Organ accompaniment to Buster Keaton's silent film Steamboat Bill Jnr
Having the projector and screen in the sanctuary gave the music society an ideal opportunity to invite the well known concert organist Donald Mackenzie on the 9th. September, to exercise his renowned abilities as an accompanist for silent films.
This was certainly a novel idea and one which caused some anxiety as to its popularity and the suitability of using the sanctuary as a suitable venue for such a project. However, the venture went ahead and the film "Steamboat Bill Jnr" written in 1928, was chosen featuring the inimitable Buster Keaton. This turned out to be fifty minutes of rollicking fun about two rival enterprises, one wealthy and one poor, in the pleasure boat industry. As usual with such a film, there was the romance with many " watery ups and downs" between the son of Stonewall Jackson, the owner of the dilapidated vessel, and the daughter of the wealthy Mr King who apart from owning the posh boat, seemed to own most of the town as well ! Needless to say, it all comes out in the wash, so to speak, and Buster Keaton, the poor man`s son gets the girl and ends up owning the pleasure boat business, having vanquished Mr King.
Before the film started, Donald Mackenzie played a rousing variety of tunes from 1927 including a selection from the current big hit at the time "Showboat", and this set the atmosphere splendidly for what was to follow. The ability to synchronise a suitable and appropriate non stop accompaniment with absolute accuracy throughout the film, including several instances where rapid hand movements and other gesticulations were faithfully followed, must have required immense concentration and musical acumen. Moreover, Donald, in the absence of a monitor, needed to use two mirrors in order to watch the screen from the organ bench !!
Unsurprisingly at the end of such a "tour de force" the organist was perspiring visibly and fully deserved the tremendous applause from the delighted audience many of whom were newcomers to this somewhat unusual item at the start of the society`s new season.
Finally our thanks go to Emma who played a large part in the success of this experiment in manning the sound and vision controls without which the evening would not have been possible.
Donald MacKenzie was born in 1970 in Ayrshire (Scotland), and after learning to play the piano and classical organ with renowned Scottish organist Gordon Frier, he received his first engagement in 1988 as the resident organist to the Glasgow Garden Festival. In 1991 Donald was the winner of the Senior Young Theatre Organist of the Year in the A.T.O.S. International Competition and this won him a trip to San Francisco to play at their Convention.
In July 1992 Donald began his long association with the Odeon Leicester Square Compton organ, by playing it for a number of events including a preview of 'Beauty and the Beast' and 'Chaplin'. In November 1993 he was engaged to play the organ for 5 weeks before each performance of the film, 'Aladdin'. He was then appointed House Organist and has appeared regularly at film premières, special events and organ concerts. He has broadcast from the Odeon on BBC Radios 2, 3, 4 and the World Service. He has been featured on a number of television programmes and Donald has played for numerous Royal Film Performances, including four in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen.
Donald is one of the regularly featured artists for the Bournemouth Pavilion Compton Organ Concert Series and a featured artist during the past three years at the Wolverhampton International Organ Festival. 2006 has also marked his third concert at the Albert Hall Nottingham. In 2005 and 2006 Donald gave concerts at the International Johann Strauss Festival held in Bucharest. Both his concerts from the famous Atheneum Philharmonic Concert Hall, were televised. In 2005 Donald was privileged to be asked to open the newly installed Compton organ at Movieland in Newtonards near Belfast. In July 2006 Donald made his debut at the world famous Spreckels Organ housed in the magnificent surroundings of Balboa Park in San Diego.
When he is not playing for concerts Donald specialises in the accompaniment of Silent Films - he accompanied his first film when he was 14 for a special evening screening at Paisley Town Hall. He has now more than twenty feature films 'under his fingers' including the major classics of the silent screen - The Phantom of the Opera, Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, King of Kings, Carmen, The Black Pirate, Metropolis - as well as many different types of short silent films. His now renowned accompaniments have led to numerous bookings throughout the UK (including the Victoria Hall Hanley, Bournemouth Pavilion, in at Wolverhampton City Hall and the Lighthouse Media Centre, in London at the Odeon Leicester Square, Alexandra Palace and St Martin in the Fields, Somerton Arts Festival, in Tywyn at the Neu Pendre Hall), Ireland (in Belfast at St Annes Cathedral and Clonard Monastery), Germany (Weikersheim), USA (Boston University, Rivieria Theatre in Tonawanda), Holland (Scheidam Theatre) and most recently Poland. One of his most treasured memories was playing for the film 'Nosferatu' at the Usher Hall Edinburgh in October 2005 to a very enthusiastic full house. In December 2005 Donald appeared at the Odeon on an ITV programme, demonstrating the art of silent film accompaniment.
His overseas concert appearances have included - in Poland at the Bielsko Biala Bach Festival, in Philadephia (USA) at the Wanamaker Store and Girard College, in Holland for the Nederlands Orgel Federation and several times in Germany playing the Moller organ in the music hall of the world famous organ building firm of August Laukhuff. At this venue he has also played for silent film evenings as part of the Hohenloher Cultural Summer Festival.
Donald has a degree in music from the University of London. He also has an interest in Steam Trains, Tram Cars, and enjoys going to orchestral concerts and the opera.