Tonawanda News

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November 7, 2012

Silent film and score to 'Sherlock Holmes' happening tonight

Silent film and score to 'Sherlock Holmes' happening tonight

Tonawanda News — Audiences at the Riviera Theatre will be treated to a rare experience Wednesday — a live organ accompaniment to the silent film, “Sherlock Holmes” — made all the more special by the fact a visiting organist will be performing with an original score to the 1922 film.

Steven Ball, a member of the faculty of the organ/carillon department at the University of Michigan, said creates an original score for all silent films he accompanies, though he also draws from a large collection of music from the 1920s, during the height of the silent film era. Still, Ball said, he fine-tunes it for the more contemporary ear.

“I think American musical audiences in the 21st century, our ears have changed so much because we’ve been exposed to Lady Gaga, for instance. We have moved so far in the last 80 years,” he said. “It’s not an anachronism, it’s about keeping the music and technology up to date with the hope that audiences will receive the same emotional impact they were designed to have” 80 years ago.

And if he’s doing his job right, Ball said, he “should completely disappear in a minute or two” after the beginning of the film.

Film accompaniment is meant to be about the film, not the organist, after all.

Wednesday’s performance will be Ball’s first spin on the Mighty Wurlitzer, though it won’t be his first time in North Tonawanda. As Riviera Theatre Executive Director Frank Cannata has mentioned in the past, the Wurlitzer Factory, and its home North Tonawanda, are something of a Mecca for theater organ enthusiasts.

“I visited North Tonawanda to burn candles in front of the Wurlitzer Factory,” once, Ball said with a laugh. “I’m very much looking forward to this performance.”

“I think it’s really cool you have one of these original machines in its original home,” he added. “Stuff that’s going on like (the filming of 2011’s) ‘The Artist’ is part of the American picture experience.”

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