(Timothy Brock’s video invitation to Tuesday’s event, courtesy of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The last time composer/conductor Timothy Brock was onstage in West Seattle, he was a WSHS student, performing with one of the school’s musical groups.
During his years at the school, he was involved with them all – band, orchestra, stage band, chamber orchestra, choir – he recalled during a conversation this week outside the Admiral Theater, where he’s headlining the next fundraiser for restoration of the moviehouse’s historic circa-1942 murals:
At 6:45 pm next Tuesday night (July 25th), he will be onstage just a few blocks from his alma mater, in a multifaceted event explained by the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, which is leading the mural-restoration fundraising campaign:
This exciting evening – to last more than three hours, with an intermission – will start with Timothy Brock being interviewed by his childhood friend, West Seattle’s Dave Beck, a host at KING-FM and longtime former KUOW-FM host.
Brock will reminisce with Beck about their West Seattle upbringing and discuss the fascinating process of scoring silent classics. (Brock earned the label of “Silent-Film Music Guru” from Vogue magazine in May 2016.)
Interspersed will be stills and clips from silent films that Brock has scored. Following an intermission, Brock will introduce the screening of the Charlie Chaplin feature “Modern Times,” for which Brock has restored and re-recorded the original 1936 Chaplin score.
This isn’t Brock’s first trip back home – far from it. His mom and sister live in this area. His oldest son lives in Olympia. That’s where Brock moved at age 18, leaving West Seattle, and eventually spending more than a decade conducting the Olympia Chamber Orchestra. Olympia is where he says most of his “silent-film experiments” were initiated, but he now lives in Europe, where there is more of an appreciation for what he specializes in – composing scores for silent films. And it’s not just an appreciation from the spectator standpoint; Brock explains that silent-film history is taught, and in France, there’s even a program to teach silent-film composition.
His path toward his unique career started with a visit to the now-gone Granada Theater (south of The Junction) at an early age. “I actually came back and said to my mom, ‘this is something I would really like to do – play piano and make music for really old films’. She didn’t know I meant silent films. (I explained), ‘no, these don’t have any words at all, just words (onscreen) and music’. She’s been worried about my career ever since.”
He was age 10 when that interest was kindled. At 23, he was commissioned to write his first silent-film score, for “Pandora’s Box,” a film by G.W. Pabst. Since then, he says, he’s written on average one silent-film score a year. He just completed one for Fritz Lang‘s 1929 “Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon),” a three-hour science-fiction film that he says was the first of its kind. The premiere was last April. He’s now writing a violin concerto for the BBC Symphony, to premiere next season, in 2018-2019.
So what’s it going to be like, to be onstage at The Admiral next Tuesday? we asked.
“It’s the most bizarre feeling to see your name on the marquee of a theater you grew up with,” Brock acknowledged. But also – “It’s great. It’s a little like coming back home and playing for your friends … talking with family and friends about what it is that you do.”
We asked how he views the importance of what it is that he does – Southwest Seattle Historical Society executive director Clay Eals recorded Brock’s answer on video:
As you can hear in the video, he listed several reasons – “It’s part of our heritage, specifically for Americans, too … an art form that has obviously died out,” as have most of the people who performed as silent-film musicians. So many of them, Brock explained, performed in symphony orchestras as well as the theater orchestras that played the silent-film accompaniment. And now – “It’s a matter of keeping that art up, learning the craft, teaching it to future generations. One of the reasons I live in Europe is that orchestras of middle- and high-caliber program silent films as part of their seasons.”
The music itself, he added, is of great historical value, with work by composers such as Shostakovich “who liked the idea of writing for this [then-]new art form. … It needs to be kept alive.” Brock’s work includes the silent-film programs for the New York Philharmonic: “It’s important just like any period performances of baroque or Middle Ages [etc.] music.”
And his early music education at West Seattle High School helped lay the groundwork for his one-of-a-kind career. In our conversation, he listed “some fabulous teachers,” including Donn Weaver, who recently retired as director of the West Seattle Big Band.
So come to The Admiral on Tuesday night to see and hear how one of your former West Seattle neighbors is preserving and enhancing film and music history, while contributing to the preservation and restoration of the theater’s historic murals. Tickets are $20 and you’ll want to buy yours online ASAP – go here and choose “Modern Times” at the bottom of the page. (There’s also a $100 VIP opportunity, to meet and talk with Brock and Beck at 5:30 pm.)