In small, local theaters, there was usually just a pianist whose music synchronized with the film, while larger movie houses had theater organs or small orchestras. This music was vital as it set the tone of each scene, swayed the audience’s mood and added the thrill of live performance. However, with the emergence of “talkies,” recorded dialogue replaced this live score, and the orchestras moved from theaters to recording studios.
Over the past few years, there has been a resurgence of the traditional pairing of instrumental performance and film with such events as “The Simpsons Take the Bowl” which ended Sunday, September 14. The event celebrated The Simpsons’ 25th Anniversary and included clips from the long-running animated series The Simpsons and its famous musical numbers accompanied by singers, choral groups, and, of course, the orchestra. This extravaganza combined live music, theater, dance and film in a weekend of celebration, with a fireworks display as the grand finale.
While its proximity and grandeur make “The Simpsons Take the Bowl” one of the more well-known examples of this revitalized tradition, it’s far from the only example. “Live” movies and tributes are taking place all over the United States as well as around the world.
These tributes are especially popular in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Sometimes the events are specific to the culture, such as a tribute to a famous native filmmaker or actor, or tours of blockbusters like the Pirates of the Caribbean movies or the Star Wars films accompanied by live orchestras around the world. While the addition of live music heightens the experience of modern films, events that feature earlier films, like those of international icon Charlie Chaplin, are brought back to their original state by the orchestra. The accompaniment allows the audience to experience the films as they would have upon the movies’ first release, capturing an essential part of the viewing experience.
The biggest upcoming event of this kind is the tour of The Lord of the Rings films, based on the trilogy of novels by J.R.R Tolkien, which starts this October in Germany and travels through Europe and Australia to the United States (unfortunately it stops only in New York). During its stay at the Lincoln Center the Trilogy will be accompanied by a 250-person orchestra, choral singers, and soloists. These already marvelous films will truly benefit from the orchestra as their iconic scores are brought to life.
Combining instrumental and choral music with film not only enhances the audience’s experience by adding the energy and auditory stimulation but also makes orchestral music more accessible to modern audiences. While someone may not be willing to attend a performance of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” or a choral concert, she may be persuaded to attend a live version of Star Trek: Into Darkness. While the content isn’t the same, audiences would still have been exposed to a new art form, which could inspire a new interest in that form of music or at the very least would give them a newfound appreciation for the voyages of the Starship Enterprise.