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Sunday, 21 June 2009

A step back in time to a musical treat

Last night sat through something I haven't experienced for at least 50 years - a silent movie! It was quite a time warp watching Lon Chaney in the 1923 film "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" accompanied by David Briggs on the Milton Organ.

David is regarded as the country's greatest exponent of improvisation on the organ - and he gave us a real treat! The Milton thundered, whispered, crooned and sang under his hands and feet as he watched the movie on a small screen at the console and created the appropriate accompaniment to the action on screen. An hour and three quarters later the final cords rolled around the building and the audience sat in appreciative silence for several seconds, then burst into well earned applause as the organist eased himself out of the organ loft.

The movie itself showed its age in the acting and dramatic captions. It is pure Victorian Melodrama in all respects, distressed maidens, dastardly villains, noble heroes and a caste of thousands. Some scenes were so hilariously improbable it was worth watching the film without the accompaniment just for them. My successor as Church Warden and I agreed that, on the evidence of the movie, what we need as a security system on the Abbey is a couple of vats of molten lead and the odd hunchback ready to tip the contents over any malcontents attempting to break and enter.

The musical accompaniment made the evening, I simply can't remember an occasion when I could simply sit through a non-stop performance of this calibre. All the more remarkable because it was entirely unscored. What a shame it wasn't recorded, but that, in itself, would rob it of the spontaneity, the key to the real joy of this performance.

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