Music

Rock Candy, front row, from left, Hayden Curry (drums) and Giuliana Gallone (vocals/guitar); back row, from left, Matt Astronovich (vocals), Daniel Heuertas (guitar), Jake Divillio (bass) and Luca Illonardi (keys/vocal). Photo courtesy of RNRU

Hauppauge-based music school Rock-n-Roll U (RNRU) saw its teen student band, Rock Candy, kick off the Smithtown Library Summer Concert Series on July 5 by opening for renowned Tom Petty & Fleetwood Mac tribute band, Petty Rumours. The concert was held at the Smithtown Main Building on its front lawn.

“Kicking off the Smithtown Library Summer Concert Series was a special accomplishment for Rock Candy,” said Jessica Gallone, owner of RNRU. “I can’t thank the library enough for giving our students the opportunity to perform in front of a live audience, and to open for a group of professionals like Petty Rumours.” For more information on RNRU, call 631-656-5901 or visit www.rnru.rocks.

Barbra Streisand in a scene from 'Hello Dolly'

By Heidi Sutton

I am simple, complex, generous, selfish, unattractive, beautiful, lazy, and driven. — Barbra Streisand

What can one say about Barbra Streisand? In a career spanning six decades, the legendary singer, songwriter, actress, author and filmmaker has won multiple Academy Awards, Grammys, Emmys, Golden Globes, Tonys and a Peabody, proving that the incredible voice that launched her career was only one of her remarkable talents. 

So it was only natural for Sal St. George to pay tribute to the legendary star in his latest Living History Production, now playing at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center in Stony Brook Village through June 14. 

Barbra Streisand at the 1969 Academy Awards with her best-actress Oscar for her role in ‘Funny Girl.’ Photo courtesy of Photofest

According to St. George, the show focuses on a specific turning point in Streisand’s career. “The story takes place in 1969. Barbra recently won the Oscar for “Funny Girl” and her latest movie, “Hello Dolly” has just been released,” he said, adding, “This was a pivotal time in young Barbra’s life. She was divorcing Elliot Gould at this time, as well.” 

Now the 27-year-old is a special guest on the fictitious sixties talk show, “The Dixie Carlyle Program.” Formatted as if the audience is coming to a live taping of the show, Streisand is interviewed about her life and career. 

The original script was written by St. George. “It takes approximately three months of research before the actual writing process begins,” he explained.

Gabrielle Lutz, who plays the role of talk show host Dixie Carlyle, said “I love creating a character from scratch. Dixie is fun and off-beat. You never know what she is going to do next.”

Sarah Franco tackles the role of Streisand in the show. “When Sarah auditioned and sang for us I immediately heard the sound of Barbra’s voice,” said St. George. “She is a disciplined and hard-working actor. I knew she would be able to personify the legendary singer.”

“How do you portray an icon like Barbra? I just try to master her mannerisms and vocalizations,” said Franco. “I also enjoyed the opportunity to portray the real Fanny Brice in this show. We recreate a Baby Snooks radio show.” Franco will sing many of Streisand’s hits from that time period during the 90-minute show.

Sarah Franco will portray Barbra Streisand in the show.

St. George’s son, Darren, who has been featured in numerous productions over the years, most notably as Tobias Brunt, the ruthless Bounty Hunter in “Running Scared, Running Free” and as Edgar Allan Poe, has the role of Danny DeLuca. “This is one of the most ambitious shows we have ever mounted. The finale will surprise and delight you. It was a challenge to produce, but it is all there onstage for the audience to enjoy,” said Darren.

After the performance, participants will be treated to a high tea luncheon featuring finger sandwiches (tuna, cucumber and chicken), assorted pastries, coffee and tea provided by Fratelli’s Italian Eatery of Stony Brook along with a meet and greet with the actors.

For Sal St. George, he’s already planning the next show. “This is our sixteenth year producing programs for the WMHO. Soon we will be preparing for our holiday program. The special guest has not yet been finalized. But we are looking to do the story of another successful female entertainer and icon — a very famous country western star.” Stay tuned.

