaplin on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience, is one of the great treats of the cinema, and a great way to cap off the long Christmas holiday weekend," Rapsis said.

In reviving Chaplin's short comedies, organizers aim to show silent film as it was meant to be seen—in restored 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 accompany the movies. "Recreate those conditions, and classics of early Hollywood such as Chaplin's early comedies leap back to life in ways that audiences still find entertaining."

Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra, creating a traditional "movie score" sound. He improvises the complete score in real time during the screening of each film.

"Creating a movie score on the fly is kind of a high-wire act, but it can often make for more excitement than if everything is planned out in advance," Rapsis said.

Upcoming films in the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series include:

• Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015, 4:30 p.m.: Silent Sci-Fi: 'Woman in the Moon.' An early sci-fi adventure epic about the first rocket ship to the moon, as imagined in 1929. Made on a grand scale; the rarely-screened final silent feature from German filmmaker Fritz Lang, director 'Metropolis.'

• Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015, 4:30 p.m.: 'Love' (1927). Silent-era mega-stars (and off-screen lovers) Greta Garbo and John Gilbert heat up the theater in this 1927 adaptation of Tolstoy's novel 'Anna Karenina.' (Great if you forgot to do anything special on Valentine's Day.)

• Sunday, March 29, 2015, 4:30 p.m.: 'The Ten Commandments' (1923). Original silent film verson of the Biblical epic. Directed by Cecil B. Demille (who also helmed the 1950s remake starring Charleton Heston), this sweeping saga is a great way to mark Palm Sunday, one week before Easter.

A program of Charlie Chaplin's best short comedies will be screened on Sunday, Dec. 28 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Live music will be provided by Jeff Rapsis. Admission is free, with a donation of $5 per person suggested to help defray expenses.

For more information, visit or call 654-3456. For more info on the music, visit

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