AMARILLO, Texas(KAMR/KCIT) — A silent Buster Keaton film gets new life in an upcoming screening with the West Texas A&M University Symphony Orchestra.
Keaton’s classic “The General” will be screened with live orchestral accompaniment at 3 p.m. Oct. 29 at the La Rita Performing Arts Theatre, 311 Denrock Ave. in Dalhart. Admission is free. The film also will be screened for members of The Arts at WT: A Subscription Series at 7 p.m. Oct. 26 in Legacy Hall in the Jack B. Kelley Student Center on WT’s Canyon campus. Membership is required but can be purchased at the event for a pro-rated cost.
In the heyday of silent films, movie theaters would provide live musical accompaniment, ranging from a piano in a small theater to a full orchestra in large theaters in major metropolitan areas.
Dr. Mark Bartley, WT’s Lilith Brainard Professor of Music and director of orchestral activities, and the WT Symphony Orchestra have revived that tradition with their Live Cinema series, an every-other-year event held both on and off campus.
“For most films, theater music directors would string together popular and classical hits that fit the overall themes of the movie,” Bartley said. “But for us, Dr. B.J. Brooks has written a new scene-specific score that is performed in synchronization with the film by the WT Symphony. This soundtrack is in a contemporary cinematic style that speaks to the central element of the film—namely the comedic, acrobatic feats of Keaton himself.” This is the fifth silent film score written by Brooks, who now serves as director of WT’s School of Music.
“In most types of composition, the job of engaging the audience is weighed heavily on the audio alone. Though watching performers at a high level is part of the experience, it is the aural component that compels the audience’s imagination,” Brooks said. “Writing for ballet, film or any accompanying visual is vitally different. To be able to write a score to accompany or augment the image presents so many wonderful opportunities to connect to the audience member in a very direct and unified way.
“Additionally, writing music for silent films allows for a more direct and unified connection with the audience,” Brooks continued. “Because the audience is not preoccupied with dialogue or ambient sounds, the music can take the lead in guiding their emotional journey.”
The WT Symphony Orchestra’s free appearance at the La Rita is made possible in part through Showcase in a Suitcase. This outreach effort by WT’s Sybil B. Harrington College of Fine Arts and Humanities is designed to enhance education and cultural experiences for the citizens of the Texas Panhandle. Showcase in a Suitcase receives funds through an endowment established by Louise and Gene Rahll.
“Audiences are drawn not just for the powerful audio effect of a full orchestral soundtrack performed live, but to watch non-CGI movies featuring dramatic effects rendered in real life by the actual actors without the benefit of stunt doubles,” Bartley said. “Buster Keaton pulls off physically harrowing stunts that would deter even Tom Cruise.” Fostering an appreciation of the arts is a key component of the University’s long-range plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World. That plan is fueled by the historic One West comprehensive fundraising campaign, which reached its initial $125 million goal 18 months after publicly launching in September 2021. The campaign’s new goal is to reach $175 million by 2025; currently, it has raised more than $150 million.
About West Texas A&M University
WT is located in Canyon, Texas, on a 342-acre residential campus. Established in 1910, the University has been part of The Texas A&M University System since 1990. WT, a Hispanic Serving Institution since 2016, boasts an enrollment of about 10,000 and offers 59 undergraduate degree programs and more than 40 graduate degrees, including two doctoral degrees. The University is also home to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, the largest history museum in the state and the home of one of the Southwest’s finest art collections. The Buffaloes are a member of the NCAA Division II Lone Star Conference and offers 14 men’s and women’s athletics programs.