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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Local Musician Is Committed to Keeping Silent Film Tradition Alive


When he was a high school student, musician Rick Friend, who says that he grew up with a love of film and music, became interested in silent films. He rented a print of the 1926 Buster Keaton silent film “The General” and improvised an accompaniment on the piano to entertain his friends. It was the beginning of a lifetime passion for bringing silent films back to life with improvisational accompaniment.
“I enjoyed it so much I decided to make a career out of it,” Friend told the Malibu Surfside News.
A native of Clifton, New Jersey, Friend studied piano and composition at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music.
He played for four seasons of the Toronto International Film Festival’s Open Vault Series and, in 1987, began playing for the Toronto Film Society. He became involved in Cinemateque Ontario, accompanying their showings of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and Carl Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc.”
He was so taken with “Joan” that he developed an original score for the film, which he performed with a consort of nine musicians at the Music Gallery in Toronto.
Friend describes the film, produced in France in 1928, as brilliant. “It’s all done in close-ups, there’s just enough scenery to set the start mood.”
“The Passion of Joan of Arc” was followed by orchestral scores for Lon Chaney’s eerie 1925 version of “The Phantom of the Opera,” the 1922 horror film “Nosferatu,” and the 1920 Douglas Fairbanks film “The Mark of Zorro.”
 “I’ve appeared as soloist with various orchestras,” Friend said. “It’s easy for me when I work alone. When I work with a conductor there are visual cues. Both film and music are time-based arts.”
Friend says he likes to use character themes to add continuity but prefers to improvise the action scenes.
“I moved out here in 1998,” Friend told The News. “I had a wonderful gig for several years playing at the Silent Movie Theater.”
The storied theater, which was sold in 2006 and now operates as Cinefamily, a non-profit American cinemateque, shows a wider range of films, although silents still feature on the schedule.
Friend has expanded his performance schedule to include freelancing between orchestral gigs—he’ll be accompanying the still-terrifying “Nosferatu” with  the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra, for Halloween this year, and the swashbuckling adventures of “The Mark of Zorro” with the Portland Symphony Orchestra, in Maine for Valentine’s Day 2014. He offers his unique silent film improv skills for parties and special occasions.
“Silent films were never silent,” Friend says. “They were always shown with live music.”
“One of the things that appeals to me is the magic of live music. It’s transporting. Everyone should have the chance to experience that.”
He adds that his mission “is to bring the art form to audiences everywhere.”
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