Cellist Elizabeth Marshall is surprised that what started off as an idea to merge music and silent film together as an interesting - and very personal - experiment in sound design, has now become a local art event. The idea came when she discussed her interest in melding music and silent films with friend Poly Schmitt. That conversation became Everything & Nothing: Silent Film & Live Cello Refuses To Remain Silent.
Marshall will perform live cello to nine short silent films from between 1903 and 1914 by directors that include George Méliès, D.W. Griffith, and Charlie Chaplin. Her musical landscape will range from Imagine Dragons to Johann Sebastian Bach, with some Frank Sinatra and Pink Floyd thrown in for good measure.
This performance is going to be truly unique, and not to be missed.
Set for the evening of Oct. 5 at the Onyx Theater, Marshall hopes the performance will become an ongoing series. The project also serves as a fundraiser for The Huntridge Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the preservation of the history of the Huntridge District. This group is not to be confused with the group that is working to purchase and restore the Huntridge Theater itself.
By her account, Marshall said the event is more than a fundraiser, but also a tribute to a pair of mentors.
“When I was 22 and studying cello at the Cincinnati conservatory (she has a Bachelor of Music and artist diploma in cello performance from the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music), part of the curriculum was preparing for our solo recital pieces, and the accepted method for preparing your pieces was to perform them for a live audience,” Marshall said. “The first place you were required to play your piece in preparation for final recital was often in front of a retirement community. Most of us really dreaded these performances because it’s a tough audience and it isn’t always the most pleasant of performance spaces, to put it delicately.
“Well, when I had finished performing my piece one afternoon, a tiny woman who looked to be about 300 came over to me, took my hand, looked into my eyes and said ‘Honey, you’ve got what it takes to be a great musician.’ Well, I thought it was very sweet, though I didn’t take it too seriously until the woman’s husband also toddled over and echoed the sentiment. So I asked them if they were classical music aficionados or if they had played previously in their lives? With a grin the husband spoke up and said “I’m Herman, and this is Peggy Wasserman and we were in the first violin section of the Cincinnati Symphony for 30 years.”
Marshall said the three became best friends as well as her mentors.
“They taught me so many things, and I hate to say this since my parents paid good money for my education, (but) Peggy and Herman probably taught me more about music than I learned in all those years in conservatory,” she said.
Herman Wasserman was a “tremendous flirt,” telling Marshall that she reminded him of a certain silent movie star whose name she can’t recall. But the relationship with the Wassermans was her entrance to silent movies.
“This turned into many, many hours of watching films while discussing classical music and eventually we began to try putting pieces to the films,” she said. “Herman gave me a list of three films he considered masterworks and suggested I should score them. I though it was a wonderful idea.”
Herman Wasserman passed away in 2004 and his wife joined him soon thereafter.
When Marshall was ready to put together the marriage of silent film and music that they had talked about, she realized, “To my horror, I found that I had lost the scrap of paper with his picks, and for nearly 10 years now, the idea of creating a project to honor their memory has been gestating. Well, I made the mistake of telling Schmitt, my crazy go-getter move-the-world friend, and well, here we are.”
Marshall, who was born in Las Vegas, noted cultural activities that other major metropolitans seem to have are missing here, quoting Schmitt, “If we don’t like the way this town is, then let’s make it the way we want it to be.”
Nice sentiment. If making this town the way Marshall wants it to be means adding a recurring silent film night with classical accompaniment event to benefit a local nonprofit part of the landscape, well, count me in.
Note: The Onyx Theater, 953 E Sahara Ave in the Village Square Commercial Center, has VERY limited seating and this event is expected to sell out. Only 34 tickets for the 100-seat theater remained www.onyxtheater.com at press time.
Everything & Nothing: Silent Film & Live Cello Refuses To Remain Silent, 8 p.m., Oct. 5, Onyx Theater, 953-16B, E. Sahara Ave., onyxtheater.com, $20. A meet and greet with Marshall will be at 7 p.m.