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Arts and Entertainment

The Sound of Silents: Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra Live Scores Chaplin Films and a Disney Short

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Last Sunday evening, we were thoroughly entertained at the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra's 22nd annual fundraiser, which paired live music against two Charlie Chaplin films and a Disney short on the big screen at UCLA's Royce Hall. The films proved they were truly classics, still entertaining and relevant after more than 80 years. The musicians must be applauded as well—because playing a live score while keeping time can't be easy.

The show started off on the wrong foot, and a bit late, when the first group of musicians, who were to play with Walt Disney's Trolley Troubles (1927), hadn't arrived from the green room. It's was entertaining for the audience, though maddening for the organizers, to watch the speakers s-t-r-e-t-c-h the opening remarks until the players were ready. One of the speakers was film critic Leonard Maltin, who provided historical context and background on the two Charlie Chaplin films that were both created at his studios (which are located on La Brea and now house the Jim Henson Company).

The wait was worth it, however, when the Trolley Troubles quartet (Margaret Batjer, violin; Joshua Ranz, clarinet; Wade Culbreath, percussion; and Alexander Rannie, piano) took to the stage. This was the world premiere of the score, composed by Rannie. The music playfully complemented the train-themed cartoon that featured Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, an early Disney character. Culbreath's precision percussion was just as entertaining to watch as it was to hear, moving back and forth between several instruments to make sure that the sounds were timed perfectly.

Up next in the evening's lineup was A Dog's Life and Shoulder Arms (both 1918) which were written, directed and produced by Chaplin. Chaplin even wrote scores for the films, which were restored, adapted and conducted by Timothy Brock. A Dog's Life paired the Little Tramp with a stray dog, and the film—in its black-and-white silent graininess—was funny and entertaining. The film score, played by a dozen LACO players, accentuated the chase scenes, Chaplin and the dog's playful interaction, and the outwitting of the bad guys in a dance hall of ill-repute.

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Shoulder Arms was a little more serious than the earlier two films, placing Chaplin as a hapless soldier in the midst of a World War I bunker. The film had moments of pathos and mirth, and under Brock's direction, the orchestra reflected those particular scenes with aplomb. Again, the timing was impeccable—especially when the guns were fired on screen, sounding from the instruments on stage.

Even if you think silent films or classical music are a bit boring by themselves, the LACO Silent Film Gala will change your mind. We can't wait to see what they have in store for next year.