Montpelier Chamber Orchestra Music Director Anne Decker is all about community, and the community orchestra’s spring program brings it together with the Green Mountain Film Festival and Music-COMP, a composition program. Under Decker’s direction, the MCO will accompany silent films with music written for them by two students and one master composer.
“It’s really a dream program,” Decker said recently by phone. “All of it was opportunity, with the Green Mountain Film Festival here, and with (composer) Erik (Nielsen) tied into Music-COMP.”
The Montpelier Chamber Orchestra will present “New Music at the Movies” at 7 p.m. Friday, March 22 at T-Rex Cinema in Essex, and at 7 p.m. Saturday, Saturday, March 23 at Vermont College of Fine Arts’ College Hall in Montpelier.
The program features Aaron Copland’s “Music for Movies” and three world-premiere compositions, all of them new film scores created for classic silent films. Nielsen, one of Vermont’s foremost composers, who lives in Brookfield, has created music for the final two acts of the first animated feature film ever made, “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” (1926), by Lotte Reiniger.
From 1907 comes the hilarious short film “La Glu (The Glu)” by Alice Guy Blaché, with a new score by Burlington High School senior Anna Halladay. A portion of Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece “Metropolis” has had new music composed for it by West Rutland High School freshman Drew Frankenberg.
Both students have been mentored through Music-COMP (Music Composition Mentoring Program), an online composition mentoring program for students centered in Vermont.
“Music-COMP is an organization to be celebrated. It’s a really unique opportunity for our state,” Decker said. “So I brought the Green Mountain Film Festival and Erik to the table to choose the films, then Erik and (Vermont-COMP director) Matt (La Rocca) chose student composers. (Nielsen’s music was commissioned by the MCO through a grant from the Vermont Arts Council.)
Frankenberg is a ninth-grader from West Rutland who started composing in sixth grade.
“My first true composition was selected by the Music-COMP to be performed live by professional musicians in the Opus 32,” he said. “I play clarinet, piano, saxophone, guitar, ukulele and am learning flute.”
Halladay is a senior at Burlington High School.
“I play cello in the Vermont Youth Orchestra, as well as bass guitar in my school’s jazz band,” she said. “I have participated in the Music-COMP program since fifth grade, and I’m excited to present my first film score!”
They are both currently working with Music-COMP, a nonprofit organization supporting young composers across Vermont. As each student creates an original piece of music, they are paired with a professional composer as their mentor to receive guidance and support. Many former Music-COMP students have pursued careers as composers, musicians and educators in addition to winning regional and national awards for their work.
Decker has never conducted for films before, though she has worked with video projections. Both involve a “click track,” a program to synchronize the film and the orchestra.
“It’s basically a metronome,” Decker said. “It’s generated within the software program used by the composer. The piece is lined up to the film so there’s a click for me to follow.”
Decker will have an earbud in one ear and the other on the orchestra.
“Musicians practice with a metronome, but they don’t perform metronomically,” she said. “So there’s nuance there. Even though my conducting may seem rather metronomic because I need to stay with the click track, I have to allow for some nuance and expression to happen around that.
“As much as I need them to stay with me and not rush consecutive quarter notes, which the orchestra’s pretty good at doing, I need to leave some room to be playing around that beat for expression,” Decker said.
“When the monster crashes on B1 (in the film), you want the orchestra to be on B1 (in the score). That’s why the click is there.”