Organist Clark Wilson brings sound to “Safety Last!”
Clark Wilson is one of the most prominent and recognized scorers of silent photoplays in America today. He works exclusively with the Organ in developing accurate and historic musical accompaniments as they were performed in major picture palaces during the heyday of the silent film.
Clark was personally influenced by, and subsequently became close friends with Chicago area organist John Muri, who was an original master of picture accompaniment and practiced his art well into the 1980s. His (and Wilson’s) historic style was that of utilizing fine music as a basis for developing a score of musical value. If the original score is no longer extant, a new one is prepared from the organist’s library and is normally transferred to a cue sheet – somewhat of a “road map” of suggested themes and notated screen actions which keep the organist fully on course. The development of themes in serious pictures is obtained exclusively in this way, and it must be considered the truest way to properly underscore screen action. Nothing is left to chance and wholesale improvisation is not relied upon. Further, the musical style of the time remains intact; no attempt is made to distract from the picture by using themes or styles that entered the musical scene years later. Most important of all, the film remains the focus and star of the performance.
Wilson began his scoring career in 1980 and has successfully toured North America with hundreds of film presentations at schools and universities, performing arts centers, theaters, film festivals, and conventions. His work has led to performances for UCLA, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, where, in addition to other pictures, he has re-premiered “Wings” for Paramount Studios’ 100th Anniversary, the Chautauqua Institution, Cinequest and San Francisco film festivals, the Los Angeles Conservancy, the Packard Foundation’s Stanford Theatre film series, the Atlanta premier of the restored “Metropolis”, and annual presentations at the Atlanta Fox Theatre and for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Society at the Walt Disney Concert Hall organ. He is the organist of choice for many of the American Theatre Organ Society’s international convention silent film presentations, and he has scored pictures for Kino International for public DVD release. His performances have received the highest marks from colleagues and professionals, one commenting that his was “the finest use of a theatre pipe organ that I have ever heard”.
Safety Last! with Clark Wilson on the Mighty Wurlitzer / January 27
Clark has been organ conservator and Resident Organist at the Ohio Theatre for the Columbus Associate for the Performing Arts since 1992 and is responsible for all music during the annual classic movie series, which also features one or more major silent films each season. In addition, he has led courses in theatre organ styling and silent film accompaniment at the Indiana University School of Music. He has now developed curriculum and has been appointed to the organ faculty at the University of Oklahoma’s Organ Department, where he teaches applied theatre organ lessons, silent film scoring, and the history of the American theatre organ, the first such program to exist since 1929. In addition to several articles published in Theatre Organ magazine, he has recently authored an article on film scoring for The American Organist magazine, periodical of the American Guild of Organists.
Wilson has been named in numerous Who’s Who and Men of Achievement editions and was presented with the ATOS Organist of the Year award in 1998. An acclaimed organ technician and consultant, he has also been professionally involved with over 200 pipe organ installations to date and has earned the ATOS Technician of Merit award, the only person to receive both ATOS distinctions.