Debut of a Dream
In his right hand, Andrew Greene lofts a conductor’s baton. In his left, a DVD remote. The 19-year-old University of Maryland civil engineering major lives in the 21st century, but he longs for the 20th.
Compressing time, he is conducting the Peacherine Ragtime Orchestra in rehearsal of its original score to Cops, Buster Keaton’s silent 1922 classic.
The orchestra is Greene’s tribute to an entertainment form that died away nearly seven decades before he was born.
“Back during the 1910s and 1920s, a lot of old theaters would have almost a day of concerts,” explains Greene, founder of the nation’s only collegiate ragtime orchestra. “They would have vaudeville acts, a silent feature and a silent short. They would have a pit orchestra to play for it all.”
He’d love his 12-person Peacherine Ragtime Orchestra to be in those pits. History has denied him that placement, but he’s reviving vintage entertainment any place he can. December 5, that place is Arnold’s Gloria Dei! Lutheran Church.
There the Peacherine Ragtime Orchestra will accompany Buster Keaton’s Cops, which Greene calls “the quintessential chase film.”
“When you’ve got the live orchestra, it adds a lot of depth to the film,” he says.
Peacherine’s December 5 silent film screening is part of Greene’s plan to bring classic cinema — with live music — to the masses.
“My hopes are that we keep going around to various historic theaters and share this music with people who haven’t heard it before,” says the young visionary. “We’re already talking with a few out-of-state theaters. The goal is to keep this going after all of us have graduated, going around the country scoring silent films.”
Music from the Heart
Why ragtime instead of a Lady GaGa tribute band?
“Today you don’t get a lot of music that comes from the heart,” Greene explains. “If you listen to the old recordings of orchestras and small brass bands from the 1910s and the 1920s, you can hear the sheer joy they had for the music.”
Greene says he felt that joy the first time his fingers danced a rag on his piano keys.
The Broadneck High School pianist was taking a lesson when, he reports, “For a break my teacher gave me a copy of Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag. The music just really made a hit with me. I’ve been on break ever since.”
Greene named his orchestra after the Joplin composition Peacherine. Through donated scores and hours of scouring eBay, he’s collected over 1,300 ragtime scores for Peacherine’s repertoire.
His orchestra of vintage-music devotees has been working for weeks: practicing musical cues, perfecting cymbal clashes for comic timing and adding emotion with string solos. Timing is everything with a comedy score. Sound has to match music frame for frame before Peacherine can debut the film score to a live audience.
So he stops the orchestra short with his baton and hits pause on the remote. The cue was off; they’ll have to begin again. This is the last rehearsal before their big show, and Greene wants to ensure Buster Keaton gets a perfect score.
Andrew Greene takes the Field of Dreams approach to his beloved music: If You Play It, They Will Come. He reports that most of his audience is older, but he has hopes for converting his peers from pop to Ragtime.
“A lot of people have never experienced this type of music before,” he says of his performances. “They seem to latch onto the music and really enjoy it.”
When and Where
4pm Sunday December 5 at Gloria Dei! Lutheran Church, 461 College Pkwy., Arnold. $10: 410-349-3244; http://peacherineragtime.webs.com. Listen online at www.bayweekly.com.