The inaugural Denver Silent Film Festival, presented by University of Colorado Denver, College of Arts and Media, was an instant success last year. And, this season’s event is expected to be a sell-out.
Before the films are screened at the King Center on the Auraria Campus the weekend of Sept. 21-23, a select group of instrumental and vocal students will get the experience of a lifetime, composing and performing the musical score for the classic film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” The daunting task will be accomplished in a whirlwind three days, led by professionals Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton.
“Creating a score from scratch last year was such a new idea for most of our students, but they took to it quickly,” remembers Erin Hackel, PhD, CU Denver commercial voice coordinator. “The experience was really intense last year.” Members of Hackel’s a cappella group the 9th Street Singers, will be joined by instrumentalists selected by Todd Reid, percussion area coordinator. Reid adds, “It was an experience that all of us came away from wondering, ‘What just happened. How did we do that?’”
The performance is set for the middle of the festival, on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 22. The marathon session of composition and rehearsals begins on Thursday and will last just over 48 hours. “Sosin is such a veteran at creating silent film scores,” that we never had any doubts that we would accomplish it,” says Hackel. “But we were all amazed by the result and the reaction of the audience.”
Hackel calls Sosin the maestro in the middle and credits him for encouraging, and including, creative ideas from the students. Reid recalls the important lessons learned. “With as many as 15 vocalists and 15 instrumentalists it can easily get cacophonous, so we had to know when and when not to play, and listen to each other. Creatively, we had to think about things like character, scene, and mood to accompany with the appropriate sound.” This year, the experience will take on a new dimension when Sosin is joined by his wife, Joanna Seaton, a professional vocalist.
“This is a daunting task for anyone,” explains Reid, “much less a group of students who had never done it before. But those of us who experienced it are greatly looking forward to it again.” Hackel called the experience invaluable and points out how rare it is for students to get the chance to work in the silent film genre. It’s a project and a process that almost takes the “silent” out of the Denver Silent Film Festival. Without spoken words, the students’ music will tell the story of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” as much as the film images themselves.