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SFCM Students Headline at one of Last Historic Castro Theatre Performances

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As part of an ongoing partnership with the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, students performed the score for the silent film 'Vampyr' and received a standing ovation.

January 19, 2024 by Mark Taylor

The screen may have been silent, but the applause was thunderous for members of the SFCM Orchestra after they performed the original score for the 1932 silent movie Vampyr to a sold-out audience of 1,400 as part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. 

Castro theatre marquee.

Castro Theatre marquee.

Just under two dozen students performed at the historic Castro Theatre January 12 under the direction of maestro Timothy Brock. The performance was also notable as it was one of the last performances at the venue before it closes for remodeling for nearly a year and a half. The 100-year-old building is expected to begin a $20 million renovation in early 2024.

For students like Liam Cameron, it was the first time performing for such a large audience. "I'd never even seen a silent film before Vampyr, and to perform for all those people in such a historical venue was incredible. These kinds of experiences are unique to SFCM," Cameron said. Some SFCM alumni also filled out the full orchestra. 

Cameron is in his first year of study at SFCM under Woodwinds Chair Jeff Anderle. This performance brought some unique opportunities for the clarinet player in particular, "Vampyr has many clarinet solos, which was a lot of pressure! Leaning on and trusting in the training from my professors gave me the freedom to enjoy the moment," he added. 

SFCM students in the theatre.

The experience was especially memorable for violinist Kate Mayfield, "Cinematic music is the initial reason I chose to pursue music, I am always excited for any chance I get to play this genre!" she said. Mayfield also served as concertmaster for the event, and while she felt the added pressure to match music to film, she found it thrilling and rewarding, "This style of music requires some specific techniques, especially on violin, which Maestro Brock coached us through in rehearsals. I had some fun solos playing with these techniques - very old-timey and schmaltzy!" she added. 

Vampyr was only recently restored in 2021. It's part of an important era of film history, as the use of sound, editing, and cinematography is considered innovative and ahead of its time. Danish director Carl Dreyer had also directed the landmark The Passion of Joan of Arc, and, while Universal's much more popular Dracula came out a year prior, that film did not include a score. The performance is all part of an ongoing partnership with SFCM and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival where students get real-world experience, work with renowned conductors, and are compensated. 

SFCM students perform.

For Cameron, who had never seen a silent film before, the thrill of performing at such a large and historic venue was met with the exciting chance to tackle new kinds of music. "My biggest takeaway is that the act of wandering is what makes a musician well-rounded. Straying from traditional symphonic playing was refreshing and insightful!" he said.