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Hapa Hillbillies accompany Chaplin silent films Saturday

A unique marriage of film and music arrives Saturday night with the screening of four c. 1917 Charlie Chaplin silent films accompanied by local musicians performing traditional and newly-written music.

The Hapa Hillbillies will perform along with the films in the 7:30 p.m. all-ages show at Columbia Center for the Arts (details below).

“The silent film accompaniment idea has been on my mind for years — getting to know our terrific local theater, and wanting an interesting project for The Hapa Hillbillies were the catalysts that really got this going,” said band member Ben Bonham.

“We all compose regularly and the challenge of fitting music to a film is one we can really get our teeth into, and The Hapa Hillbillies specialize in music from the early part of the 20th century,” Bonham said.

“Larry Wyatt, Kerry Williams, Ron Ontiveros and I each worked up themes and variations to fit our chosen Chaplin short (approximately 23-minute) film,” Bonham explained. “We then began the long process of rehearsing with each other — and bringing in some special guests who will be spicing things up a bit. This is one of the hardest musical challenges I have faced.”

There’s a cultural twist to the presentation of the Chaplin films, according to Bonham:

“The films from 1917 and in the public domain — after 1918 Chaplin not only copyrighted his work,” he said, “but also composed all the music for his subsequent work — writing in a clause that states that after 1918 his films can only be shown in public with his own music score! How cool is that?”

Bonham said the cast of characters will also include Madame Betz — aka Betsy Harmon, music teacher at Mosier school — musical saw, piano and special effects; Nicole Keim —The Quiet American — accordion and special effects; and Alan Taylor, trumpet.

Bonham has over 20 years of professional experience as a live performer, teacher and recording musician in both the U.K. and America.

Since 1996, this British expatriate has delighted U.S. audiences with his renderings of old time American music and his mastery of Delta blues, vintage Hawaiian, folk, ragtime and country blues guitar.

Bonham lives on a small farm with his wife and two children. He works in many different formats from solo acoustic to big, swinging ten piece band providing music for all occasions. He can be seen most frequently around the Gorge in performances with The Hapa Hillbillies or The Bohemian Social Club and in Portland, every now and then, with Trashcan Joe, or Stillway & Bonham. Ben has taught guitar and ukulele for twenty years and is one of the few instructors offering advanced steel and slide guitar instruction in the Pacific Northwest.

Ben began working with Portland swing/jazz guitar virtuoso Jamie Stillway in 2002. Their CD Stillway & Bonham drew critical raves, including Best Local CD of the 2004 by Willamette Week.

Ben toured the USA in 2004 as Hawaiian steel guitarist for the darling Japanese Ukulele Duo, Petty Booka.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students, seniors and children, available online at www.columbia arts.org.



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