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"Mark Watters Returns to Conduct LACO for Silly Symphony Celebration"

By Michael from LA Beat

If you’ve grown up with Disney animation, there’s no doubt you’ve seen and heard their Silly Symphonies.  Produced from 1929 to 1939, the Silly Symphonies were used by the animators at Disney to practice new techniques in producing cartoons.

As you can tell from their name, music was one of the key elements used in Silly Symphonies to tell stories, convey action, and evoke emotion.

In this review, I’m looking back at a multidimensional event that took the music and animation to the next level: On June 4, 2016, the classic animations of the Silly Symphonies were paired with the live sound of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.


If that pairing wasn’t enough to elevate the event to another level, the venue – Downtown LA’s Orpheum Theatre – added to the mix with an elegant, old-school grandeur of a time gone by.

As the cartoons projected on the Orpheum’s big screen, the Chamber Orchestra accompanied the action by playing the original scores in perfect synchronization.  The ensemble was conducted by Emmy Award-winning composer Mark Watters.

It was amazing to watch the musicians play in time with the lively cartoons.  Playing the score for “The Skeleton Dance” for example, their music included vocalizations of cats meowing, dogs howling, and birds whistling, all matched to the percussive sounds of bones clattering in a graveyard.

While the orchestra made it look easy, accompanying the action on the screen was not without effort.  The conductor and musicians used video monitors and other technology to help them play in time.  Getting underway with the first of seven cartoons, there was a malfunction somewhere, and the conductor brought the show to a halt to work out the problem; it appeared that the monitors were not functioning properly.

“Well, you know it’s live,” the Watters explained to the audience.  The audience’s response to his admission was a round of applause.  Once the details were worked out, the rest of the show went off without a hitch.

The complete show featured seven Silly Symphonies chosen to show the progression of animation at Disney.  From the first cartoon in 1929, to the last in 1939, improvements included a change from greyscale to color and the use of multiplane motion picture cameras. 

Overall, it was a great show that transformed the lively, but two-dimensional action of the Silly Symphonies into a tangible form.

Until the next opportunity to see a movie-paired-with-music by the LA Chamber Orchestra, you can follow LACO at their website and on social media.

To see more pictures from the "Silly Symphony Celebration" concert, click here.

©2016 LA Beat

Photos by Jamie Pham

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