You might not just have had a few too many if you happen to spot Tinkerbell fluttering around the Aeronaut Brewing Co.’s taproom this Sunday afternoon. The Somerville beer-meisters are hosting a special screening of 1924’s silent “Peter Pan” adaptation, with New Hampshire-based accompanist Jeff Rapsis providing a live musical score.
Anyone who’s been to the Somerville Theatre’s monthly Silents Please series has seen the formidable sight of Rapsis in action, playing his heart out along to the images on an 88-key synthesizer, conjuring a massive orchestral sound.
“I sometimes tell people what I do is the musical equivalent of candle-making or bottle-blowing,” he explains. “In terms of pop culture, it’s kind of a Sturbridge Village thing.”
But it’s not like there was sheet music for each film passed down to study over the generations. In the early days, musical scores were left to the discretion of the exhibitors. So Rapsis does what organists did at theaters way back in the 1920s: He improvises.
“The selection of specific textures is very much instinctual, done on the fly as the movie is playing. Each film screening has its own vibe — it’s not just the film, but also the acoustics of the venue, the energy level of the audience and even what I had for dinner that night.”
Just don’t go in expecting the plinkety-plink piano so often associated with silent films. “My method is to try to create movie music that reflects all the experience we’ve had in film scoring in the past century. It’s not authentic 1920s music, but reflects our exposure to everyone from Bernard Herrmann to Danny Elfman. I think that helps an audience today connect with a film from another era.”
Rapsis averages about 100 performances a year, and remains optimistic about audiences coming together to enjoy old movies even if it may seem unfashionable in this stay-at-home digital age. “Remember, these films were made when the only place to see them was in a theater, usually with a lot of other people,” he notes. “And that’s a very different experience than watching a film on your home entertainment center with just you and your dog.
“To really understand why people first fell in love with the movies, you need to put Humpty Dumpty back together again and recreate the whole experience: the big screen, the live music, and, most importantly, the shared experience of the audience.”
If you go:
April 2, 7 p.m.
Aeronaut Brewing Co.
14 Tyler St., Somerville