Ambitious music projects are like catnip for Brian McWhorter. His latest, an assembled score with Beta Collide for the upcoming UO screening of the 1929 silent film Ed’s Coed, is no exception. “Seventy-four minutes of music. It’s wall-to-wall music because there’s no silence,” says McWhorter, the co-director of Beta Collide and UO associate professor of Trumpet. “It’s a tremendous amount of material — I like big challenges like that.”
This is not McWhorter’s first time on the silent film merry-go-round. While a student at the UO, McWhorter wrote a score for Fritz Lang’s 1927 Metropolis and partook in the After Quartet, a student group that regularly accompanied silent films. As a musician in New York, McWhorter joined the Paradigm Ragtime Orchestra, which exclusively performed with silent movies.
The assembled score for Ed’s Coed, the first full-length film in the nation produced entirely by students, will mix century-old songs with McWhorter’s own original compositions. Before he could line up an hour and a half of music, however, he had to do some digging. “There is this great digital historic music collection at the library,” he says. “They have Oregon-centric songs there from as early as 1904.”
And McWhorter dug up some gems. In addition to the Oregon classic, “The Frozen Logger” (For no one but a logger stirs his coffee with his thumb), the live music will include “When I was Young and Foolish” (for the main character, Ed’s, theme), “In the Moonlight with the Girl You Love” (There’s something in the moon-beams, dancing through the trees. Make her think of kisses, stirs her soul just like a breeze) and “She’s Sleeping ‘Neath Oregon’s Tall Pines” (The twilight’s fading fast, I am thinking of the past, of a homestead ‘mong the tall pines far away). Beta Collide may also perform “Mighty Oregon” with a new twist.
In preparation for the upcoming performance, McWhorter watched Ed’s Coed over 50 times. The film, about a naive young man — Ed — who leaves an Oregon timber mill to attend the University of Oregon, has left the composer tickled. There’s the student “traditions” (including spanking), the songs everyone on campus knew and, McWhorter points outs, there are some sneaky cameos by former UO track coach Bill Hayward and former Dean John Straub. “You would think the first feature film done by students would be a hack job,” he says. “This does not seem like a student film. I’ve seen a lot of silent films and this is remarkable in its quality.”
McWhorter, on cornet, will be joined by Beta Collide’s Lisa McWhorter on violin, Michael Ward-Bergeman on accordion, Kyle Sanna on guitar, Tyler Abbott on bass and Aaron Trant on drums.
Beta Collide play 7 pm Friday, Oct. 12, and Saturday, Oct. 13, at 180 Prince Lucien Campbell Hall, UO; free.