VACAVILLE — Visit the website for Vacaville Christian School’s The Radio Conservatory and you’ll find a clock counting down the days, hours and minutes to the screening of Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times.”
The wait actually began four years ago when Ralph Martin, who heads up the music program at the school, asked the Chaplin estate for permission to perform the soundtrack.
The request was politely declined, with a mention that the score, which will be played by the conservatory students, could be difficult for students.
“It’s a very fast score,” Martin said. “It’s tied to the action on the screen. Like a Looney Tunes cartoon, when the character moves, the music moves.”
The summer radio conservatory students took on playing the score to silent films seven years ago. Martin figured the program’s longevity played a big role in the Chaplin estate finally approving his annual request for “Modern Times.”
That, coupled with the fact that, in 2010, the students performed the score to Chaplin’s “City Lights.” Martin also said his students’ performance in November 2013 of the “Superman” score by Sammy Timberg helped.
Written for a 66-piece studio orchestra, “Modern Times” will be adapted for the smaller size of Martin’s group and feature some guest performers.
Martin watches the film and reads the score while conducting. The musicians have their backs to the movie.
“I have to be there a couple of measures ahead of the show,” he said of how fast the action and score are timed. He has to block out all distractions to keep focused.
The score also means double duty for musicians such as Tessa Moore, who plays the flute and picks up some of the notes for the violin.
She graduated from Vacaville Christian Schools a few months ago and has stayed close to be part of what she calls an incredible opportunity.
“How often do you get to play the score to a silent film when you have just graduated high school?” she said, rhetorically.
She’s headed off to California State University, Sacramento where she will minor in music. Moore has played in six of the seven silent film orchestras.
“I’m really proud of this project,” she said. “It’s hard and tough. I think we are going to pull it off.”
“Modern Times” will be Kaden Connelley’s first venture into the world of playing the score to a silent film. The trumpet player, who will enter fifth grade this year, earned a solo, as well.
“I’m learning some amazing things,” he said.
The musicians got a one-week break after school finished for the summer before rehearsals began. By the time the film airs, the students will have invested 107 hours of practicing.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.