Buster Keaton’s Classic The General with LIVE Organ Improvisation by James Kennerley brought to you

  • September 08, 2023

Portland, August 31, 2023 — The Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ is thrilled to announce a captivating and unique cinematic experience that takes us back in time to the vibrant era of the 1920s. The Kotzschmar Organ, renowned for its grandeur and historical significance, will transport audiences to a bygone era when it served as a one-person orchestra, providing live accompaniment to the sensational "silent" movies that captivated audiences across the nation.

During the 1920s, the Kotzschmar Organ, along with various instruments in concert halls and theaters across the United States, played an integral role in enhancing the magic of silent films. These films, which lacked spoken dialogue but were rich in visual storytelling, were elevated to new heights with the addition of live musical scores. This marriage of music and moving images created an unforgettable cinematic experience, captivating audiences' hearts, and minds.

The practice of coupling music with film dates back to the late 19th century, and the reasons behind it are as diverse as they are fascinating. Some attribute it to the practical need of masking the noise of early projection equipment, while others liken it to the long-standing tradition of music in theatrical productions. However, it's the intrinsic power of music—the most immediate and evocative of all arts—that truly brought the spectacle of the moving image to life.

In the realm of "silent" films, major productions often featured orchestral scores meticulously composed for them, performed live by full orchestras within the theaters. Smaller productions relied on chamber ensembles following cue sheets denoting moods like "storm," "fight," or "love scene." Organists and pianists in modest venues improvised scores, drawing from "Photoplay" books or their own original themes.

"The tremendous power of music lies in its ability to evoke emotions instantaneously," explains James Kennerley, the acclaimed musician, and Municipal Organist for the City of Portland, who will be leading these unforgettable performances. "Much like an athlete prepares for the Olympics, I approach this musical adventure with constant and consistent preparation. It all begins with mastering the movie itself—every scene, every gesture, every emotion. It's a meticulous process of aligning the music with on-screen actions, ensuring that the bell chimes and screams are mirrored in the melodies."

As the number of viewings accumulates, James Kennerley meticulously crafts cue sheets, capturing plot intricacies, action highlights, and caption card moments that enhance the storytelling. A deep understanding of the film's themes is developed, often employing leitmotifs—a technique famously used by composers like John Williams—to swiftly establish moods and characters in seconds.

"Themes are the cornerstone of this experience," Kennerley shares. "A theme can evolve, representing multiple facets of a character or scene. Take 'The General,' for instance. The locomotive's theme eventually intertwines with Buster Keaton's persona and his relationship with his girlfriend. It's a dynamic process, keeping the audience engaged and immersed."

Once themes are established, Kennerley crafts transformative variations, playing with minor keys for sorrowful moments, altering tempo and melodies, and leveraging the Kotzschmar Organ's rich tonal range to deepen emotional connection. The result is an enriched storytelling canvas that draws the audience into the characters' emotions and the narrative's immediacy.

Join us for an extraordinary cinematic journey as we present two timeless silent films: "The General" in September and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" in October. Experience the magic of live music resurrecting the spirit of the 1920s, as the Kotzschmar Organ regains its role as a one-person orchestra, breathing life into these classic films. Prepare to be transported, captivated, and moved.

Event Details: The General 

Date: Saturday, September 30, 2023

Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Merrill Auditorium

Tickets: Available at: PortTIX 

For More Information: Visit The General 2023: Live from Merrill Auditorium - FOKO 

or contact Sophie Bray, Administrative Director (assistant@foko.org )

For media inquiries, please contact:

Sophie Bray



About Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ:

The Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ is a dedicated organization passionate about preserving the rich history and musical legacy of the Kotzschmar Organ. Through concerts, events, and educational programs, they celebrate the organ's remarkable role in enhancing various artistic experiences.

Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ
P.O. Box 7455
Portland, ME 04112



The Kotzschmar Organ (@kotzschmarorgan) • Instagram photos and videosyoutube.com/@Kotzschmar?reload=9


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Sophie Bray

22 Monument Sq
Portland  ME  04101