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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: October 28, 2015

Silent horror! (With organ accompaniment!) ‘Nosferatu’ at Merrill Auditorium Friday

Written by: Bob Keyes
Courtesy of Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ: The Kotzschmar Organ, Portland City Hall Auditorium.

Courtesy of Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ: The Kotzschmar Organ, Portland City Hall Auditorium.

There are few places Tom Trenney would rather be for Halloween than Portland. Specifically, at Merrill Auditorium on the bench of the Kotzschmar Organ.

Trenney, an organist who performs around the country, makes his return to Merrill on Friday, accompanying the early 1920s silent firm “Nosferatu” on the mighty Kotzschmar. He’s performed on the Kotzschmar a half-dozen times.

Particularly since the organ was rebuilt a year ago, it lends itself to creating moods and mysteries.

“I think the word that comes to mind is creepy,” Trenney said in a phone interview. “This is not a film where you need bird calls or horns or train whistles. You need shades of color, and the Kotzschmar offers that. Since the renovation (of the organ), all of the sounds just want to fit together so much better. Before, the recipe didn’t add up the way you wanted it to sometimes. Now it’s happy and smooth. It’s always been colorful, but now the colors are enhancing one another.”

Several of the 6,862 pipes that make up the Kotzschmar Organ at Merrill Auditorium. Derek Davis/Press Herald file photo

Several of the 6,862 pipes that make up the Kotzschmar Organ at Merrill Auditorium. Derek Davis/Press Herald file photo

“Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror” is nearly 100 years old. The German filmmaker F. W. Murnau made the film in 1921 as an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” Murnau changed details of the film to distinguish it from “Dracula,” but for naught. A court ordered the film destroyed. A few copies survived, and it has become an important and influential film.

It tells the story of Count Orlok, who inspires fear in visitors to his Transylvanian castle. Trenney has accompanied the film a few times. He enjoys playing along with silent films, because of the unknown. He knows where the film is going, but not his music.

“As a performer, the interesting thing is to try to create music that will help channel the energy of the film and hopefully not take people’s attention from the film but draw them deeply into it,” he said.

Kathleen Grammer, executive director of the Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ, said the Halloween movie is among the most popular of all the Kotzschmar programs. People get dressed up in costumes, and the evening lends itself to mirth and drama. “I just think it’s a great tradition and a great way to celebrate Halloween in a different way. It’s unique, and it’s a perfect venue and instrument, and an opportunity to bring people in and hear the organ for the first time,” she said.

It’s not a hard sell, she added.

“There is a mystique and aura about a huge pipe organ and the sounds it can make,” she said.

Tom Trenney guest organist of the Kotzschmar organ.

Tom Trenney guest organist of the Kotzschmar organ.

The Friends of the Kotzschmar organ decorate the lobby, and fill it with goodies for adults and children. A masquerade begins 90 minutes before the movie, at 6 p.m. At 6:30 p.m., there’s a costume contest on the Merrill stage.

Often, more adults are dressed up in costumes than kids.

“It’s a time when people can come together in an atmosphere of fun and be children, and dress up and have a great time,” Grammer said. “We always tell our silent film audience, it’s OK to react to the film. You don’t have to be quiet. You can boo. You can hiss. You can applaud the protagonist.”

The reaction from the audience propels the performer. That’s the part that Trenney likes, and also why he likes coming back to Portland and the Kotzschmar. Audiences here get it, he said. They make it fun.

He borrows themes and progressions from music he knows, but his playing is entirely improvised. It comes out different each time he plays along.

“One of the things that always changes is reaction of the audience. That can change the pacing of what ends up coming to me. You end up living in the moment. We all become part of the process of creating the experience together. That’s kind of a vulnerable thing, but also exhilarating.”


WHEN: 7:30 p.m Friday
WHERE: Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $18, children 12 and younger free; 842-0800 or


Elements, 265 Main St., Biddeford, shows the 1925 silent film “Phantom of the Opera” at 8 p.m. Saturday, with organ accompaniment by Peter Dugas.

Leavitt Theater, 259 Main St., Route 1, Ogunquit, shows the 1927 silent film directed by a very young Alfred Hitchcock, “The Lodger” at 8 p.m. Saturday, with live accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

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