Partially sponsored by Roosevelt Investments, the Ward Melville Heritage Organization Educational & Cultural Center, 97P Main St., Stony Brook will present a musical tribute to Barbra Streisand on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m., and Sundays at 12:30 p.m. Available dates at press time are May 17, 19, 23, 30, 31, June 2, 7, 9, 10, 13 and 14. Admission, which includes lunch, is $50 adults, $48 seniors and $43 for groups of 20 or more. To make reservations, call 631-689-5888. For more information, visit www.wmho.org.

Carolyn Brown-Benson recently recorded "Forever in My Heart," a song dedicated to military members and their loved ones. Photo by Christina Bohn

A local singer plans to give back to those who have served through the gift of music.

Carolyn Brown-Benson, known in the Three Village area for her Linda Ronstadt cover band Blue Bayou, recently recorded a single called “Forever in My Heart.” The song, written by Gray Devio and Jack Ruby, tells the story of a deployed military person and a loved one writing to each other.

The single is slated to be released by Bigger Bang Media May 19, Armed Forces Day, and will premiere on Armed Forces Radio on Memorial Day. A music video will follow July 4. Brown-Benson said she’s excited about its release and raising funds to aid a nonprofit that assists veterans or military members with proceeds.

“If they have somebody that they are missing terribly, whether they are here or passed, that it will give them a memory or a glimpse or make them feel like that person is right next to them.”

— Carolyn Brown-Benson

While the 52-year-old singer from East Setauket said she will continue working with Blue Bayou, she wanted to record music as a soloist for the first time in a way that could make a difference.

“A big part at this stage in life, you go, ‘Well I need a career,’ but it’s also, ‘How can I be of service?’” she said. “How can I use my voice?”

Brown-Benson said she knew she wanted to sing “Forever in My Heart” the moment she heard it at Devio’s studio. She had met Devio more than a year ago when a mutual friend connected them after she confided that she wanted to sing outside of her cover band.

“Forever in My Heart” originally was written to be a country song, according to Devio, but he said the singer’s pop sound takes it to another level. He believes the song will reach a broader demographic than if they were to release it as a country single.

“It’s a wonderful thing that Carolyn is singing it,” Devio said. “She has such a beautiful and legit voice.”

The songwriter-producer said he and co-lyricist Ruby were in Nashville, shopping their music to label executives when they wrote the song. Devio said when they composed the ballad, the two were overwhelmed with emotions with being separated from their wives and nervous about a meeting.

“We felt sort of like soldiers on a battlefield away from the ones that we love,” Devio said.

While originally written to depict a military member who is missing family back home, Brown-Benson’s sings it from a loved one’s perspective. Devio said in the middle of the song there is the idea of heaven, and he said he hopes the affirmation of faith gives comfort to those serving the country and the people in their lives.

“The idea of the song is to remind the people who are at home and missing their loved ones, who are serving our country to fight for the freedoms we have every day, to remind them that no matter what happens, that they’ll be forever in their hearts and that everything will be ok,” Devio said.

Brown-Benson said she also hopes the song will bring comfort to those who listen to it.

“It’s a wonderful thing that Carolyn is singing it. She has such a beautiful and legit voice.”

— Gray Devio

“If they have somebody that they are missing terribly, whether they are here or passed, that it will give them a memory or a glimpse or make them feel like that person is right next to them,” the singer said. “And to remember that they’re not that far away, even distance or death, there always right there next to you.”

Brown-Benson said she hopes once the song premieres Memorial Day on the syndicated Armed Forces Radio, which broadcasts to service members around the world, that other radio stations across the country will pick it up. She also hopes it will inspire civilians to see what they can do to help current and former military personnel. As the daughter of an ex-Marine, who served during the Korean War, she is familiar with the sacrifices of armed forces members. “These people protect [our] rights every day and leave families and jobs behind,” she said.

Brown-Benson said she is still searching for an organization to donate to and has found that several nonprofits need help. She has received suggestions of organizations that build homes for vets and those who provide canine companions, to those that fly military members home, but is open to more ideas.

The importance of helping former and current military members is something Joe Cognitore, Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 commander, knows well. He and his post have raised funds for many vets, including helping to build them homes. He said he is touched when he hears about endeavors like those of Brown-Benson and Devio.

“As a vet it makes me feel elated, because they don’t have to do that,” he said, adding he knows other vets feel the same.

