Fifty years after he gave his first live organ performance accompanying the silent film “The Phantom of the Opera,” Indiana University alumnus Dennis James will re-create that inaugural show, which he performed as a sophomore, on the Bloomington campus.
A graduate of the IU Jacobs School of Music, James performed his first organ accompaniment to a silent film in 1969. That was during the height of the Vietnam War protest era, leading James to believe there was a need for comic relief on campus. He felt a Halloween-themed performance was his opportunity to improve student sentiments.
“I developed a rather clever campaign that included posting the phrase ‘The Phantom is coming!’ all over campus,” he said. “We’d sold only some 40 tickets in advance and were prepared for an abject failure – however, to my great surprise, over 4,000 people turned up.”
Following that debut, James has performed in various sites around the world in the weeks surrounding Halloween every season since. He’s also continued his involvement at IU, performing concerts, recitals, guest lectures, workshops and promotional events throughout the years.
“My programs give an opportunity to historical arts enthusiasts and cultural preservationists alike to experience fully realized and critically acclaimed historically accurate accompaniments to silent films, focusing on the original period-release music actually written for silent films when they were first circulated,” he said.
James has worked as a performing musician and a historic preservationist within the international revival of silent films with live music. He also specializes in the theatrical traditions of organ performance and has toured across the world performing piano solos and theater organ for silent films, as well as with chamber ensembles and full symphony orchestras.
“To experience live movies the way they were meant to be … as performed in a large communal setting with the film image exactly as seen now, and heard with original musical accompaniment performed with a thorough and fully realized respect for the past and with full confidence of serving the presentation desires of the filmmakers themselves,” James said. “If one loves movies as do most moviegoers today, seeing and hearing them as they were originally intended to be experienced simply should not be missed.”
Today, James spends his time rehearsing, arranging, transcribing, composing and preparing for up to 200 performances a year. He tours across continents to share his passion for music and silent film across the world and performs one of the most comprehensive selections of authentic silent films with live music presentations available today.
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To celebrate the 50th anniversary of his debut performance, James will host his annual show on the IU Bloomington campus alongside Hayden Danesha, a conductor working at the Rock Hill Symphony Orchestra in South Carolina.
Danesha will conduct a student orchestra that will supplement James’ re-creation of the solo organ performance he gave during his sophomore year at IU, accompanying the 1925 silent horror film “The Phantom of the Opera.”
During their visit to IU, James and Danesha will lead a private lunch panel on Oct. 26 to discuss their careers in music.
The evening silent film event is family-friendly and is open to all members of the Bloomington community. Tickets for “Dennis James Hosts Halloween” can be purchased on the IU Auditorium website while seats are available.