By Bill Nutt, The Daily Record, August 2017.
Cinephiles will tell you that silent movies were never “silent.”
Until the late 1920s, every theater screened films with live musical accompaniment, using instruments ranging from a piano to an organ to (in the case of larger venues) a small orchestra.
Andrew Greene wants to take audiences back to those thrilling days of yesteryear.
Greene is founder, director, and pianist for the Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra (PRSO). The 12-member ensemble specializes in music from the ragtime era, from the late 1800s through the 1910s and 1920s.
Besides rags and early jazz tunes (such as the seminal “Tiger Rag,” recorded 100 years ago this year), the PRSO also plays scores while silent films are shown on a screen.
Such will be the case when PRSO performs tomorrow night at Centenary Stage Co. in Hackettstown as part of the Centenary Stage Summer Jamfest.
Greene will lead his group in live music for a trio of short comedies by three comic legends: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and the team of Laurel and Hardy.
The PRSO tries to match the onscreen antics with its own brand of musical wit, according to Greene. “I want people to feel the sheer joy in the music,” he said. “There’s an energy and a frivolity in the music.”
The screenings at Centenary Stage include “One A.M.” (1916), in which Chaplin’s Little Tramp character arrives home after a night of excessive drinking, and “Cops,” a 1922 Buster Keaton short that Greene called “a quintessential chase comedy.”
The third film is “Big Business,” a 1929 comedy in which Laurel and Hardy play a pair of Christmas tree salesmen – in southern California in July. “It goes about as well as you expect it to go,” said Greene with a laugh.
The scores for the films are built around period songs, dance numbers, music-hall tunes, and other pieces. Some are suggested in notes that were provided for theaters at the time, but most are chosen and arranged by Greene.
Greene said he wants to covey the same love of the music of that era as he has felt since he was 11 years old. He recalled how his piano teacher gave him a break from his studies by letting him learn Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag.”
Later, as a music major at the University of Maryland, Greene found other like-minded ragtime aficionados. He formed the Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra (named after another Joplin composition) in 2010.
The line-up has undergone several changes. It now consists of Greene on piano, five string players, a flutist who doubles on piccolo, two cornet players (“not trumpets,” Greene emphasized), and a drummer who also provides sound effects.
The PRSO repertoire consists of the usual ragtime suspects, beginning with Joplin (who died 100 years ago), as well as Irving Berlin, John Phillip Sousa, and others.
“But there are thousands of composers who were writing in that era,” Greene said. He cited such writers as Nathanial Lewis, whose 1920 novelty piece “Oh Slip It Man” has been recorded by PRSO.
“We get these songs out of the woodwork,” Greene said. “We scrounge on eBay. We scour for old 78s and piano rolls.” The group has also received donations of scores and sheet music. “People want to see this music cared for,” he said.
Greene said that he and his musician make every effort to play arrangements that are as close to the originals as possible. “In some cases, we’re the first people to play these pieces in 100 years,” he said.
During the PRSO concerts, Greene will offer anecdotes about the works, the composers, and the era in general. “It’s always my main focus to create a sense of nostalgia for a day gone by,” he said.
Greene also hopes that audiences leave with an appreciation for the importance of the style. “If you trace it back, you wouldn’t have America music without ragtime.”
IF YOU WANT TO GO:
PEACHERINE RAGTIME SOCIETY ORCHESTRA
WHAT: The 12-piece ensemble plays rags and early jazz tunes from the late 1880s through the 1910s. The group will also play a live musical score while three silent comedies are shown on an overhead screen.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, August 5
WHERE: David and CarolLacklandCenter, CentenaryCollege,715 Grand Ave., Hackettstown.
TICKETS: $27.50 in advance, $32.50 at door.
INFORMATION: 908-979-0900 or www.centenarystageco.org.
By Maureen Thomas, The Capital Gazette, July 2017.
Andrew Greene discovered ragtime music at age 11. The Broadneck resident had studied classical piano since age 4, and was a bit tired of Chopin.
As a treat, his teacher introduced him to Scott Joplin’s classic, “The Maple Leaf Rag.” His teacher at the time probably wouldn’t have predicted Greene would one day lead what the Washington Post hails as, “The premiere American Ragtime ensemble,” who perform nationally, “recreating the syncopated stylings from over 100 years ago.”
Perhaps most unusual is that Greene is 26, and all the members of the 12-piece touring ensemble – Peacherine Ragtime Orchestra – are under the age of 35.
After graduating from Broadneck High School in 2009, where he played in a Ragtime Group, Greene attended the University of Maryland, and formed the group as a freshman; many of the musicians are graduate students from the university. The orchestra features five string musicians, a flue/piccolo player, a clarinetist, two cornet players, a slide trombonist, a drummer, and Greene, who alternates playing piano and conducting.
Many might pin ragtime to the style Joplin popularized in the 1973 classic, The Sting, starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman; but ragtime is music of the turn-of-the-century era, spanning from approximately 1897-1915. The category encompasses vaudeville music, burlesque, and operetta.
