Paul Lewis Composer

Film, Television and Concert Composer.

Silent Movies

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My half-Russian violinist mother Phyllis Burstein, my Uncle Sam and Aunts Queen and Gladys left school in their teens to play in silent movie picture-houses in 1920s London. I grew up hearing tales of these extraordinary times and have been delighted to take the family full circle by composing new scores for some wonderful vintage silents and performing them live with picture in the old-fashioned way. 

"Phyllis and her siblings left school at fourteen or fifteen, the musicians among them finding immediate employment in the local picture-houses – they weren’t called cinemas then – which all needed pianists and small bands to accompany the silent movies. Queen went on to become Musical Director for two picture-houses in Earlswood and Tooting, scouring publishing houses for suitable sheet music and compiling playlists for the ever-changing programmes.
Phyllis was fourteen when she got her first job. She arrived for work and was told to play the violin solo in the big love scene. I think it may have been the first time she had ever been into a picture-house. Certainly by the time the love scene came she was so mesmerized by the whole thing that she stood gazing at the screen, her arms hanging down beside her, violin in one hand, bow in the other, and forgot to play a single note. In the interval a heavy hand fell upon her shoulder; it was the manager and she was marched outside and given the sack on the spot!
Uncle Sam used to tell me about a conductor he played under. They were to accompany a comedy and the conductor told the drummer to wait for cues for percussion effects whenever there was comic business onscreen. The film began, the conductor facing the musicians and screen, the musicians with their backs to the screen, facing the conductor in the usual way. Unfortunately the conductor had a stammer. A little way into the film he said: “Dr-dr-dr-dr-dr-dr----too late” waving angrily at the drummer. A few minutes passed and the same thing happened again: “Dr-dr-dr-dr-dr-dr----TOO LATE!” And again….and again….and again, and not once was the drummer able to play a comic effect during the whole film!"

(Extract from "Notes from the Golden Age of British TV - Memoirs of a Media Composer", my anecdotal autobiography, a work in progress, as yet unfinished for lack of time!)

Copyright Paul Lewis © 2010. All Rights Reserved.
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