Theatre Organist: Ben Model

Ben Model

Ben Model is one of the leading silent film composer/accompanists working in the U.S. today, and has been creating and performing musical scores for silent movies for 30 years. He plays piano, theatre organ, and has written orchestral scores as well. Model has been a resident silent film accompanist at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC for nearly a quarter of a century. Model composes all his own scores, and performs in a style that is both evocative of the silent era and also aware of a contemporary (and younger) audience's awareness of music and expectations of film scoring.

When Model was growing up, his love for silent film comedy was fostered by drama critic Walter Kerr (author of the landmark book “The Silent Clowns”). Kerr showed Model silent comedies from his extensive film collection for many years.  Model started playing piano for silents for classes taught by renowned film historian William K. Everson while attending NYU's film school, scoring films for 3 classes a week.  While playing for these classes, he sought out and learned silent film accompaniment technique from legendary silent film organist Lee Erwin, who had been playing for films since the 1920s.  Erwin became a mentor and friend who passed on his knowledge to Model, who began playing for silents at MoMA upon graduating from NYU.

In 2006 he co-curated MoMA’s Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle retrospective.  In the last few years, Model has had orchestral scores commissioned by the Boise Philharmonic and the New York Ragtime Orchestra, for the Chaplin films "The Adventurer" and "The Immigrant" and Buster Keaton’s "Cops" and "One Week".  In 1998, he was invited to perform at the 17th Annual International Festival of Silent Film in Pordenone, Italy. He continues to play at classic film venues around New York City, such as the Film Forum and the Museum of the Moving Image, as well as a variety of museums, schools and theaters all over the Northeastern U.S.

Model and film historian/archivist Bruce Lawton launched the Silent Clowns Film Series in Manhattan in 1997.  The series’ popularity has led to other silent film shows, series and school programs, introducing the silent film experience to hundreds and hundreds of young people.

Model has also produced and directed comedy films, including the critically acclaimed indie feature "The Puerto Rican Mambo (Not a Musical)" (which got a "Two Thumbs Up" review from Siskel & Ebert), and has written and performed original sketch and stand-up comedy.

Model often says of his work as a silent film accompanist that, for a field that’s been dead more than 80 years, he’s doing pretty well.

See his website at www.silentfilmmusic.com