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Access Chicago

Lake Forest Moving Picture Orchestra Premieres Chicago-based Silent Film

A musical score by Professor of Music Don Meyer to accompany Max Wants a Divorce—Live at Lake Forest College, February 6 at 7 p.m.

As part of the Lake Forest College’s Digital Chicago: Unearthing History and Culture grant, Chicago Fellow and Professor of Music Don Meyer will premiere a new score for the 1916 silent film Max Wants a Divorce, featuring film star Max Linder and produced by turn-of-the-century Chicago-based Essanay Studios. 

Meyer’s newly formed Lake Forest Moving Picture Orchestra will play live during three upcoming screenings of the humorous Max Wants a Divorce, recapturing a lost age when movies played with live music. The orchestra—composed of College students, faculty, and staff, along with local musicians from the wider community—is actively rehearsing for a series of performances to re-introduce this work from early cinematic history.

Max Wants a Divorce will make its featured debut at Lake Forest College during the spring Family Weekend, on February 6 at 7 pm in the Lily Reid Holt Memorial Chapel (following a performance on January 30 at 7 p.m. at Lake Forest Place).

The excitement continues when the orchestra brings the show to Chicago on May 17, for a Chicago History Museum member’s event. The performance and screening will feature talks by Meyer and Chicago History Museum curator and Essanay Studios expert Olivia Mahoney. Mahoney will share artifacts from the museum’s Essanay collection.

For Max Wants a Divorce, Meyer compiled a score using photoplay music common to the silent film era. Photoplay music uses short musical themes to portray different film moods (such as “mysterious,” “romantic,” “comic,” etc.).

Accordingly, Meyer developed this score as part of his work as a Chicago Fellow in 2015 for Lake Forest College’s Digital Chicago, grant funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Lake Forest College student Sydnie Bivens ’17 assisted Meyer, identifying this film that had been lost for decades, as well as researching photoplay music in the Balaban and Katz Collection at the Harold Washington Library Archives.

In addition to the live performances, the chamber orchestra will also record its score. The film and score will be available later this year through Digital Chicago’s forthcoming website.

Meyer, former chair of the Lake Forest College Department of Music, continues his work for Digital Chicago in 2016 by recreating music from 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

Digital Chicago: Unearthing History and Culture is an $800,000, four-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to involve students and faculty in exploring specific sites in Chicago’s history, through urban archeological digs, digital humanities projects, and coursework in a wide array of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences.