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Davis Journal

Silent film celebration teaches the joy of music

Sep 01, 2022 02:44PM ● By Peri Kinder

Most performers at Utah's 4th Annual Silent Film Celebration had never heard of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. But now they’re experts after their music teachers gave them the assignment to learn a song that would accompany a silent film.

At the ‍Megaplex Theatres at Legacy Crossing (1075 W Legacy Crossing Blvd.) in Centerville, more than 200 students and 18 teachers joined forces to present the annual celebration on Aug. 6. The family-friendly recital was the brainchild of Heather Smith, who started the event seven years ago.

“A lot of these students, the majority of them, have never even watched a silent film before so we’re introducing them to this new art form they didn’t know existed,” Smith said. 

The celebration featured nine classic silent films that were shown throughout the day. Two pianos were set up so as soon as one performance was over, the second student could start. It kept the music flowing through the short comedies and allowed a huge number of students to participate. 

Centerville resident Berkeley Hamaker just graduated from Viewmont High School. She’s been participating in the silent film event since the beginning.

“When I first heard about it, I loved the concept but I wasn’t able to envision what it would be like,” Hamaker said. “But once we had rehearsals I really understood how the music and the film worked together. It’s something I look forward to every year.”

Four years ago, Smith decided to make the recital a community event, raising money for a worthy cause. This year, proceeds will go to purchase school supplies for kids living at the Safe Harbor Crisis Center. 

Students range from age 5 to adult and while most play the piano, sometimes other instruments are featured. Some teachers even have their students compose original music for the films. 

“It’s a collaboration between the students and the teachers,” Smith said. “For my students, we decided we were going to play a lot of the music that would have been heard during that time period of the 1920s, so we’re doing a lot of jazz, rag and blues music.”

Hamaker played a Scott Joplin piece on the piano for the event. She said the experience allows musicians to practice and collaborate together while providing friends and family with an engaging performance. Students also get to be part of a tradition that goes back more than 100 years when silent films first hit the big screen.

“They’re learning how to listen,” Smith said. “A lot of times the piano is such a lonely instrument where it’s just them, but having to learn how to play along while accompanying a film is something piano students don’t always get to do.”

While Hamaker no longer takes formal lessons, she still looks forward to the silent film recital each year. She admits that learning a musical instrument can be frustrating and even monotonous, but it can also pay off in a big way. 

“You can really have fun with it,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be something that’s boring and something the parents are forcing them to do. We really see the fun side of music and the fun of producing songs that others can enjoy. That’s what continues to drive people to practice and maintain this skill their whole life. I think we’re learning that by being part of the silent film festival.” λ