When it comes to creating the video for the single, the singer needs others’ help in another way. Brown-Benson wants to incorporate photos of service men and women with their families in the video. The singer said she is also thinking of adding letters sent during deployment from contributors to the video.

For more info about “Forever in My Heart” or submitting photos for the upcoming video, visit www.carolynbensonofficial.com.

Post updated May 2 to include a quote from Joe Cognitore.

Photo from WMHO

AND THE FINALISTS ARE …

From left, Max Tuomey (vocalist, Old Bethpage); Caitlin Beirne (vocalist, St. James); Michael Lomando (vocals/guitar, Centereach); Sara Caligiuri (vocalist, St. James); Lydia Korneffel (vocalist, St. James); Ben Fogarty, Mint Band (trumpet, East Setauket); Varun Jindal, Mint Band (drums, East Setauket); Matt Broadbent, Mint Band (guitar, Setauket); Aidan Hopkins, Mint Band (trumpet, Setauket); Tom Manuel, president, The Jazz Loft (judge); Jay Sangwan, Mint Band (trumpet, Setauket); Naomi Pierro, music instructor, Grace Music School (judge); Jordan Amato (vocals, South Setauket); and Edward Decorsia, New York’s Most Dangerous Big Band ( judge)

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization recently revealed the finalists for its 2018 Long Island’s Got Talent competition. Created by the WMHO’s Youth Corps, the annual competition gives students from across Long Island the opportunity to showcase their amazing talents.  

Seven finalists (including a five-person band) were chosen to take part in the final competition on Sept. 7. The finalists will also be given the opportunity to perform at WMHO’s Sunday Summer Concerts series in July and August.

The judges this year will be Tom Manuel, president of The Jazz Loft; Naomi Pierro, a music instructor at Grace Music School; and Edward Decorsia of New York’s Most Dangerous Big Band.

A $500 scholarship will be awarded to the first- through seventh-place winners by Stony Brook University’s Pre-College Music Program, Five Towns College will once again offer a total of $25,000 in scholarships and Green Towers Group will present a $1,000 cash prize to the first place winner.

 For more information, please call 631-751-2244 or visit www.stonybrookvillage.com.

 

Ray Bonneville
On Sunday, April 15 at 5 p.m. WUSB-FM, The Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, sundaystreet.org and the Long Island Museum will welcome singer-songwriter Ray Bonneville, performing live on the stage of the Carriage Museum’s Gillespie Room in Stony Brook.  

With a style that sometimes draws comparisons to JJ Cale and Daniel Lanois, this blues-influenced, New Orleans-inspired “song and groove man” holds dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship. He says he “found his grove” when he moved to New Orleans after serving in Vietnam as a Marine, earning a pilot’s license, and moving to Alaska, then Seattle, and Paris. Ray‘s songs involve gritty narratives inspired by a lifetime of hard-won knowledge set against his soulful guitar and harmonica playing.
Ray has earned many accolades, including a Juno (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy). His post-Katrina ode, “I Am the Big Easy” received the International Folk Alliance’s 2009 Song of the Year Award, and in 2012 Bonneville won the solo/duet category in the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge. His songs have been recorded by many other artists, among them Slaid Cleaves and Ellis Paul.
Ray will perform songs from a new album as well as fan favorites from his previous six releases. (www.raybonneville.com).
Tickets are $25 per person and may be purchased at the door. Please call the museum at (631) 751-0066 the day of the show to confirm ticket availability. Museum exhibitions close at 5 p.m. and are not included with concert tickets.
The Sunday Street Concert Series is presented by WUSB-FM, sundaystreet.org, the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council and the Long Island Museum.
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About Sunday Street
The Sunday Street Series began in 2004 at The University Cafe at Stony Brook University, when Charlie Backfish, host of the long-running weekly radio program Sunday Street on WUSB-FM, began presenting concerts with many of the singer/songwriters featured on the program. In its first decade, the series presented 172 concerts with musicians from all over the world performing in an intimate venue. In 2015 the series moved from the University Café to the nearby Long Island Museum, where musicians may take advantage of the museum’s Steinway Boston Grand piano. For more information and a complete concert schedule visit www.sundaystreet.org

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About the Long Island Museum

Located at 1200 Route 25A in Stony Brook, the Long Island Museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate dedicated to enhancing the lives of adults and children with an understanding of Long Island’s rich history and diverse cultures. Regular exhibition hours (unless otherwise noted), are Thursday through Saturday,10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday, noon – 5 p.m.  For more information about programs and exhibitions, please call 631-751-0066 or visit the museum website at www.longislandmuseum.org.

