HESPERUS records a score of Spanish Renaissance & Colonial music for Douglas Fairbanks' 1920 silent swashbuckler.
Creating a silent film score is serious fun. It takes imagination, patience, a wicked sense of humor, and if you’re lucky, some tolerant, dedicated musicians to experiment with. Basically, we start by assigning each character a musical motif that gets transformed as the plot thickens. Like the 1920s theater organists, sometimes we play from a chart, other times we improvise. But what makes us different, and what makes this project special, is that we’re inspired by music from the time the film was set, not made, and it’s magic. Take a look at this video of Zorro’s first appearance in the film: Grant Herreid and I are jamming on a Spanish renaissance tune by Diego Ortiz (yes, there are three performers through the magic of overdubbing).
You see how period music helps an already great film leap off the screen; for Zorro we also use Spanish Colonial/Native American music in Quechua and Chilidugu. HESPERUS has performed this music for thirty years on historic instruments; we know it like a jazz bassist knows Summertime.
Most of our $18,000 budget will go for studio time and you can see by the quality of our project video and the YouTube clip that it’s going to be well spent. Bias Studio’s Jim Robeson is experienced in film and music editing and he’s a great production partner. Our musicians are also first-rate--joining me are Nell Snaidas, soprano and renaissance guitar; Priscilla Smith, recorders, shawm, dulcian, krumhorn, renaissance bagpipes and soprano voice; and Grant Herreid, baroque guitar, vihuela and tenor voice. We've just spent two days recording the music; now Jim and I have to edit and mix it like a CD, add sound effects, and then make sure it’s synched to the action.
Here’s how it breaks down:
Obtain a transfer of the 35 mm. print of Mark of Zorro $100
Musicians: 2 recording sessions:
4 musicians @ $300/session x 2 $2400
Studio time (Bias studios, Springfield, VA)
15 sessions @$800/session $12,000
Design DVD package, Kickstarter rewards (Michael Stewart) $680
Printing 1000 DVDs (Oasis) $1260
Buy/make/send rewards for Kickstarter $262
Promotion: Gail Wein $1500
I’ve gotten permission to use the copy of the original 35mm. print. A few weeks ago Jim and I loaded it into his computer and prepared the videos you’ve seen. Over the past four days, October 25-28, Hesperus performed Zorro twice and successfully recorded the music in two 8-hour sessions. We will edit and mix in the first three weeks of November and get the Master to Oasis before Thanksgiving; target release date is December 10, just in time for Christmas.
WE THINK THIS PROJECT HAS A GOOD CHANCE OF SUCCESS BECAUSE
#1: Our Live Ciné-Concerts have gotten rave reviews
Since 2003 we’ve toured our ciné-concerts around the country, and the response has always been over the top. Just recently, Tom Aldridge said this about our July 2012 performance of Robin Hood at the Indianapolis Early Music Festival: ”A feast for eyes and ears: I was thoroughly engaged, enthralled, enraptured, entranced, edified.” And our June 2012 DC performance of the Hunchback of Notre Dame was described by Washington Post critic Anne Midgette as “absolutely delightful, scholarship well used in the service of artistry and fun.”
#2: The Two Scenes from Robin Hood included on our Educational DVD came out beautifully
Although we haven’t done a complete film DVD yet, in 2005 Jim and I produced a 40-minute educational DVD that included two 10-minute scenes from Robin Hood (with permission from Kino). Here’s the whole tournament scene, which is also excerpted in our Kickstarter video:
#3: We’re a good group, we’ve been around a long time
This is our official group bio and I can’t really say it any better. “Innovative, historically-informed and multi-cultural, Washington DC-based HESPERUS performs a variety of programs that make connections between the rich musical past and curious 21st century concertgoers: early music soundtracks for silent movies, partnerships with theatre, mime and dance, musical portraits of a single culture through time, fusions of European early music with American traditional styles, and single-genre early music programs from medieval to Spanish and British Colonial music.
Founded in 1979 by the late Scott Reiss, HESPERUS has appeared throughout the US, Southeast Asia, Latin America and Europe, most recently at Kennedy Center, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Lincoln Center, the Indianapolis and Madison Early Music Festivals, Carmel Bach Festival and the Cloisters, as well as at festivals in Italy, Germany, Taiwan, Indonesia and Bolivia. The ensemble can be heard in three Emmy-nominated Hallmark Channel specials, in the film Sleepy Hollow, and on fifteen recordings available on CDBaby. For more about HESPERUS’ awards, programs and recordings please visit www.hesperus.org”
HESPERUS recorded a CD of Spanish renaissance and Native American music in 1988; in 1992, the Columbus Centenary, that CD was played in virtually every museum on the Mall, and the group was an ensemble-in-residence at the Smithsonian American History Museum. After Scott died in 2005, I decided HESPERUS needed to specialize in what it does best, and one of those things is what the French call a ciné-concert, a silent film with live music.
WON’T YOU PARTNER WITH US?
I think this DVD is going to be outstanding: unusual, absorbing and really enjoyable to watch. If you think so too, please partner with us! Rewards include everything from digital downloads or signed copies of the DVD to reproductions of the original story, a Scott Reiss memorial CD, castanets and miniature Spanish swords, as well as activities like play sessions, parties and even your own private showing of Zorro with live music by HESPERUS. In addition, since HESPERUS is a non-profit organization, your contributions are tax deductible. You probably know that if we don’t make our goal we don’t receive any funding at all from Kickstarter; that would be hard to face after all this good work by so many talented people. And though Scott’s no longer with us, you’ll hear him on the DVD playing his remarkable versions of an Inca flute tune.
Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
You know, it's funny, but I've been looking forward to this for so many years: trying to get just the right mix of classical and folk music in the score, waiting until we had the right performers, choosing the right film, arranging to have enough time to prepare and a few chances to play it before we recorded. It's hard to imagine that completing this project is going to be harder than getting all these different ducks in a row.
One of the other things I do besides perform is produce recordings for other performers; besides HESPERUS' 15 and my own 4, I've produced maybe 35-40 CDs of many different genres, from Irish harp music to medieval troubadour songs in colloquial English, from English lute songs to Harry Partch. And in spite of some incredible snafus (one engineer lost a whole day's session takes, another time there was a really loud parade just outside lasting for hours, then there was the time a chorus kept going flat and we invented a way to correct their pitch every ten seconds so they sounded in tune, or the lost harp whose replacement needed a blanket stuffed inside it to sound right, or the time that a second edit totally disappeared from the engineer's server and we had to edit it all over again), I never lost a CD.
This project may take unexpected, unbelievable amounts of time; it might require some very clever little adjustments and inventions; there may be some unhappy artistic decisions to make, even one or two of what Jim calls ‘private hells,’ things that you hate but no one hears but you. But as long as I’m alive and kicking it’s going to get done, and done as well as I can do it.
Good questions! See update #4.
Because, first, all the recorded music has to be edited as if it were a CD and that means overdubbing, mixing and matching the takes, tuning (electronically, isn't that helpful?), and then synching to the movie. We're going to add percussion at one session, and film a conversation between myself and silent film expert Rob Farr at another. The folks at Bias are seeing way too much of me right now.