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Why hearing a Buster Keaton silent is just as important as seeing it

 Rick Benjamin, far right, brings the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra to the Granada Theatre. Courtesy photo


Rick Benjamin, far right, brings the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra to the Granada Theatre.
Courtesy photo

When Rick Benjamin and his Paragon Ragtime Orchestra play music in front of classic silent films, like they will do on Monday night when they accompany a screening of Buster Keaton’s “Steamboat Bill, Jr.,” audiences not get something to listen to, but a re-creation of a time and place, a look into a sound industry that was disrupted by new technology like ours is now, and a rediscovery of early 20th-century composers whose fame and popularity dissipated when the sound era erupted.

In 1985, Mr. Benjamin discovered a treasure trove of lost scores, music written for the silent movie era that was thought to have been gone. It wasn’t like modern scores in the sense of a singular work for a film. It was closer to scores for soap operas, where cue sheets outlined the emotional outline of a film, sending a conductor to that cinema’s library to put together a score. “Like Legos,” says Mr. Benjamin.

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