Day 37: My Collaboration with Charlie Chaplin

A few months ago my wife and I went to a silent movie performance in Downtown Sacramento, where we listened to an organist playing an original score to a Buster Keaton movie and a Laurel and Hardy movie.  I was so inspired by this experience that I went home and promptly wrote my own score, to a Charlie Chaplin film excerpt.  Here is the result:


As I wrote in a previous post,  I work well with improvisation.  That’s how I wrote this piece.  Basically, I came home from the silent movie concert, searched for Charlie Chaplin excerpt on Youtube, then watched the excerpt with the volume down completely (no point in listening to someone else’s music for it).  Then I sat at the piano and improvised while watching the excerpt with my digital recorder on.  This recording became the rough draft of the score.  In fact, the first version contained many of the ideas of the final product: the bouncy minor-key melody that starts it out, the happy music when the dog enters the scene, and the fast dramatic tremelos when the lion gets up.

Although the basic structure I would use came to me right away, some ideas took finessing.  For instance, I use the opening melody a total of three times, yet in the first draft, it only appeared in the beginning.  I also took quite awhile assembling the dog jumping sequence, although I new pretty quickly I wanted to coordinate the music with  the jumping as much as possible.  I was satisfied with how it turned out (and numerous people have commented on that part).

Incidentally, writing of this piece was helped by the fact that I gave myself a very tight deadline.  This is because I was about to have an event for my piano students.  I decided I was going to screen my “feature” for them at the event.  I started working on the music on Wednesday, and the event was the following Sunday, so that gave me about four days to work.  I didn’t really have much time to think too much about it.  Thankfully, I was led by inspiration, so it all came together nicely.

I have always loved Charlie Chaplin (at one point I had aspirations of being him 🙂  ).   I had so much fun writing the score, and such a clear vision that I was going to enjoy the process, that it seems inevitable that it would produce a satisfying result. People have told me that the music sounds completely authentic, as if it was written for the original film!  In fact, that was completely the idea.  To me, this is a great example of how inspiration and preparation can meet up so nicely.

Incidentally, after writing this piece I quickly followed up with another silent film piece, this time using footage from the first ever “Alice in Wonderland” for 1903:


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One Thought to “Day 37: My Collaboration with Charlie Chaplin”

  1. I love your Charlie Chaplin and the Lion video. But oh, The Alice in Wonderland video redo was a wonderful surprise ending I didn’t expect!

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