‘Dance of the Haymakers’ by William Sydney Mount, 1845

By Heidi Sutton

Now through Sept. 3, The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook presents a delightful treat: a special exhibit titled Perfect Harmony: The Musical Life and Art of William Sidney Mount.

William Sidney Mount (1807-1868) was a renowned artist best known for his genre paintings, although he also painted landscapes and portraits. Born in Setauket, Mount lived in Stony Brook and painted many local scenes. A man of many talents, Mount was also a musician (he played the fiddle and fife), composer and inventor, designing a hollow-back violin that he named the Cradle of Harmony.

‘The Banjo Player,’ 1856, by William Sidney Mount, oil on canvas, gift of Ward and Dorothy Melville. Image from LIM

So many of Mount’s paintings incorporate music into the scene, whether it is dancing or playing a musical instrument so it was only natural to “connect his two major passions in life,” according to the exhibit’s curator, Joshua Ruff, director of collections and interpretations and chief curator at The LIM.

Currently on view in the Victoria V. Costigan Gallery in the Art Museum on the hill, the fascinating exhibit links Mount’s music and art with more than 20 oil paintings, pencil drawings, musical instruments, original compositions and more.

Of course, it is the incredible oil paintings, drawn from the museum’s unsurpassed collection, that take center stage. “Catching the Tune,” “Dancing on the Barn Floor,” “Just in Tune” and the famous “Dance of the Haymakers,” among others, are displayed in all their glory.

The portraits, some of which are over 160 years old, are as colorful and vibrant as ever. “Both William and his brother, Shepard Alonzo Mount, were really great at painting eyes and giving one the feeling like they are sitting in a room across from you,” commented Ruff, who has a fondness for “The Banjo Player.”

‘Just in Tune,’ 1849, oil on canvas, by William Sidney Mount, gift of Ward and Dorothy Melville. Image from LIM

Situated toward the center of the room is a unique music stand that Mount illustrated with sheet music of early American folk tunes including “Dearest Ellen” and a patriotic Fourth of July song. “These musical pieces were popular in the 19th century,” explained Ruff during a recent tour. The stand was designed to accommodate four musicians at a time and Ruff said that Mount most likely used it. “I would be surprised if he didn’t,” said the curator.

Also on display are some of Mount’s compositions including “In the Cars on the Long Island Railroad” and “The Musings of an Old Bachelor,” as well as musical instruments — a tin whistle, hornpipe, tuning fork — which belonged to the Mount family. A piano owned by Mount’s uncle Micah Hawkins sits in the corner. A General Store owner at Catherine’s Market in lower Manhattan, Hawkins composed music and to some extent was an influence to Mount “but his whole family was passionate about music,” said Ruff.

Along with Mount’s personal violin and initialed case, three prototypes of Mount’s Cradle of Harmony are also on view. “It’s nice that we were able to have all three examples of the violin that he designed and we have the 1852 patent design drawing for the first one,” the curator said.

In the background, a video plays several of Mount’s compositions, initially recorded by violinist Gilbert Ross for the Smithsonian in 1976 on its own Cradle of Harmony, tying the exhibit together perfectly.

“It is amazing how Mount was just able to bring music and art together and combine it. Until you have all [these items] gathered in a gallery you don’t necessarily appreciate just how much he was setting a violin down and picking up a paintbrush,” reflected Ruff. “Where one started and one finished is not always clear … nor should it be. It was just this continuing, constant influence and important part of his life.”

Related programs

Art & Music lecture

The Atelier at Flowerfield, 2 Flowerfield, St. James will present a lecture on the Perfect Harmony exhibit with guest speaker, curator Joshua Ruff, on Thursday, April 12 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in Atelier Hall featuring an early American fiddle performance by Director Kevin McEvoy. Suggested donation is $10. For more information, call 631-250-9009.

