Silent Film Music and other Sounding Off

Talking about music, consciousness, silent film, Italian food, travel, good books, married life, kids, and more

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Two weeks in Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Nov. 2-The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of writing songs with hundreds of 2nd-4th graders in Virginia under the banner of Paul Reisler's wonderful Kid Pan Alley program. The first week I worked with Nashville singer-songwriter Kathy Hussey at the Leslie Fox Keyser School in Front Royal, where we turned out eight songs in four days and performed them for a screaming throng on Friday. Titles included "I Wish I Was a Wild Pony" and "Mummies Have Mommies Too."

Then I moved down to Charlottesville and worked with Paul and another fine balladeer, Terri Allard, with whom I had worked last year. At the extraordinary Jackson-Via Elementary School we worked from 8:30 to 2:30 every day, with little time to catch our breath. The kids were terrific, and were jumping all over with some dance songs. By Friday we had 10 fine songs and the school's superb principal, Dr. Elizabeth McCay, joined us onstage for some of the shenanigans. "What Makes Scary Things Go Away," another appropriate Halloween song, was a big hit, as well as "Why Can't My Pets Do My Chores?"

As we did last year, we also wrote songs to present at the program of silents Jo and I brought to the Virginia Film Festival. While in 2007 the kids sang during the screening of PETER PAN, we decided to try having them write songs about the films in question but sing them as preludes. This worked very well and we would repeat this approach again.

Back for our 6th year at the festival, Joanna and I created a show we called "Strangers in Strange Lands" to tie in with this year's festival theme of aliens and immigrants. So the films were JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, GULLIVER'S TRAVELS, ALICE IN WONDERLAND and THE IMMIGRANT. About 35 kids were onstage, with Terri singing, and the accompaniment of Paul's guitar and my synth. The family audience at the splendid Paramount Theatre loved the program, sang along with Jo on the chorus of "East Side, West Side" and other bits in the show. Jo wrote some very sweet rhymed couplets for JACK, and we took turns reading the titles in ALICE to save the parents having to do the same thing to their toddlers. People said they really enjoyed all our different character voices, so we might look for other films to treat this way.

With that behind us, we could relax. We didn't see many films this year, but the ones we did get to were exceptional: the new Sissy Spacek movie, LAKE CITY, about a dysfunctional family in rural Virginia and the consequences of a drug deal gone bad. Great acting by her and co-star Troy Garity (Jane Fonda's son...she was there but we didn't get to see her). Paul introduced us to Sissy, who had recorded a song for him, and we spent a few minutes talking with her. Very charming and a soft presence. Talked with Troy, and the writers/directors of the film whose other credits include producing the Narnia films.

After our show Saturday we saw TERRA, a very cool computer-animated film about refugees from Earth attempting to colonize a distant planet, at the expense of the peaceful inhabitants. In the evening, THE BURNING PLAIN, a deeply moving story by Mexican writer/director Guillermo Arriaga (21 GRAMS). He spoke humorously at the Q & A, moderated by insightful film professor Hamid Naficy from Northwestern whom we got to know at our inn. At the closing night party we munched croissants, had a beer and talked for several minutes with Arriaga about the film and the production in general. Our stay ended with a chat at breakfast with Gregory Nava (EL NORTE) who spoke to us about his love of silent films, and we discussed the possibility of presenting something in LA for him.

All in all an amazing, exhausting, happy two weeks.

More soon from the NY film world.

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