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Charles Chaplin, left-handed cellist, in 1915

Charles Chaplin, a left-handed cellist, in 1915

Blending the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and the films of Charlie Chaplin seemed like a good idea until Thomas Wesley Douglas started working on it. “There were just so many times I said to myself, ‘What in the world are you doing?’” says Douglas, artistic director of the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh. The choir will present a program on 6 and 7 April called “Time Zones” that will use the music of Bach to provide a soundtrack of sorts to one full-length film and four shorts by Chaplin.

Not only is the melding of Bach and Chaplin odd, but so is the manner of the concert. It will be presented in Allegheny Academy on the North Side, but not in a usual concert shape. The intermission not only will divide the show but will provide the time for audience members to switch rooms to see the other half. Douglas and assistant conductor Jon Erik Schreiber each will conduct the different halves of the performance each night. Douglas says the site-swapping is simply an “experiment” in production, allowing the sections to take place in smaller settings and creating “the feeling of a circus, where there’s something going on elsewhere.”

Trimming the Bach pieces so they firmly fit in the Chaplin films is the toughest part of planning the show, Douglas says. Of course, it was not easy selecting the films, either, Douglas says. He watched about thirty films, trying to keep in mind Bach’s music and come up with combinations that worked.

The full-length film will be A Dog’s Life, while the four shorts will be from The Pawnshop, Modern Times, The Kid and City Lights. Each half will be about thirty-five minutes long. The music will be from the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), the St. John Passion (BWV 245), the Magnificat in D Major (BWV 243), the Mass in B minor (BWV 232), Orchestral Suite no. 3 in D Major (BWV 1068), Suite no. 3 in B minor (BWV 814), Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis (BWV 21), Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (BWV 140), and the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244).

Douglas says he was prompted to combine the works of two seemingly dissimilar souls when he once heard a person mention Bach and comedy in a conversation. He says he allowed his stream of consciousness to run with the idea and came up with this show. “But it fits so well together because both men had so many resources in what they did,” he says.

Schreiber agrees, adding that in some ways their works fit well, because they are both telling stories indirectly: Chaplin without words and Bach with music. “Chaplin works in some ways resemble Bach’s in the ways they are put together so well,” he says. “It is remarkable how well he expresses himself without words.”

Bob KarlovitsPittsburgh Tribune-Review

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