MAILED: Oct. 16, 2000
The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra will accompany short silent films by Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd at a special Halloween Artists Series performance Tuesday, Oct. 31, at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
Regarded as the leading exponent of vintage American popular music, the 12-member ensemble will begin a spook-filled edition of its program, "The Clown Princes: The Silent Film Comedy of Keaton, Lloyd and Chaplin," at 7:30 p.m. in Zorn Arena.
The original cinema-orchestra scores will be performed along with screenings of Buster Keaton's "The High Sign" (1920), Harold Lloyd's "Haunted Spooks" (1920), and Charlie Chaplin's "The Adventurer" (1917). Rick Benjamin, founder and director of the orchestra, will present informative introductions to the films and the music written for them. American theater orchestra favorites, with titles such as "The Vampire Waltz" (1911), "The Witching Hour Rag" (1915), and "Spooks' March" (1921), are also on the program.
"We are so used to hearing plinkety piano soundtracks for 'silent' films that it has become almost a corny cliche," wrote The Washington Post after a 1998 performance by the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra. "Listening to a full band perform the complete scores, written and timed to the action, proved to be a surprising delight.
"As any good soundtrack should be, the band was nearly subliminal in its soft, well-modulated accompaniment to the screen performances," The Washington Post continued. "No Dolby bombast was necessary. Many of the musicians played vintage instruments. The audience chuckled along as much to the music as the films."
Rick Benjamin was inspired to create the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra while he was a 20-year-old student at the Juilliard School of Music in 1985. In an abandoned warehouse, Benjamin discovered a collection of manuscripts, photographs and orchestra scores of the Victor Talking Machine Company a collection thought to have been lost in the 1920s. It was the library of Arthur Pryor, a trombonist in the Sousa band and later a conductor who led a touring band and recording orchestra. Pryor's collection contained thousands of works by many popular composers of the late 19th and early 20th century, including W.C. Handy, Scott Joplin and Pryor himself.
Benjamin gathered together some Juilliard colleagues to perform the turn-of-the-century treasures and called his group the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra. Recordings soon followed, along with the orchestra's 1988 New York debut at Alice Tully Hall the first performance at Lincoln Center by a professional ragtime ensemble. The New York Times described it as "abidingly energetic fun."
The ensemble's repertoire is a varied one, skipping from waltzes to marches, from operatic parodies and novelty numbers to blues and popular songs of the era. The syncopated centerpiece of the orchestra's collection is the rag, from the symphonic to the slapstick.
Admission is $15 for the general public; $13 for those ages 62 and older and UW-Eau Claire faculty and staff; or $5 for those ages 17 and younger and UW-Eau Claire students. Tickets are available at the University Service Center in Davies Center and will be sold at the door.
Patrons also may charge tickets to MasterCard or Visa when they order by phone. Call (715) 836-3727 or, outside the immediate Eau Claire area, call toll-free (800) 949-UWEC. A $3 handling fee will be added to all telephone charge orders.
The Artists Series is made possible by student funds allocated by the UW-Eau Claire Student Senate.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Oct. 16, 2000