A unique opportunity to see a silent film classic accompanied on a majestic pipe organ will take place at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 15. Clark Wilson, one of the most prominent and recognized silent film organists today, will appear at the Circleville Presbyterian Church, 134 E. Mound St., to accompany “Steamboat Bill Jr.,” starring Buster Keaton.
This 1928 comedy is set on the banks of the Mississippi River where William Canfield Jr. (Keaton) returns home from the city and is forced by his father to learn the family business – riverboating. While in town, William runs into an old girl friend whose father happens to own a rival riverboat company that threatens to run William’s father out of business.
Keaton is one of the great stars of the silent film comedy era. The audience is assured of side-splitting laughter throughout the film.
Wilson is best known around central Ohio as the featured organist at the famed Summer Movie Series at the Ohio Theatre in Columbus. He recently completed his 23nd season of providing the organ music that precedes each movie. He works exclusively with the organ in developing accurate and historical musical accompaniments as they were performed in the major movie palaces during the heyday of the silent film.
He began scoring silent films in 1980 and has toured North America with hundreds of film presentations at schools and universities, performing arts centers, theatres, film festivals and conventions. His work has led to performances for UCLA, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, where, in addition to other pictures, he re-premiered “Wings,” the WWI military aviation classic, for Paramount Studios’ 100th anniversary.
He is organist of choice for many of the American Theatre Organ Society’s international convention silent film presentations. His performances have earned rave reviews from colleagues and professionals, one of them stating that his was “the finest use of a theatre pipe organ that I have ever heard.”
Wilson has been organ conservator and resident organist of the Ohio Theatre since 1992 and is responsible for all of the music during the Summer Movie Series, which also features at least one major silent film each season. In addition, he has led courses in theatre organ styling and silent film accompaniment at the Indiana University School of Music, and is involved in the development of a similar program at the University of Oklahoma.
In addition, Wilson has his own pipe organ business and is a skilled organ technician and consultant, having been involved with more than 200 pipe organ installations.
Wilson will perform on The Presbyterian Church’s 28 rank Bunn=Minnick pipe organ. The instrument was originally built in 1929 by the Page Organ Company of Lima, Ohio, a firm that built many theatre organs as well as organs for churches. The Circleville organ was reportedly the last instrument the company built before it went out of business.
Jack Mader, one of two organists at the church, said the organ is uniquely suited to silent film accompaniment.
“It has a number of theatre organ-style pipes, along with deep tremulants and other amenities, not usually found on church organs, that can render a really good theatre organ sound,” he said. “In the early 1980s, Bunn=Minnick Pipe Organs made some major additions and reconfigurations to the organ, so it has the ability to play liturgical and classical music as well, actually pretty much any style of organ literature.”
This will be Wilson’s third appearance at the Circleville Presbyterian Church. A number of years ago he accompanied the Cecil B. DeMille classic “King of Kings,” and prior to that he played a classical concert.
“We’re really excited to have Clark back,” Mader said. “And this will be a light-hearted, funny film, something totally different from what we’ve done in the past. It will be a fun-filled evening.”
In addition, Mader, who is also one of several organists who assist Wilson during the Summer Movie Series, will present a 15-minute overture of 1920s songs prior to the movie, beginning at 6:45 p.m. And before he accompanies “Steamboat Bill Jr.” Wilson will describe how he creates scores for the silent films and blends the music right into the film, so that the music actually becomes part of the film, rather than simply background music.
There is no admission charge; however, a free-will offering will be received. A reception in Wilson’s honor will follow the program.
This article originally appeared on The Pickaway News Journal