Mount tribute concert

On Saturday, April 14, The LIM will host a concert by the Manhattan-based Red Skies Music Ensemble at 2 p.m. The group will bring Mount’s music and art to life through visual imagery and theatrical interpretation of songs from the artist’s own collection. One of the musicians will play Mount’s Cradle of Harmony. Followed by a Q&A. Admission is $20 adults, $18 seniors, $15 members and students. To register, call 631-751-0066, ext. 212.

Hands-On Art

Students in grades K through 4 can take part in an after school program, Hands-On Art, on Thursday, May 3 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. by visiting the Perfect Harmony exhibit and taking inspiration from William Sidney Mount to combine music and art. $10 per child. To register, call 631-751-0066, ext. 212.

The Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook will present Perfect Harmony: The Musical Life and Art of William Sidney Mount through Sept. 3. The museum is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 adults, $7 seniors, $5 students, children 5 and under free. For further information, call 631-751-0066 or visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

 

WMHO to host 6th annual talent show contest

Attention Long Island students! Can you carry a tune? Or is a musical instrument your specialty? If so, get your audition DVD or YouTube video submitted now for Long Island’s Got Talent 2018, hosted by the Ward Melville Heritage Organization (WMHO). Created by WMHO’s Youth Corps, the event gives Long Island students the opportunity to showcase their talents this spring.

The competition is open to students 10 to 17 years of age in Nassau or Suffolk County who must still be in high school at the time final awards are given in October of this year. Talent must be non-professional vocal or musical instrument performances. The entry deadline is April 6 and there is a $25 entry fee. Those who are contacted after submitting their audition will be asked to perform at the first round competition on Saturday, April 14 at 2 p.m. at WMHO’s Educational & Cultural Center, 97P Main Street in the Stony Brook Village Center. Finalists chosen will also be given the opportunity to perform at WMHO’s Sunday Summer Concerts series in July and August.

For full details and Official Entry Form, call 631-751-2244 or visit www.stonybrookvillage.com/what-to-do-events/.

Mose Allison
Evening will honor the music of longtime Smithtown resident

By Kevin Redding

Mose Allison. Photo by Michael Wilson

A reporter once asked the late jazz and blues pianist and singer Mose Allison — regarded among musicians like Bonnie Raitt, Leon Russell, Pete Townshend and Van Morrison as “one of the finest songwriters in 20th century blues” — why he wasn’t more famous.

“Mose, you were a social critic before Bob Dylan, satirical long before Randy Newman and rude before Mick Jagger,” the reporter said. “How come you’re not a big star?” Allison, who was born in Mississippi and moved from New York City to Smithtown in the mid-1960s to raise a family and spent much of his time walking in the local woods and swimming in the Long Island Sound, responded: “Just lucky, I guess.”

On Saturday, March 24, The Long Island Museum, in partnership with WUSB-FM’s Sunday Street Concert Series and the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, will give the 2006 Long Island Music Hall of Fame inductee his proper due with The Word From Mose: A Celebration of the Music of Mose Allison, a tribute concert in the Carriage Museum’s Gillespie Room at 7 p.m.

Jack Licitra

The concert, following the tradition of other Sunday Street Series shows organized by Charlie Backfish, Stony Brook University history lecturer and host of the university’s weekly radio program “Sunday Street,” will feature local and outside musicians, who will strum and sing through decades of Allison’s breakthrough material, including his more well-known tracks “Your Mind Is on Vacation,” “Everybody’s Crying Mercy” and “I Don’t Worry About a Thing.”

Allison, who died Nov. 15, 2016, just four days before turning 89, was a four-time Grammy nominee and frequent collaborator with jazz greats Zoot Sims and Stan Getz whose songs spanned more than 30 albums — The Rolling Stones, Diana Krall, The Who, The Pixies and Elvis Costello are among those who have recorded Allison’s songs.

Pete Kennedy

The lineup includes “Sunday Street” regular and New York-based singer-songwriter Pete Kennedy; Pat Wictor, electric and slide guitarist of the group Brother Sun; Jack Licitra, a Sayville-based keyboardist and guitarist as well as the founder of the music-teaching studio South Bay Arts in Bayport; and Abbie Gardner, an acclaimed Dobro player who has toured for many years as part of the trio Red Molly. Some members of Allison’s family, including his daughter and singer-songwriter Amy Allison, will also be in attendance.

