Lights, camera, action! These Kansas City groups bring the silver screen to the concert hall
Grab your popcorn and head to the...concert hall? From 'Harry Potter' to 'Coco,' explore the ways you can enjoy movies with live soundtracks in Kansas City this upcoming season.
Since before movies had sound, they had music. Organists would improvise scores to silent films, heightening the action and the romance. Many a musician — including the legendary Count Basie and Kansas City-born composer Virgil Thomson — made ends meet accompanying films in movie houses.
Silent films from the era of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton still fascinate audiences, in part due to the work of musicians who add texture to every scene. Kansas City Theatre Pipe Organ, Inc. recently presented the 1924 “Peter Pan” at the Music Hall, with a live score improvised by Marvin Faulwell on a rescued and restored 1927 Robert Morten theatre pipe organ.
KCUR's Julie Denesha talked with Faulwell last month. He started playing for silent films in the 1980s in Kansas City, Kansas’ Granada Theater. “I’m sitting down there in the pit playing and there's a little old lady behind me, and at the sad scene she's just crying and just really enjoying herself,” he says. "And that kind of hooked me."
As sound technology grew, so did the capacity of what a film score could be, with full orchestras, DJs, electronic soundscapes, and more. The iconic music of Max Steiner (“King King,” “Gone with the Wind”), John Williams (“Star Wars,” “E.T.” “Jaws”), Joe Hisaishi (“Howl’s Moving Castle,” “Spirited Away”) and many more have created this crucial film component, with many film scores becoming stand alone pieces performed by ensembles the world over.
You can hear some of that great music and learn all about the process of performing scores live with movies on a Classical KC Local Feature from 2022 with UMKC film professor Mitch Bryan and former Kansas City Symphony associate conductor Jason Seber.
The Kansas City Symphony first ventured into the world of presenting films with live orchestra in 2013, with “Screenland at the Symphony.” They presented a series of clips with iconic moments from Alfred Hitchcock’s oeuvre and famous Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals.
Soon, though, the orchestra started presenting movies (and film scores) in their entirety. They’ve presented classic films like “Singin’ in the Rain,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Back to the Future,” and “The Princess Bride,” as well as blockbuster hits like “Black Panther,” music from the James Bond movies in “Bond & Beyond,” and nearly the entire Harry Potter series (the final installment comes to Helzberg Hall in April 2024).
These movies, which are an incredibly popular part of Kansas City Symphony’s season, are not opportunities for the orchestral musicians to relax.
“You have to remember that these film scores are usually recorded over the course of a week or a couple weeks in small increments of a couple hours recording session, and then everyone can go home and kind of rest their chops for the next day. And they weren't originally conceived, of course, to sit down and play in one two and a half hour stretch,” said Seber.
“It's very taxing on the players, but we really enjoy the challenge of it all and the fun of it all. When you can have a live audience there experiencing this wonderful music, there's really nothing like it.”
Seber returns to Kansas City to lead the orchestra in “The Nightmare Before Christmas” December 21-24.
Want to experience the movie magic for yourself? Kansas City movie and classical music aficionados can look forward to an eclectic mix of movies and music this season and beyond.
Organist Dorothy Papadakos returns to Helzberg Hall and the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ to accompany the 1929 “The Phantom of the Opera.” Papadakos’ performances are an annual part of the Halloween season.
Harriman Jewell Series presents Coco in Concert November 3. The 20-member Orquesta Folclórica Nacional de México will perform Michael Giacchino’s score in its entirety, including the Oscar Award-winning song “Remember Me” by songwriting team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.
Along with “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” Kansas City Symphony also presents “The Muppet Christmas Carol” (arguably, one of the best versions of the classic tale) December 8 and 9.
Iconic scores aren’t limited to films, though. Video game music has also developed a following (Learn more in Classical KC’s August 2023 Take Note). Sonic Symphony comes to Kansas City’s Music Hall during its world tour January 27.
The final film in the original Harry Potter film series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Part 2” wraps up an integral part of the Kansas City Symphony’s Film + Live Orchestra series. The Symphony has presented a Harry Potter film nearly every year since 2017.
Of course, classical musicians have also been dramatized in film. Listen to Classical KC’s Brooke Knoll and Mitch Bryan discuss some of the iconic roles and scores from “Shine,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” and 2022’s “Tár,” starring Cate Blanchett. And if you love film scores, don’t forget to tune in every Saturday from 7-8 on Classical KC to hear “The Score” with Edmund Stone.