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Classic ‘Frankenstein’ film screens with live music by SSU musicians

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If You Go

What: The 1931 film ‘Frankenstein,’ with a live score performed by members of Sonoma State Unversity Symphonic Wind Ensemble

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 30-31

Where: Evert B. Person Theatre, Sonoma State University, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park

Admission: $10

Information: 707-664-2324, music.sonoma.edu/events/2019/frankenstein

What happens when you add a modern musical score to a classic movie made before that was technologically possible?

As Doctor Frankenstein so famously said, “It’s moving! It’s alive!”

On the eve of Halloween, as well as the big night itself, 25 members of the Sonoma State University Symphony Wind Ensemble, conducted by Andy Collinsworth, will perform a live score during two screenings of the 1931 black and white film “Frankenstein,” starring Boris Karloff as the monster.

“When ‘Frankenstein’ was put together, they did not have the technology to dub music on top of the dialog,” said Collinsworth, music professor and director of bands at Sonoma State, “so you have music during the opening titles and the closing credits, but none during the actual movie. People probably didn’t notice at the time because they were so taken by the story and the monster.”

Indeed, the story of a scientist who creates a moving, living creature out of scavenged body parts is still scary today, but in the decades since then, fans and critics alike have found something missing, insisting that music would add to the drama.

By 1935, when the sequel “The Bride of Frankenstein” came out, it had a full musical score by Franz Waxman, but the original film still had none.

After nearly seven decades, new music to accompany the film was written by New York composer Michael Shapiro on a commission from the Chappaqua Orchestra, where he is laureate composer, and had its premiere in 2002.

Performing live scores live at screenings of popular films has become a trend across the country. The Santa Rosa Symphonic recently performed John Williams’ score to a showing of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” However the age of the film “Frankenstein,” released 88 years ago, complicates matters.

“Here’s the tricky thing,” Collinsworth said. “Most modern films come with a ‘click track.’”

A click track is a series of audio cues, heard through headphones and used to synchronize the music, but this vintage monster film lacks that.

“The composer has noted the entrances and exits in the score, and the spoken cues and action scenes,” Collinsworth said. “This allows the conductor some flexibility to interpret the pacing of the music, so I watched the film 30 times over the summer, to write in additional cues.”

Collinsworth selected roughly half of the 50-member Symphony Wind Ensemble for the Rohnert Park performances. His instrumentation includes flutes, oboes, a bassoon, a bass clarinet, clarinets, saxophones, trumpets, French horns, trombones, a tuba, a string bass, several percussionists and a synthesizer.

“This project is making the rounds of the college campuses and some professional ensembles. It was performed by the U.S. Navy Band.” said Collinsworth, who picked up the idea from a former fellow student at the University of Nevada, Capt. Ken Collins, who is conductor the Navy Band. “The music is very approachable,” Collinsworth said. “I think our student musicians really like it,” Collinsworth said.

But it’s a good thing the students get to see the movie during rehearsal, he added.

“I asked them how many had seen ‘Frankenstein,’ and one hand went up, out of 25 students.”

You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @danarts.

If You Go

What: The 1931 film ‘Frankenstein,’ with a live score performed by members of Sonoma State Unversity Symphonic Wind Ensemble

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 30-31

Where: Evert B. Person Theatre, Sonoma State University, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park

Admission: $10

Information: 707-664-2324, music.sonoma.edu/events/2019/frankenstein

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