The evening will also include a screening of a short BBC documentary on Allison called “Ever Since the World Ended,” featuring interviews with Costello, Morrison, Raitt and Loudon Wainwright III and footage of Allison performing.

“Not only is he such an important artist, Mose Allison was someone who lived in this area for many decades and we thought it was time to do something like this for him,” Backfish said of the decision to honor the musician. “When he wasn’t on tour, which was quite often, he would be back in the area and playing shows at the Staller Center at Stony Brook University or jazz clubs in Port Jefferson.”

Pat Wictor. Photo by John Mazlish

Backfish said he also had the opportunity to interview Allison on his radio program many years ago. “He had such an incredibly rich catalog in so many ways and these artists are going to get together and play both well-known songs of his and the deep tracks,” he said. “I would hope that if people aren’t aware of Mose, they’ll suddenly find someone they will check out and listen to, and for those who know him, this will be a great way to celebrate his music and listen to artists reinterpret his songs.”

Wictor, a longtime Allison fan who, with his band, recorded a version of “Everybody’s Crying Mercy,” said Backfish approached him to participate in the concert for his “affinity” for the man’s work. “I love Mose partly because he cannot be categorized easily,” Wictor said. “He sort of mixed jazz and blues, and social commentary, in a way that nobody else did. And I like his sense of humor in his lyrics, which were always a little sardonic and mischievous. He comes across as a person that doesn’t suffer fools gladly and that’s always enjoyable to me. The songs themselves are very musically interesting, too — blues-based but they always have a unique musical and lyrical quality unlike anything else.”

Abbie Gardner

Kennedy said Allison was unusual among jazz musicians in his time because he wrote a lot of songs with lyrics, while others primarily stuck to instrumental compositions. “Allison actually wrote songs that he sang and that’s what we’re focusing on during the concert,” said Kennedy, who noted that he’s had a lot of fun examining Allison’s songs more closely and learning them in anticipation of the show. “His songs sound totally modern to me now, even the old ones from the 1950s and ’60s. The writing is really clever, really humorous and had a little bit of social commentary to it, but not in a negative way.”

Licitra, too, expressed his excitement over his involvement, calling Allison’s music “the thinking man’s blues.” “I’m really looking forward to giving people a taste of his style of intellectualism and humor,” he said. “And for me, this is all about the group of performers on the bill. I’m a big fan of all of them and so I’m excited about playing with them and seeing how they each interpret Mose’s [work].”

The jazz legend’s son John Allison, who grew up in Smithtown, said while his father was a true “musician’s musician” and beloved in many artist’s circles, he was as low profile as could be at home. “There he was, living in Smithtown, so unassuming that even our neighbors, for 15 years, didn’t know what he did until they saw him on TV with Bonnie Raitt for a PBS concert at Wolf Trap,” John Allison said, laughing. “He just wanted to do his thing. He read books and played music. I’d come home from high school and he’d be listening to some weird Chinese, classical music and just laughing and loving it … [and] sometimes he did tai chi in the living room.”

The Long Island Museum is located at 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. Advance tickets to the tribute show are $25 through Friday, March 23 at www.sundaystreet.org with tickets at the door for $30 (cash only). Beer, wine and cider will be available for purchase. For more information, please call 631-751-0066.

Ben Model at the historic Wonder Morton Theatre Pipe Organ at The Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre in 2014. Photo by Steve Friedman

By Kevin Redding

As a film production major at New York University in 1982, Ben Model sat in a film history class and watched a series of silent movies with his peers. The early 16mm prints had no sound tracks backing them and Model felt the disinterest of his classmates.

“It really bothered me that these movies were bombing in front of film students every week,” said Model, 55, who grew up enchanted by three things: silent movies, the art of filmmaking and music, having started piano lessons when he was 5. “So I figured, I don’t really know what I’m doing, but it’s got to be better than nothing.”

