Strony Performs Original “Hunchback” music on unique, Specially Designed Organ

"The Hunchback of Notre Dame" screens with live music at 4pm Sunday, Oct. 14, at PEACE Lutheran Church in Grass Valley.

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” screens with live music at 4pm Sunday, Oct. 14, at PEACE Lutheran Church in Grass Valley.

Nationally recognized organist Walt Strony performs live music to accompany “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” the 1923 silent film starring Lon Chaney, at 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14, in Grass Valley.

Silent Movies with Walt Strony presents “Hunchback” for FREE at Peace Lutheran Church, 828 W. Main St., near downtown. A free wine-and-cheese reception follows. Both events are produced by Arts @ PEACE. This program offers high-quality entertainment to the community. Peace is raising money to buy a new organ for the church sanctuary. Any donations will be accepted gratefully.

Strony will perform original compositions as part of the score he has assembled to evoke the action and emotions viewers see on the screen. One original work is the theme Strony plays when Quasimodo makes his appearance ringing church bells. “I couldn’t think of anything already written that would work for this, so I wrote my own,” he explained.

Strony’s score also features French, Romantic-era composers. These include Camille Saint-Saëns and Cesar Franck. “Since the action of the movie takes place at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, I like to use music of French composers that would portray the spirit of the time,” Strony said.

And, “since the film is set in 1482, I’ll also include much earlier music that sets the tone for the era,” he added

In addition, Strony will perform on his own, personal instrument. “I designed this organ for the Allen Organ Co.” Strony said. “It’s the only one in California of its type.” This performance offers a taste of the sound that could be produced in the Peace sanctuary with a modern digital-pipe instrument.

Strony’s goal: To recreate the experience of watching silent movies the way they were originally intended.

About “Hunchback” – The film and actors

Lon Chaney stars in "Hunchback" as the suffering and heroic Quasimodo.

Lon Chaney stars in “Hunchback” as the suffering and heroic Quasimodo. 4pm Sunday, Oct. 14, at PEACE Lutheran Church

The 1923 film, shot at Carl Laemmle’s Universal Studios in Hollywood, is based on Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel of the same name. The story relates the suffering, hope and heroism of the deformed Quasimodo, who rings the great bells of Notre Dame Cathedral in 15th-century Paris. He falls in love with the kind and free-spirited Esmeralda.

A three-way competition for Esmeralda’s affection unfolds against the backdrop of a beggar army, an evil cathedral manager, his saintly brother, a dashing captain, a festive ball and an attack on the cathedral.

By the time “Hunchback” was released, Leonidas Frank “Lon” Chaney had worked in more than 130 films since shifting from stage in 1914. He was 50, and he had established himself as a leading character actor in both acting arenas. Critics dubbed him “The Man of a Thousand Faces” for his elaborate make-up, which set new standards for film and helped shape the horror film genre.

Chaney held a special love for this film. He had acquired the rights to film “Hunchback” several years earlier. He had discussed shooting with a German company, according to film historian John T. Soister. Instead, Universal’s “boy wonder,” producer Irving Thalberg, moved forward with the film. Thalberg wanted to surpass the artistic standards of previous studio creations, according to Soister.

Universal carpenters created elaborate sets to film scenes in the cathedral and surrounding streets. At the time, Motion Picture News reported the studio spent six months stitching costumes for 3,000 extras, needed in the street and attack scenes.

Chaney went on to star in “Phantom of the Opera” in 1925. Silent Movies with Walt Strony presented “Phantom” at Peace Lutheran Church last year.

About the Peace Organ Fund: “Real Pipes”

DONATE NOW to the PEACE Organ Fund!

So far, nearly $20,000 has been raised toward purchasing a new organ for Peace. A modern, combination, digital-pipe organ would be used by secular groups that perform in the sanctuary. It would also enhance our Sunday worship services.

Peace’s current organ is basically a 25-yewar-old computer, connected to a keyboard console on one side and speakers on the other. And like a 25-year-old computer, it has too little memory and too few options to easily accommodate its many uses.

Our biggest concern: Like an old computer, Peace’s organ could stop working at any time.

Meanwhile, digital organ technology has advanced tremendously. A new organ would take advantage of those advances, offering:

  • Better sound in our sanctuary
  • Greater variety in our worship music
  • Maintain Peace’s reputation for excellence in music
  • Take Peace’s tradition for inspiring music to new levels
The nationally acclaimed Walt Strony accompanies "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" at 4pm Sunday, Oct. 14.

The nationally acclaimed Walt Strony accompanies “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” at 4pm Sunday, Oct. 14.

New speakers would create stereo sound, offering a richer sound experience.

 Most exciting: This new organ could accommodate real pipes. Even the best digital sound misses some of the qualities of a pipe organ. Real pipes issue a “shushing” sound as stops open and close, and air moves through the valves.

Community groups using the Peace sanctuary for practices and performances could use this new organ. Groups include Music in the Mountains.

About Walt Strony