Gannon University’s Erie Chamber Orchestra Releases “Sounds of the Silents”

Posted: October 14, 2014

Is Cleveland the birthplace of the music you hear marching, crashing and whispering along behind the mayhem and spectacle of your children's computer games or the latest Hollywood blockbuster?

It's a question that might be answered by "Sounds of the Silents," the new recording of music by Cleveland-born John Stepan Zamecnik by members of the Erie Chamber Orchestra.

The CD, the first by the orchestra, will be released in conjunction with a concert on the orchestra's new Joe Luckey Recital Series to be given on Oct. 13.

If Zamecnik's name is not familiar to you, it's not very familiar to many musicians and scholars, either. Still, 100 years ago, his music might have been as ubiquitous as that of any composer in America.

At a time when dramatic music was played live by theater orchestras, Zamecnik had a gold- plated gig as music director of Cleveland's Hippodrome, which boasted more than 3,500 seats and the world's second-largest stage.

To fill it, Zamecnik wrote big music: rousing marches, chatty character pieces and weeping melodies that caught the interest of the nascent motion picture industry. Zamecnik cranked out hundreds of these pieces for Hollywood and became one of America's most successful composers of so-called "photoplay music."

And ironically, he is one of the most anonymous. Case Western Reserve University Zamecnik scholar Daniel Goldmark identifies most of the music for "Wings," the winner of the first "Best Picture" Oscar in 1927, as Zamecnik's, though he was not credited. When talking pictures changed the function and the centrality of movie music, Zamecnik was quickly forgotten.

Then, in a discovery worthy of "Tomb Raider's" Lara Croft, Erie Chamber Orchestra executive director Steve Weiser discovered complete parts for Zamecnik's music in the collection of the orchestra's founder Bruce Morton Wright. It was the largest collection of the composer's work to have come to light.

The ECO played a few of the pieces at various short concerts, and then, as Weiser said, "The more we played the music, the more we knew we needed to record it because audience loved it--and that there were no recordings of it. We had 14 pieces that had never been recorded before."

The Orchestra used Kickstarter, a crowdfunding website, to raise $5,000. Recording sessions were held in Gannon University's Yehl Room over Memorial Day weekend engineered by Gannon's own Sam Hyman. "We did a seven tracks the first day, seven the next. [Music director] Matt Kraemer conducted and it was a blast," Weiser said.

"Sounds of the Silents" is available on iTunes, Amazon.com and the Erie Chamber Orchestra webpage on gannon.edu.