Photo by Larry Smith
Ben Model at the Library of Congress Packard Preservation Campus Theater. Photo by Larry Smith

So he approached his professor and offered to play piano during the screenings to liven the experience for the audience — an idea the professor loved. From then on, until he graduated two years later, Model (pronounced Moe-del) served as the maestro for two to three film screenings per week in the basic cinema history class as well as a film historian’s class — providing the music for many of the earliest movies ever made, from Auguste and Louis Lumière’s 50-second-long actuality films depicting military events and everyday scenes to Thomas Edison’s studio films to the works of pioneer filmmakers D.W. Griffith and Sergei Eisenstein.

Through his new gig, he met and befriended renowned silent film accompanist Lee Erwin, who was an organist in theaters during the 1920s and was, at the time, playing the giant Wurlitzer organ at Carnegie Hall Cinema in Manhattan, one of the few repertory theaters back then. Erwin served as Model’s mentor, someone whose brain the young college student often picked, learning what works, what doesn’t, what to do, what not to do.

While Model only started doing this to engage his peers in early films, he wound up turning it into a career spanning more than 30 years. He currently serves as one of the leading silent film accompanists and most well-respected silent film historians, traveling around the world in a wide variety of venues presenting silent films and providing unforgettable live scores for hundreds of them.

Ben Model at the Egyptian Theatre, Boise Idaho. Photo by Paul Collins

Model has been a resident silent film accompanist at the Museum of Modern Art since 1984; the Library of Congress’ Packard Campus Theatre since 2009; the Silent Film Days in Tromsø portion of the Tromsø International Film Festival in Norway, home to Verdensteatret, Norway’s oldest cinema in use, dating back to 1916, for 12 years; the historic Egyptian Theatre in Boise, Idaho, where he performs scores with a full orchestra; recently played in theaters in Connecticut, Maryland and Ohio and frequently performs at museums and schools; will be playing at the Turner Classic Movies film festival next month; and, since 2006, can be seen locally at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington once a month during the theater’s Anything But Silent program.

Model is also a lecturer, film programmer and visiting professor of film studies at Wesleyan  University in Connecticut, as well as the creator of New York City’s Silent Clowns Film Series, launched in 1997 as the premiere, regularly scheduled showcase for silent film comedy, from Buster Keaton to Laurel & Hardy. 

“There’s something so immersive about the experience of silent films, especially when you see it with live music,” Model said. “It’s ironic that because of what’s missing from the film, you’re actually much more involved and engaged, because the imagination is filling in everything: the sound, the colors, pieces of the story, the gags. You’re assembling them in your head, in a group setting. You can get lost in it; you feel like you’re almost part of what’s going on — it’s like a trance.”

A trance, he said, he’s long been in. “When I started doing this, I realized that throughout my life, anything surrounding silent film kind of just worked out for me,” he said.

It all started with Charlie Chaplin. While some little kids were obsessed with dinosaurs and others with trains and trucks, young Model gravitated toward The Tramp, consuming all his films he could find and reading biographies and film books on his craft. That paved the way for Chaplin’s contemporaries like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

When he was 12, Model, who grew up in Larchmont in Westchester County, received a book called “The Silent Clowns” written by Walter Kerr, a New York Times theater critic in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s and silent film fanatic himself, which became something of a sacred text to the young boy. Because Kerr lived close by, and had amassed a huge collection of these movies he wrote about, Model’s parents encouraged him to reach out to the author.

“So I wrote him a letter telling him I was interested in seeing more silent films,” Model said, explaining that, in the mid-70s, he had to wait for them to show up on television and there was a lot of movies he read about that he just couldn’t find. “Walter Kerr called me four days later. Over the next 15 to 20 years, a few times a year, I’d go over and he’d say, ‘So, what do you want to see?’ So I grew up going to the guy who literally wrote the book on silent film comedy.”

Model said in terms of his performances, he’s primarily an improviser — relying on his background as a silent film devourer and improv comedian in college to let things come to him naturally, he said, like musicians do in jazz. But if he hasn’t seen the film before, he’ll watch it in advance to take note of different story and action beats in order to stay ahead of the movie and provide certain underscores when needed.

“Ben is creating a virtual time machine of the original movie-going experience and transporting our audiences to another era,” said Raj Tawney, director of publicity and promotions for Cinema Arts Centre, adding that audiences during Anything But Silent nights are always fully engrossed: laughing, shrieking and hooting and hollering. “There’s an undeniable respect for Ben’s choice of film, his vast historical knowledge, and the commitment to giving the best performance to each film. He’s a rock star in his own right.”

