The Moving Pictures Orchestra performed an original score by Danny Robles ’19 during a screening of the 1921 silent comedy Seven Years Bad Luck at the Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest on February 16.
The orchestra, conducted by Assistant Professor of Music Nicholas Wallin, included the College’s Symphony Orchestra and members of the Concert Band. Robles accompanied the orchestra on piano along with Professor of Music Donald Meyer on the ukulele and other musicians.
Robles composed the music as part of the Richter Scholars 10-week summer research program, where he was assigned by Meyer to compose an original score for a silent film.
“Back then, they would just take generic [music]and use it [in the film],” Robles said. “[Meyer] wanted me to compose something original.”
While Robles had written music before, he had not composed a piece of this magnitude. Meyer said that the composition is remarkable, considering it was the first score Robles had ever written.
“He did a really excellent job,” Meyer said. “It’s really amazing how well he did with his first time composing [a score]. He had to learn a lot of things over one summer.”
This was the first time Robles had one of his compositions performed by an orchestra.
“It’s kind of nice to have an actual orchestra, to hear how it actually sounds,” Robles said.
In composing the soundtrack, Robles was inspired by the music of Louis Armstrong, His Hot Five, and other music from the era. Robles also has plenty of experience in music performance and plays a wide variety of musical instruments.
“I play piano in the Jazz Ensemble at the College—it’s my main instrument,” Robles said. “[I also play] mainly folk instruments like guitar, banjo, accordion, and I play the [musical]saw.”
To better understand silent films, Robles began by watching them. The project did not begin with a film already chosen, so Robles and Meyer worked together to find one that would work well.
“[Picking a film] was very hard,” Robles said. “We wanted to do a comedy, [because]you have more of a chance to write more music.”
Robles also had difficulty choosing a film that was not offensive, as many movies from the 1920s are racially insensitive.
“Finding a movie without blackface from the 1920s is very difficult,” Robles said.
Robles and Meyer finally settled on Seven Years Bad Luck because of its comic value and minimal racial humor.
“It was rewarding. We had fun with it…but it was a learning experience,” said Robles.