Silent films get a live score in Forest Hills
by Michael Perlman
Nov 03, 2016 | 8469 views | 0 0 comments | 203 203 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Forest Hills had an early start to Halloween with the performance of “Haunted Hollywood: Chills & Thrills from the Days of Silent Film” at the Community House on Sunday.

The event was the result of a unique collaboration between Musica Reginae Productions and The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra and featured 12 pieces.

A full house packed the auditorium. As concertgoers entered, they received bags of candy, cupcakes, and popcorn by Musica Reginae board members dressed in costume.

Three Halloween-themed photoplays were accompanied by their original scores, performed by The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra and conducted and narrated by Rick Benjamin.

Films included “The Haunted House” starring Buster Keaton, “Haunted Spooks” starring Harold Lloyd, and “The Adventurer” starring Charlie Chaplin.

In between films, the audience heard performances of “The Ghost Walk,” “A Midnight Chase,” “The Vampire Galop,” “Funeral March of a Marionette,” and “A Devilish Good March.”

While pursuing his undergrad at The Julliard School, Benjamin founded the orchestra in 1986. Today, he is recognized as a foremost ragtime historian.

As a researcher of music for silent films, he discovered the original orchestral accompaniments to 1910s and 1920s-era motion pictures, and has since been a conductor to greater than 650 silent film screenings, setting a world record.

According to Benjamin, the event is the melding of image and music, where the audience becomes part of the experience.

“That is how it was 100 years ago for early film audiences,” he said. “The sense of community is an essence for this art form, and society today needs more public events where people can be unified in a space, enjoying the same program and laughing at the same time.”

Benjamin explained how current generations are “serenaded all the time at the press of a button,” but the downside is that people actually stop listening.

“If you wanted to hear music, you had someone in your family that played an instrument,” he said of how music was less accessible in the early 20th century. “If you were luckier, you were in a town that had a band that played on Sunday, or you lived in a town or city that had a theater with an orchestra.”

Musica Reginae president Dan Olson felt the concert’s setting was a unique fit.

“The Community House was completed in 1926 and has a special character for movies and performances from that time,” he said.

Music Reginae was founded in 2000 and has organized concerts featuring up-and-coming and world-renown artists performing classical, opera, chamber, and jazz music.

“When Rick Benjamin announced a new Halloween-themed show, and it was not being presented anywhere in the tristate area prior to this date, I jumped at the chance to host it,” said executive and artistic director Barbara Podgurski.

Musica Reginae’s 2016-17 season will feature a wide range of musical styles, including chamber music, klezmer, an internationally-acclaimed concert pianist, and a Parisian cabaret.

“Our audience has been steadily growing with each new event,” said Podgurski. “Musica Reginae has presented close to 100 performances, with nearly 80 concerts in Queens and at least 15 in our schools.”

For details on upcoming performances, visit

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