Greene said ragtime is the precursor of modern music, from modern jazz, to rock, and even rap. The orchestra held its first performance in 2010, at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, and now performs theater and dance music, and accompanies silent films using the original historic scores, such as at a recent performance for over 600 people at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, and a 2016 performance at Salisbury University where they accompanied a screening of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.
They perform in Annapolis at least once a year, their five-piece, “palm court” version of the orchestra performed at “Dining Under the Stars” on July 19, and will do so again Aug. 16.
Home base for the orchestra is Greene’s home in Arnold. He houses a 10,000-piece collection of orchestrated ragtime, silent movie music, piano scores, antique records, and record machines, such as his authentic crank powered Victrola, which plays 78 rpm records.
It is one of the largest private collections of this material in the United States. And it grows constantly, as Greene adds to his findings, some purchased, and some, such as a cabinet filled with scores of music donated by the family of a music enthusiast who wanted the sheet music to fall into the right hands after his death. The orchestra uses the music for their performances.
In addition to his love of music, Greene, has always “liked history”; as indicated by the vintage railroad posters which, along with music prints, decorate the walls of his home. He attributes his love of trains to his grandfather, who introduced him to model trains.
Greene’s ‘day job’ is retail manager at Music and Arts in Severna Park, where he interacts daily with musicians and often runs into his former music teachers, many of whom come to Peacherine’s performances. The orchestra will be embarking on a national tour this summer, where they will perform in New Jersey, Texas, and Wisconsin.
For more information or to or donate old music, visit www.peacherineragtime.com. Greene and his orchestra will continue to perform ragtime classics, as well as pieces that have not been heard for decades, such as “Oh Slip It Man,” a rollicking piece that heavily features the slide trombone.
Their fan base has been increasing; the youth of the performers has brought in family, friends, and a generation of people appreciating music that has a timeless quality. For Greene, it is about, “Keeping history alive while enjoying it.”
Silent Movies, Live Music Will Enliven Maryland Hall on November 1
by Dylan Roche
Creepy crawlers, ghosts, black-and-white filmography and rarely heard Halloween-themed music circa 1920 will make irresistibly unusual (and delightfully eerie) entertainment on All Hallows Day when the Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra presents “Spooky Silents: A Silent Film Halloween” at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.
The one-night engagement on Saturday, November 1, will begin at 7:30pm in the main theater and will feature three classic shorts from the silent era – Buster Keaton’s “The Haunted House,” Harold Lloyd’s “Haunted Spooks” and Charlie Chaplin’s “One A.M.” – accompanied by live musical underscore from a 12-part orchestra under the leadership of Arnold’s own Andrew Greene.
“The performance will be a combined silent film event and concert experience,” explained Greene, who added that similar performances by the Peacherine Orchestra have been received enthusiastically by audiences. “It’s the sheer novelty of the entire event. Most audiences who come to see these shows have never seen a movie with live accompaniment. What I’ve found through our past performances is that audiences just love it.”
A 2009 graduate of Broadneck High School, Greene formed the Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra at the University of Maryland in 2010. Since then, the group has garnered much renown playing ragtime, theater and dance music using Greene’s collection of more than 2,000 original orchestral arrangements from the era. The critically acclaimed group is quickly becoming one of the leading ragtime ensembles in the country, and it prides itself in authentic performance of silent film accompaniment.
When the team at Maryland Hall began to plan its fall season following a major summer renovation of the main theater, Peacherine was selected as the perfect show to highlight the new orchestra recession, improved seating and acoustics, according to Emily Garvin, Maryland Hall’s director of programs. “We are thrilled to provide exposure to such local treasure,” she explained. “We hope that this performance will draw Ragtime fans, film buffs and community members interested in the upgrades to the 1930s-era theater at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.”
The lineup of short films will also attract Halloween revelers, who will enjoy the campy fun of a comic horror story as performed by some of the silent era’s best. In “The Haunted House,” Buster Keaton plays a bank clerk who ends up in a seemingly haunted house that is actually a thieves’ hideout. This will be followed by “Haunted Spooks,” starring Harold Lloyd as a man whose bride has inherited a mansion that her uncle “haunts” with a variety of spectral tricks in the hopes that he can scare them off and claim the property. Finally, Charlie Chaplin will delight audiences in “One A.M.” as a drunken man who has a difficult time getting into his house when he arrives home late at night.
Tickets for “Spooky Silents: A Silent Film Halloween” are available now at $16 (Maryland Hall members) and $21 (nonmembers) for section A and $13 (members) and $18 (nonmembers) for section B. For more information or to reserve seats, visit www.marylandhall.org.
Vintage American Arrangements from the Ragtime Era (BSW-2215) PRSO’s first CD! Compilation of ragtime, theatre, and dance music. $20 USD
The Ragtime and Dance Music of Mel B. Kaufman (BSW-2234). PRSO's second CD featuring music by the "King of the One Step." $20 USD.
Favorites from the Ragtime Era (BSW-2242). PRSO's third CD featuring a variety of ragtime favorites, including The Entertainer, Alexander's Ragtime Band, and more! $20 USD.