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Bill Leone opens a silent movie screening with a history lesson.

BURBANK, Calif.—On the evening of Palm Sunday, Calvary Baptist Church hosted an unusual movie night as a time of fellowship for the church family. Rather than just pop in a DVD and flip off the lights, the church chose to present The Freshman, a silent movie produced in 1925.

Pastor Greg Larson is a chaplain with the Burbank police department. When he learned that one of his fellow chaplains, Bill Leone, could play live organ accompaniment to silent movies, Greg saw it as a wonderful opportunity. Bill is the music minister at a Burbank church and has played organ and piano since childhood both in church and competitively.

When asked if special skills are required to play for silent movies, Bill says that “an ability to play by ear is essential” and that having a broad range of music stored in one’s head is what makes movie accompaniment possible. The music need not be original; it just needs to be appropriate for what’s happening in the movie. It also obviously helps to practice with the film.

“Some in our audience had never seen a silent movie before, and they felt this was a wonderful way to get a glimpse of what our great-grandparents might have experienced,” says Carol Dorman. “Others saw it as a creative way to hear a concert and hang out with friends.”

Although Calvary Baptist Church in Burbank is a small congregation, a group of any size can reach out in a big way using a few modern tools, a really old movie, and a talented keyboard player.” Watch a portion of the event.