Music, Architecture and Cops N’ Robbers in Downtown LA

This past Sunday afternoon my family and I attended a fantastic program put on by The Da Camera Society of Mount St. Mary’s College. Billed as the Civic Center Festival, this one day event featured a walking tour of downtown highlighted by three showcase performances, the screening of silent film classics with live music accompaniment by the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, and a post-concert reception.

The afternoon was structured so that people could choose which festival events they wanted to attend. Although we were not able to participate in the well-documented, self-guided walking tour, I spoke to some of those who did and the feedback was all positive. Ticket holders were able to visit up to four different venues, three of which hosted performances by local musicians. The objective behind this part of the day was simple: enable people to experience important civic settings filled with music. I love the idea and was greatly impressed with the written materials that were provided by The Da Camera Society. They imparted valuable background information that placed the buildings within a historic context.

The tour included the following stops, with performances staggered throughout the afternoon:

  1. The New Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Administration Building, featuring the LAPD Dixieland Band.
  2. Cal Trans District 7 Headquarters, featuring the Colburn Band (from the nearby Colburn School of Music).
  3. The Los Angeles City Hall & Rotunda, featuring the Colburn Virtuosos String Ensemble.
  4. The Los Angeles Times Building. While no music was performed at this site, visitors were encouraged to stop by and look at the historic photo display found in the main lobby. 

For my family, the highlight of the afternoon was the film screening and associated musical performance featuring the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra (PRO). Since the theme of this program was Cops N’ Robbers, the Ronald Deaton Civic Auditorium at the LAPD’s new headquarters building aptly served as the venue for this event. In addition, the Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton films featured hilarious cops and robbers antics and the post-concert reception consisted of donuts and coffee – very clever don’t you think?

The program consisted of the following films and musical accompaniment:

  1.  “The Adventurer” (1917)
    Starring and directed by Charlie Chaplin
    Original 1917 orchestral setting compiled by Bailey F. Alart (d. 1939)
  2.  “The High Sign” (1921)
    Starring Buster Keaton, directed by Eddie Cline and Buster Keaton
    Original 1921 musical setting compiled by James C. Bradford (1885-1941)
  3.  “Cops” (1922)
    Starring Buster Keaton
    Directed by Eddie Cline and Buster Keaton
    Original 1922 musical setting compiled by Samual M. Berg (b. circa 1870)

Given how much my two boys, ages 8 and 11, loved this program, it’s too bad there were so few young people in the audience to experience this unique event. They cracked up at the slapstick humor and funny plots and truly seemed to enjoy the wonderful music and fantastic sound effects (dog barks, gun shots, crying baby, etc.) emanating from the orchestra pit.

Speaking of music, I was very impressed by the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, which is billed as “the world’s only year-round, professional ensemble specializing in the authentic recreation of “America’s Original Music” – the sounds of early musical theater, “silent” cinema and vintage ballroom dancing.” My toes were tapping throughout the program.

All in all, my family had a great time downtown and really enjoyed this event. I tip my hat to the Da Camera Society for planning The Civic Center Festival and hope they will bring it back again next year.