The Sounds Behind the Silents

by ECO principal cellist and pianist for the Sounds of the Silents project Ruth Ann Scanzillo
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We entered the breezy, spacious room at the sunny hour of 9am. Now, for some of us, mornings on the weekend are slow-to-warm-up, being nocturnals; however, this particular Saturday and Sunday were designated for something rather historic, and not to be pre-empted by any long-standing penchant for sleep.

Ten of us had gathered to make the first in what promised to be a series of recordings of what we all considered our living: making music. But, this was neither your standard cover band gig, nor even a list of symphonic masterworks; rather, this was music likely never before recorded, perhaps ever, and probably not even heard for over a century – yet, in its day, heard by everyone who ever attended a movie in a theater.

_MG_8782These were the first fourteen film underscorings of J.S. Zamecnik, a name none of us would have ever heard spoken from the podium of an Emmy or Academy Award ceremony. This man was the oracle for every mood generated by a silent film short. “In short” …..he was the music.

From the top, we laid down track after track of every human emotion ever represented by actors on a screen: Terror, Surprise, Impending Danger, Remorse, Sorrow, Pity, Dejection, Sudden Attack by Hideous Monsters, Struggle, Confusion, Defiance…Visions, Dark Mystery; IMG_0001every act both for and against mankind: Treachery, Smuggling, Conspiracy, Evil Plotting, Magic, Rioting, Mob Scenes, and Duels……Windstorms, Sandstorms, Battle Scenes….and, trips to the exotic: Egypt, Greece, the Wild West, and the depths of Fantasy….

….by the end of our ten hour trek through the earliest movies, as we headed outside for a group photo on the steps of Gannon’s Old Main, we were quietly conscious of having touched the face of American cinematic history. Perhaps Mr. Zamecnik, an unknown even in his time, was there with us…happy to be present at his own revival.

Photo credit: Ed Bernik


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