Silent Film Revival 

Treasure Valley Youth Symphony orchestrates The Musical Music Project

click to enlarge COURTESY PHOTOGRAPH

Since the advent of film entertainment, the movie industry has been inextricably tied to music. The incredible effect sound can have on audiences, though often subtle, explains the prestigious awards reserved solely for film scores. Yet the history of music in film and the art from which it originates has lost its place in our culture.

When silent films were first introduced in the 1920s, each screening was accompanied by a pianist, or even--on special occasions--and entire orchestra. Until "talkies" came along, moviegoers were privy to a dynamic experience of recorded imagery and live music.

Luckily, the Treasure Valley Youth Symphony will fill the Egyptian Theater's historic organ and orchestra pit again as they perform two classic silent films: Charlie Chaplin's A Night at the Show and Buster Keaton's One Week.

This event is an opportunity for the arts enthusiast in a variety of ways. Whether a lover of classical music or vintage film, the combination of both is sure to please--especially with the best young musicians in the Treasure Valley performing original scores by two monster composers, one from Boise.

The score for One Week was composed by renowned accompanist Ben Model--the resident musician and director of New York's Modern Museum of Art silent film program. Though many years Model's junior, Boise's own protégé Josh Archibald-Seiffer is equally talented and wrote all of the music for A Night at the Show. At only 17, he has already distinguished himself as one of the nation's top young pianists and budding composers.

He has created the entire orchestral score for the Chaplin film, in addition to having a bio list of accomplishments and awards longer than a Lord of the Rings flick. Other than that, and his propensity for genetic engineering, Josh leads a normal teenage life and likes Elton John.

Musical talent often runs in families, and the Archibald-Seiffers are no exception.

"It seemed to skip a generation, but my great grandmother played the piano for silent films in California," Josh said. His parents were involved in the arts as well, exposing their two sons to music through choirs and folk guitar classes. Like many gifted children, Josh knew what he was meant to do at an extremely young age. Mr. Rogers' piano playing turned out to be his inspiration at the age of three, though his requests for lessons immediately thereafter were shot down till it was obvious he was serious about the idea a year later. Josh's younger brother Noah also benefited, as he is a talented cellist in the junior high division.

Josh won first place at the Northwest regional competition in 2003 which took him to the national finals (placing second this year), and he has been honored with numerous other awards such as "Best Treasure Valley Pianist" while still finding time to compose 16 original pieces to date. Perhaps his most highly acclaimed work of 2003 was collaborating with Riders in the Sky leader Woody Paul to co-write "A Perfect Roar" for Disney's Grammy award-winning CD Monsters Inc.: Scream Factory Favorites.

The opportunity to set the music for A Night at the Show was offered to Josh by TVYS' conductor Dr. David Saunders, whose previous work with the young composer gave him confidence Josh was up for the challenge. And it was understandably challenging to tweak the music on count with the slap-sticky movements of Chaplin's characters. It required "a lot of rewinding," Josh said. The finished work is a compilation of different musical themes ranging from classical to jazzy ragtime.

"I immediately thought of Josh for this composition ... and he's done more with it than I ever thought he was going to. He is way beyond his years musically and terrific to work with," Saunders said.

The opportunity to work in film has not gone unappreciated by Josh. He is aspiring to create scores for major motion pictures someday and recently got the chance to discuss the business with Boise's accomplished Hollywood director Michael Hoffman. As Hoffman proved, fame and fortune can be realized without leaving Boise, and Josh hops this will hold true for his future.

"I absolutely love Boise; I can't imagine not living here. You travel quite a bit anyway and network through that, but you have to be proactive and understand it takes steps," he said.

The TVYS will perform three shows for sixth graders from around the Treasure Valley during the afternoon with all proceeds from the public performance that evening going to the Youth Symphony--thanks to the Egyptian Theatre.

"This theater has been a part of great moments in Boise's cultural life for generations, and I am very excited to provide a venue for this creative performance," said executive manager Michael Scrifes.

"This is the only opportunity for Boiseans to experience this kind of thing," Saunders explained, "the talent and accomplishment of our young people involved in music recreating a time period that is long gone." As the TVYS is directly associated with the professional Philharmonic, membership is a prestigious accomplishment--out of the talented 150 or so who audition annually, only 75 are selected. And the results are impressive. During their first reading of the score for One Week, the musicians had me fooled. "And it will just get better for the actual show," beamed Saunders, who is himself a valuable resource for the TVYS. Fortunately for the Youth Symphony, he has loved conducting them since 1999.

Saunders attended a conservatory in St. Louis for undergraduate training, received his masters in music from Yale and his doctorate from the State University of New York in Stonybrook so he could fulfill his dream of teaching music at the university level. His career at Boise State goes hand in hand with his work with the TVYS, though he continues to lament the lack of publicity and recognition. "A lot of people don't realize what Boise has in our Youth Symphony. Many bigger cities do not even have the extensive music programs our schools do," he said.

Boise will get a taste of such talent on February 3. The event is, however, only a fraction of what the Youth Symphony will perform in their spring show at Borah High School on Sunday, March 13.

"It's the power of such music to express the widest range of human thought and emotion," said Saunders of Beethoven's 5th Symphony that will be featured on the 13th. Piano extraordinaire, Josh Archibald-Seiffer however, will only be at the silent film event. Get your tickets at the door ($12 for adults, $6 for students and seniors) or by calling 387-1273.

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