Old music creates new possibilities

A new discovery has led to a great opportunity for the Erie Chamber Orchestra.

Steve Weiser, the general manager of the chamber orchestra, said he found a plethora of music from the silent film era in the closets of Gannon’s music room.

He said the compositions he found in these closets are very unique and uncommonly found.

He said he found thousands of copies of music were donated over the course of a few years.

The collection included full orchestral arrangements, as well as small ensemble pieces and piano solos.

“I’m pretty sure people just forgot it was there, but that may have been its saving grace because it kept the music perfectly preserved for years,” Weiser said.

Weiser said he would guess that the music had been stored away from somewhere between 10 and 15 years.

The music dates back somewhere between the 1900-1920s era.

Weiser said he recognized the pieces as silent film music almost immediately because the first book he pulled out had a note that read “Sam Fox Photoplay Edition.”

He said most of the music in the collection he found was made by the composer J. S. Zamecnik.

Weiser said although Zamecnik was mostly not credited for his work, he discovered that a lot of this music was used in old films and cartoons such as, “Wings,” “Abie’s Irish Rose,” “The Wedding March,” “Redskin,” “Scarlet Seas,” “One Stolen Night,” “The Blow Out,” “Buddy’s Bug Hunt” and “Buddy of the Legion.”

“Most importantly, these copies of the Zamecnik’s music are most likely the only ones left in existence,” Weiser said.

Weiser said he looked through some of Bruce Morton Wright’s files that show he was aware that Gannon had the music, but he doesn’t think that the compositions’ historical significance was known at the time.

Weiser said he would like to catalogue all of these pieces, which will probably be an ongoing, time-consuming process.

In the meantime, he said the Erie Chamber Orchestra has launched a recording project to make an album of the Zamecnik compositions that they’ve found.

The album will be released locally and online via iTunes in the fall, Weiser said.

It will have 14 songs on it that have to this date never been recorded.

Weiser said the chamber orchestra was able to get the funds for the project through kickstarter.com.

“Before the Kickstarter, we had been thinking about ways to feature the ECO on a special recording of some type, and this discovery gave us the perfect opportunity,” Weiser said.

Weiser said the album will be recorded in Gannon’s Yehl Ballroom and the mastering of the music will be done at the university as well.

“This will be the first professional recorded album from Gannon University available on the iTunes store,” Weiser said.  “It will create instant international exposure for the university.”

Weiser said this kind of music is unique to Gannon and to Erie.

Musical scholars and historians will have an increased interest in this collection, which will draw their attention to the music scene in Erie and at Gannon.

“This is literally a once-in-a-lifetime discovery,” Weiser said. “This piece of musical history is something that Erie and Gannon should be proud of.”



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