Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Coming up: A double dose of Rudolph Valentino
— plus composing, scoring a piece for orchestra

Some of our Kilimanjaro team at Karanga Camp, 12,800 feet, six days into the trek and two days before our summit attempt.

A cluster of shows coming up this week, including two screenings of Valentino's 'Son of the Sheik' (1926) in two very different parts of New England.

And then the decks will be cleared to make progress on a project that I'm very excited about—one involving that big mountain pictured above.

But first things first: the Valentino screenings will honor the 90th anniversary of the star's untimely death, which occurred on Aug. 23, 1926.

To mark this occasion, we're running his final film—'Son of the Sheik' (1926)—at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine on Thursday, Aug. 25, and then again on Saturday, Aug. 27 in Brandon Town Hall up in Brandon, Vt.

Detailed info about either screening can be found by clicking on the "Upcoming Silent Film Screenings" link at the upper right.

Coming to a theater near you—if you live in Maine or Vermont.

Valentino is one of the few silent-era stars whose name still holds sway with the public. So we usually get a good turnout when his name is on the program.

It's a great way to experience the special magic that he brought to the silver screen, so hope to see you there!

And then on Sunday, Aug. 28, it's the final installment of our summer series of silent boxing films at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre.

Keaton puts up his dukes in 'Battling Butler.

We're finishing with Buster Keaton's uproarious comedy, 'Battling Butler' (1926). The bell rings at 4:30 p.m.

Though not regarded as one of Buster's timeless classics, 'Butler' was the highest-grossing of any of Keaton's silent features in the 1920s.

In fact, its box office success was one reason that producer Joe Schenck allowed Keaton to go ahead with his ambitious next film, 'The General.'

So if you've enjoyed the Civil War adventure regarded as Buster's masterpiece, you might want to check out 'Butler,' the film that helped make it possible.

Why boxing? Popular in the 1920s, it remains a compelling marriage of civilization and brutality. Read Joyce Carol Oates' 'On Boxing' and you'll see what I mean.

Okay. what about this new project?

This summer, in-between improv-heavy silent film gigs, I've been putting together something completely different: a written-down piece for orchestra.

It's not a film score. It's a concert piece.

Kilimanjaro: the highest and biggest free-standing mountain the world.

Specifically, it's a musical depiction of Mount Kilimanjaro—you know, the big snow-capped peak in East Africa.

And it's scheduled to be played in January, 2017 by the New Hampshire Philharmonic, an orchestra based right here in my home state!

Just today I noticed the piece is listed on the Philharmonic's Web site (, so I figured it would be okay to go public.

The thing is, I'm still working on it, and expect to continue to do so for awhile yet. So this might help spur me on.

(Leonard Bernstein wrote music based on 'The Age of Anxiety.' Today, we live in 'The Age of Distraction.')

We negotiate the "Kissing Rock" on a cliff known as the Breakfast Wall above Barranco Camp.

Over the years I've been doing live accompaniment for silent films, I've gradually developed a musical vocabulary or language that I feel works for me.

And now I sense it's time to start using it in ways that are different from the improvised movie scores genre.

I still expect most of my musical energies will go towards creating in-the-moment film music.

But I sense it's time to starting writing some things down and see how that goes.

Why Kilimanjaro? Unexpected forces conspired to make this happen.

For starters, I had the good fortune to be part of a team that successfully reached Kilimanjaro's 19,431-foot summit in January 2015.

Our team on Day 5, coming down from Lava Tower Camp at 15,000 feet.

I didn't sign up for artistic purposes. I just wanted to see if I could do it.

But I was surprised to find the 10-day journey of hauling yourself up and then down the highest peak in Africa is an experience filled with music of various types.

One example: on the final overnight push to the summit, as we slowly ascended a narrow trail through the pre-dawn darkness, Tanzanian guides from several teams spontaneously sang traditional Christian hymns in Swahili. Wow!

Also, not a day goes by on the mountain without people breaking out into "Jambo Bwana," otherwise known as the Kilimanjaro Song.

On a more abstract level, there's the mountain itself. Go there and march all around it, as we did, and you'll find it makes music all its own.

Someone once said that great architecture is music frozen in time. I think that's true with nature, too—or at least that's what I found with Kilimanjaro.

On the summit, dawn, Jan. 10, 2015. Groups generally spend only a half-hour at the top of Kilimanjaro due to lack of oxygen and cold temperatures.

And I felt I wanted to capture some of that: the long trek across the volcanic plains, the drama of scrambling up the "Breakfast Wall," the intense experience of marching one step at a time at high altitude to the frozen summit ridge.

But there's more. It turns out that Mark Latham, the Philharmonic's music director, is from a family of British medical officers with a long history on Kilimanjaro.

Mark's grandfather was the first Englishman to climb to the summit following World War I, after the Germans ceded what was then the colony of "Tanganyika" to the United Kingdom.

Another one of his relatives (I think Mark's great-uncle) was the guy who discovered the frozen leopard on Kilimanjaro's upper slopes that Ernest Hemingway made so much of.

One of the sub peaks is "Latham Peak," and a key spot on the main climbing route is "Stella Point," named after Mark's great aunt, apparently the first woman to ever reach the summit.

Summit photo op. How often do you get to pose with a receding glacier?

And Mark himself was born in Tanzania, and climbed Kilimanjaro some years ago. Prior to our more recent ascent, he let us look through the family's scrapbooks, which was fascinating.

All of this seemed to be drawing us all together and suggesting that we do something musical about Kilimanjaro. And so we are!

So mark your calendars: the Philharmonic has the "Kilimanjaro Suite" on their schedule for Saturday, Jan. 20 and again on Sunday, Jan. 21.

And once this is done, I can start work on that long-awaited Pam Smart opera.

Me at the end of our climb, inspecting the "Tourist Rescue Book."

No comments:

Post a Comment