Search This Blog

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Previewing the BSFO's new score for Harold Lloyd's 'The Freshman'

Jobyna Ralston and Harold Lloyd in The Freshman
courtesy IMDb
Silent comedian Harold Lloyd had a huge hit in 1925 with The Freshman  (d. Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor).  I've not seen it, and cannot wait for my first viewing tomorrow, on the big screen at the Coolidge, accompanied by the world premiere score from the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra (BSFO).  I've written here before about the process by which selected elite students of Berklee College film scoring department compose a new silent film score under the direction of Prof. Sheldon Mirowitz, and then premiere it at the Coolidge Corner Cinema, as part of the 'The Sounds of Silents' film series.  (It was one of these performances, six plus years ago, solidified my emerging obsession with all things classic film.)  The reputation of the BSFO has grown to the extent that, on opening night of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in June, they'll be there to repeat this performance.  Yes, opening night of the SFSFF.  And so far no one outside of Berklee has yet to hear the score.

Well, that is almost no one -- last Tuesday I had the good fortune to attend a 'Master Class' from Prof. Mirowitz sponsored by the Coolidge, during which he previewed some of the highlights of the score, and revealed some other interesting tidbits.  Bonus for me- I got to hold in my hands, albeit briefly, the complete published BSFO score for Variété, from 2016.
Sheldon Mirowitz, from
A few highlights:
  • The new score to The Freshman has seven separate student composer-a feat of collaboration perhaps unique at an undergraduate college, but not so unique in the long history of film scoring, said Prof. Mirowitz.  The great film composers almost always have significant support along the way, directing other, unbilled musicians to produce a final score.  
  • Selected to perform the score in live performance, the BSFO musicians are 'the best players in the Boston area.'  Whoa.  
  • The score will be a blend of musical themes that conjure up the past, but are infused with decidedly contemporary sensibilities.  Prof. Mirowitz described that The Freshman, while being 'of its time', is also 'about its time'-and the music needs to reflect that.  A short clip of the 'college theme' was an example, a nostalgic, tuneful march-time 'fight song'.  As a 'sweet' persona, Harold Lloyd's college freshman Harold Lamb, who works hard to achieve status on campus, deserves a bit of 'old timey' flavor to enhance the comedic elements in the film.  
  • The individual student composers will conduct the reels for which they composed the music, but will also take part in the orchestra, responsible for the various sound effects written into the score.  
  • While the release dates haven't been announced, Prof. Mirowitz reminded us that the BSFO was engaged by Kino Lorber to accompany the restorations of The Last Laugh and Variété, both German silent films starring the great Emil Jannings.  
  • Even more exciting, they have been commissioned to compose a score for a new restoration of The Man Who Laughs (1928).  Keeping my fingers crossed for a Coolidge premiere.  
  • New York City cinephiles note -- the BSFO will make their NYC debut on May 20th with a screening of The Freshman, at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, Tony Bennett concert hall.
  • Prof. Mirowitz recently presented a TED Talk, 'What does music DO?' that illuminates his view of the role of music in film and beyond -- check it out below.  To boil it down, the music helps us understand our emotions, which enables us to make sense of the world. 

Per, here are this year's BSFO contributors:
Composers: Vincent Isler (Switzerland), Esin Aydingoz (Turkey), Bernard Duc (Switzerland), Victoria Ruggiero (USA), Andres Gutierrez (Mexico), Jeffrey Gaiser (USA), and Vinicius Pippa (Brazil)
Players: Gabriela Sofia Gomez Estevez (flute/piccolo), Lindsey Stein (oboe/English horn), Stephanie Clark (clarinet/bass clarinet), Dan Pfeiffer (horn), Joey Epstein (trumpet), Ethan Santos (trombone/bass trombone), Kino Lee (keyboard), Eren Başbuğ (keyboard), Tania Mesa (violin), Nathaniel Taylor (cello), Michael Simon (bass), Patrick Hanafin (percussion)

Special recognition to the Coolidge Corner Theatre and Becki and Dr. Martin Norman, founders of 'The Sounds of Silents' film series.


  1. It sounds as if you are in for a truly memorable experience.

    1. No doubt. I feel that it's such a privilege to watch how the film can be enhanced, in the 21st century, with this kind of talent and artistic collaboration. I hope Mr. Lloyd would approve.