Harry Weiss, new altscores, band premiere

Had a nice long chat with 91-year-old silent film accompanist Harry Weiss the other day. When I began accompanying silent films at the Cinema Arts Center (formerly known as the New Community Cinema) in Huntington, NY, Vic Skolnick spoke fondly of their first accompanist, Harry Weiss. Harry played piano for their silent film shows for about 15 years, starting when they opened in 1973. Someone posted a link to this article in a Bangor, ME paper on the silent film newsgroup a couple weeks ago and I recognized Harry’s name. I sent a note to him through the cinema he was playing at (for Potemkin), the River City Cinema. Turns out he’d gotten the message (yes, he’s on e-mail!). Apparently he called the Skolniks and had been tickled to hear from me, especially since I was carrying on in his footsteps. Dylan gave me his # and I called Harry the other day.

Harry is very energetic, and sounded like he was at least 20 years younger than his real age. We spoke at length about film accompaniment. He and I have identical theories and practices – heavy on improvisation, recognizable music is a no-no (unless called for on screen), etc etc. I look forward to continued chats with Harry. Now I just have to find a way to get myself booked in Bangor so I can meet him!

Released two theatre organ scores on altscore.com, one for Lon Chaney in The Penalty and one for Buster Keaton in The Cameraman. These two, as well as the piano scores for disc one of the Langdon set, are selling well – with new customers buying a few scores at once – and the Sherlock Jr and Houdini scores continue to do well. Will release another score or two in June, but may have to hold off for anything in July as I now have a rather heavy performance schedule in July. Including two shows at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle (58th St & Columbus in NYC) that have just been confirmed I’ve got a total of 25 shows in July.

On Monday I’m taking the early eyeball train to Milford CT to attend a morning rehearsal of the Jonathan Law High School band and two history classes there. The JLaw band’s spring concert on Friday, June 13 at 7pm will premiere my concert band arrangement of my orchestral score for Chaplin’s The Adventurer. Another high school in South Dakota has found me online and is interested in performing this score in the fall at their local historic movie theater.

Also chatted by phone with two of the “newbie” accompanists, Andrew Simpson from Washington DC and Jeff Rapsis from New Hampshire. They’ve both been playing for films for a few years. I got both of them gigs here in NYC, accompanying new preservations by the LOC of Norma and/or Connie Talmadge films at the Donnell Media Center this past February, in the series curated annually by Joe Yransky. My ploy to get to hear them play live didn’t quite work out, as I got booked to play somewhere else when they were in town.

June will find me busy recording several scores for a new silent comedy DVD set from AllDay Entertainment, due out later this year (not to be confused with American Slapstick 2, due out July 22…those scores are already in the can), as well as getting in musical/physical shape for Slapsticon, held in Arlington VA.

Next performance in Monday, June 16…accompanying a newly-formed musical improv troupe that calls themselves “M.C. Hammerstein”.

See you at the silents!

Ben Model
silent film accompanist/historian

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