Model said he loves performing at Cinema Arts Centre because of its monthly embrace of these old films.“You’d be hard-pressed to find a suburban art cinema that thinks silent movies are worth showing,” Model said. “At Cinema Arts Centre, they recognize that sound is only part of the film landscape.”

He encourages people of all ages to come and experience a silent film. He recalled the impact a screening of Keaton’s 1928 film “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” from 10 years ago had on an 8-year-old girl, whose father later told Model that the film, its presentation and her experience that night was the subject of her college essay.

“Everyone involved with these films is dead, but even one from 100 years ago is just as entertaining as it was when it was first released,” Model said. “Silents are able to make the trip across several decades sometimes better than sound movies. It’s just so rewarding to be able to help these films live again, and build the next audience for them.”

A musical adventure for the whole family

By Rita J. Egan

The University Orchestra at Stony Brook University is preparing to take audience members on a one-hour musical adventure. The ensemble will present its annual family orchestra concert, Adventures in Orchestral Music, at the Staller Center for the Arts on March 6.

Conductor Susan Deaver said the orchestra is planning a night filled with concertos from a variety of composers from all over the world such as America, Russia, Germany, England and Argentina. The list of songs include Mikhail Glinka’s overture to “Ruslan and Lyudmila,” Aaron Copland’s “Hoe-Down” from “Rodeo,” Morton Stevens’ “Hawaii Five-O” and John Williams’ “Star Wars Epic, Part II.” “They all sound different from one another, so it’s kind of different palettes of orchestral color,” Deaver said.

The conductor said the 70-piece orchestra consists of strings, brass, woodwind and percussion sections. While most of the musicians are college undergraduates, three are high school students who are part of the Stony Brook Young Artists Program. There are also a few graduate students who are nonmusic majors and five teaching assistants. The students’ majors range from music to biology, math and biochemistry. “The common thread is that they’ve all seriously studied music at some point,” Deaver said.

The night will feature a solo by 16-year-old violinist Mariana Knaupp, the winner of the 2017 Stony Brook Young Artists Program Concerto Competition. Mariana will perform the first movement of Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto in G Minor, the piece she played for the competition, with the orchestra. “She sounded great, and she had a lot of poise as a performer; she played really, really well,” Deaver said. “We have a competition, and they’re all playing really well, but there’s something that usually points to one person.”

Mariana, who lives in Huntington and is homeschooled, has studied violin for 11 years with Thalia Greenhalgh and is part of the Stony Brook University Young Artists Program. The violinist is a member of the string ensemble Metrognomes, which performs a few times a year at nursing homes, sports venues and holds benefit concerts for disaster victims. For seven years, she also has been a part of the Gemini Youth Orchestra and has played at Symphony Space and Lincoln Center. She said she’s excited about her first time playing with a full orchestra and was surprised when she won the competition.

“I didn’t really expect to win because there were a lot of really good players involved,” Mariana said in a recent phone interview. “It was a really nice surprise that I won, and I’m very excited to actually play with an orchestra because I’ve wanted to for several years now.”

Mariana said when her violin teacher asked her what she wanted to play for the competition, she knew she wanted a romantic concerto. She has been playing her chosen piece for a year now and said it’s a beautiful concerto that she’s looking forward to sharing with the family concert audience.

“I would just like to be able to play the concerto as the composer intended it and just convey what he would have wanted in a performance,” Mariana said. The violinist has enjoyed rehearsals with the orchestra and said when she attends college she hopes to major in math, English or neuroscience. She plans on taking music classes as electives and playing with a university orchestra.

Like past family concerts, Deaver said the orchestra members will interact with the audience, talking with them about the different instruments and music. The musicians also have some surprises in store for attendees. “Myself and the orchestra, I think we are always energized by the audience because we’re interacting with them more, and it kind of breaks down any barriers that you might have,” Deaver said. “They’re really part of the concert almost, the audience since we’re interacting with them, I think we all feel really energized from it.”

The University Orchestra at Stony Brook University presents Adventures in Orchestral Music on March 6 at the Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook at 7:30 p.m.. All tickets are $5. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 631-632-ARTS (2787) or visit www.stonybrook.edu.music.

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