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Paragon Ragtime Orchestra to Play Score from "Zorro' Silent Film

(Posted September 8, 2008)

Douglas Fairbanks Sr., kneeling at far left, created the action movie genre with the 1920 silent film classic, "The Mark of Zorro."

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- The film score for the silent classic "The Mark of Zorro," a dazzling adventure story starring Douglas Fairbanks that defined the modern term "action movie," will be faithfully re-created at Juniata College by the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra in a concert at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 20 in Rosenberger Auditorium in the Halbritter Center for the Performing Arts on the Juniata campus.

For tickets and information about the Juniata College Presents series, please call (814) 641-3608. General admission tickets for single performances are $20, except where otherwise noted. Single-show tickets for seniors over age 65 and children age 18 and under are $12. Juniata College students are admitted free with a student ID.

The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra is led by Rick Benjamin, a professor of music at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa. The 12-piece ensemble is one of the most acclaimed groups playing vintage American popular music.

The group, which was founded in 1988, uses a collection of more than 10,000 scores from the 1890s to the 1920s to provide period music for a wide variety of classic movies, including comedies by Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. The group also specializes in the turn-of-the-century musical form, ragtime, including a wide selection of Scott Joplin tunes. (Joplin's music was the inspiration for the score to the 1970s film "The Sting.")

In 2003, Benjamin and the orchestra completed a four-year project to re-create the orchestration of Joplin's opera "Treemonisha." Many of the musicians in the orchestra play vintage instruments and occasionally the group dresses in period costumes to accompany the silent images flickering on the big screen. The group plays five stringed instruments, a flute, a clarinet, two cornets, a small-bore trombone and a turn-of-the-century drum set.

"The Mark of Zorro," made in 1920, is considered the first Hollywood action film, largely because of the athletic, star-making performance by Douglas Fairbanks in the title role. The film, which introduced the familiar Zorro costume of a masked, black-clad hero in a wide-brimmed black hat, features swordplay, derring-do and stunts by Fairbanks that still thrill audiences. Fairbanks' performance created the "swashbuckler" film genre and he went on to make a series of similarly themed movies such as "The Three Musketeers," "Robin Hood" and "The Thief of Bagdad."

The film score for "The Mark of Zorro" uses Spanish-inspired music to accompany the hero, Don Diego de la Vega, as he attempts to fight the colonial government in Spanish California in the early 19th century.

Paragon founder Benjamin, who maintains a touring schedule with the orchestra, also works as a musical consultant and conductor for movies, radio and television. He also has been guest conductor for the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, the New Jersey Symphony, the Olympia Symphony (Wash.) and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra.

The orchestra has recorded several albums, including "From Barrelhouse to Broadway: The Music of Joe Jordan," "Black Manhattan" and "More Candy." Its most recent album is "The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra Finally Plays 'The Entertainer,'" featuring ragtime compositions by Scott Joplin.




Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.