Thursday, November 9, 2023

Slow news day! Boston's WBUR-FM runs piece on my silent film accompaniment work; plus: 'Wings' in Brattleboro, Vt. on Friday, Nov. 10

Accompanying 'The Gold Rush' at the Jane Pickens Theater in Newport, R.I. Photo by Robin Lubbock /WBUR 90.9 FM.

I want to thank Amelia Mason of WBUR 90.0 FM in Boston for all the effort that went into putting together a story about me that aired today during Morning Edition.

Amelia took the trouble to come all the way down to Newport for a recent screening of 'Phantom of the Opera' (1925) that I accompanied there. 

We talked a great deal, and she was somehow able to edit my rambling into a coherent story. 

She also got me talking about my larger life journey—about how I chose not to pursue music in college, but then came back to it decades later via silent film accompaniment.

Two weeks later, WBUR photographer Robin Lubbock came down to the same venue to photograph me doing music for the 1925 version of Chaplin's 'The Gold Rush.'

It's not easy to get usable images from inside a darkened theatre. Photo by Robin Lubbock /WBUR 90.9 FM. 

The result was a piece that went beyond the usual "live music for old movies" angle and instead explored how a person (me!) unexpectedly discovered a mid-life outlet for creative energy. 

So thanks to Amelia and Robin and all their colleagues at WBUR for taking time to put together a wonderful piece. Although the focus was on me, I hope it helps raise awareness for vintage cinema and all the people and venues that keep it before the public.

Here's a link to the audio file:

And here's a link to the online piece, which has significant differences from the radio story:

And as an added bonus, they spelled my name right! You'd be surprised how often that doesn't happen.

Me at the Jane Pickens Theater in Newport, R.I. Photo by Robin Lubbock /WBUR 90.9 FM

Today is a "day off" from silent film accompaniment, which I need because starting tomorrow it's four shows in three days—mostly screenings designed to salute Veterans Day, which is Saturday, Nov. 11.

After I do 'Wings' (1927) on Friday night in Brattleboro, Vt., then it's a 'two-fer' on Saturday: at 2 p.m., program of comedies at the Residence at Otter Creek, a retirement community in Middlebury, Vt., then at 7 p.m. it's 'The Big Parade' (1925) at 7 p.m. at Brandon (Vt.) Town Hall.

The weekend concludes with another 'Big Parade,' this one on Sunday, Nov. 12 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square, Somerville.

 The Somerville screening will be via a 35mm print from the Library of Congress. I've accompanied this print before and it's truly gorgeous. 

But next up: 'Wings' (1927) on Friday, Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Epsilon Spires, Brattleboro, Vt.

More info and details in the press release below. See you at the movies!

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An original poster for Paramount's 'Wings' (1927).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Epic silent film 'Wings' (1927) on Friday, Nov. 10 at Brattleboro's Epsilon Spires

Story of U.S. aviators in World War I won first-ever 'Best Picture'; screening to feature live organ accompaniment

BRATTLEBORO, Vt.—It won 'Best Picture' at the very first Academy Awards, with spectacular midair flying sequences and a dramatic story that still mesmerizes audiences today.

'Wings' (1927), a drama about U.S. pilots in the skies over Europe during World War I, will be shown with live music on Friday, Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Epsilon Spires, 190 Main St., Brattleboro, Vt.

Admission is $20 per person, with all veterans admitted free in honor of Veterans Day. Tickets may be purchased in advance at or at the door. Doors open at 7 p.m.

The screening will feature live accompaniment on the venue's Estey pipe organ by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician.

The show will allow audiences to experience 'Wings' the way its makers originally intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

'Wings,' a blockbuster hit in its original release, recounts the adventures of U.S. pilots flying combat missions behind enemy lines at the height of World War I in Europe. 'Wings' stunned audiences with aerial dogfight footage, vivid and realistic battle scenes, and dramatic love-triangle plot.

'Wings' stars Clara Bow, Charles 'Buddy' Rogers, and Richard Arlen. The rarely-seen film also marked one of the first screen appearances of Gary Cooper, who plays a supporting role. 
Buddy Rogers, Gary Cooper, and Richard Arlen in 'Wings' (1927).

Directed by William Wellman, 'Wings' was lauded by critics for its gripping story, superb photography, and technical innovations.

'Wings' is notable as one of the first Hollywood films to take audiences directly into battlefield trenches and vividly depict combat action. Aviation buffs will also enjoy 'Wings' as the film is filled with scenes of vintage aircraft from the early days of flight.

Seen today, the film also allows contemporary audiences a window into the era of World War I, which was fought in Europe from 1914 to 1918.

" 'Wings' is not only a terrific movie, but seeing it on the big screen is also a great chance to appreciate what earlier generations of servicemen and women endured," accompanist Jeff Rapsis said.

"It's a war that has faded somewhat from our collective consciousness, but it defined life in the United States for a big chunk of the 20th century. This film captures how World War I affected the nation, and also shows in detail what it was like to serve one's country a century ago."

Rapsis, a composer who specializes in film music, will create a score for 'Wings' on the spot, improvising the music as the movie unfolds to enhance the on-screen action as well as respond to audience reactions. Rapsis performs the music on a digital synthesizer, which is capable of producing a wide range of theatre organ and orchestral textures.

"Live music was an integral part of the silent film experience," Rapsis said. "At the time, most films weren't released with sheet music or scores. Studios relied on local musicians to come up with an effective score that was different in every theater. At its best, this approach created an energy and a connection that added a great deal to a film's impact. That's what I try to recreate," Rapsis said.

'Wings' runs about 2½ hours and will be shown with one intermission. The film is a family-friendly drama but not suitable for very young children due to its length and intense wartime battle scenes.

‘Wings’ (1927) starring Clara Bow, Buddy Rogers and Richard Arlen will be shown with live music in honor of Veterans Day on Friday, Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Epsilon Spires, 190 Main St., Brattleboro, Vt.

Admission is $20 per person, with all veterans receiving free admission. Tickets may be purchased in advance at or at the door. Doors open at 7 p.m.

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