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Fullerton’s streets will be alive with music Sunday to start off summer

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Bill Campbell will perform with this Wurlitzer theater organ during a silent movie on June 21 for Fullerton Day of Music at Plummer Auditorium.
(Kevin Chang, Weekend)

Forget six degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Those who visit the Plummer Auditorium on Sunday, June 21, will be able to link themselves much deeper to Hollywood history even if not to anyone whose face actually appeared on the screen.

Rather, they’ll be once removed from some of the crucial people who sat in the dark.

Before movies had soundtracks, theater organists helped to liven the experience by adding percussion to pratfalls, brisk tempos to chase scenes and swooning rhapsody to romantic interludes.

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Then “The Jazz Singer” kicked off talking pictures in 1927, and except for a few specialists and hobbyists, providing live accompaniment to movies became a lost art.

But at the Plummer, audience members can witness it up close. As Fullerton celebrates its first Day of Music, organist Bill Campbell will score the Harold Lloyd silent short “Ask Father” — and he may use some techniques from an actual silent movie house veteran he met when he was starting as a musician in the 1970s.

The organist, John Muri, had worked theaters during the silent heyday, and Campbell saw him play on Halloween in 1972, when a friend pointed him to a screening of the Lon Chaney classic “The Phantom of the Opera.” As Campbell watched the organist’s fingers whirl on the keyboard, and later watched other musicians play similar scores, he began to study the tricks of the craft.

“When someone falls on their butt, you hit the drum,” he said. “When they’re dealing with their girlfriend, you try to find some sweetheart music.”

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Silent-movie organ became a passion for Campbell, who has accompanied movies periodically for a quarter of a century. This weekend, he’ll make his Plummer performance debut during the Day of Music, a citywide celebration that spans around 35 venues and more than 100 musical acts. Among the planned locations are Hillcrest Park, the Muckenthaler Cultural Center and the Fullerton Public Library.

When the first note sounds Sunday — on whatever stage, in whichever park or side street — Fullerton will join other cities around the world in celebrating the first day of summer with music. The tradition began in France, which celebrated the first Fete de la Musique in 1982, and more than 100 countries have signed on since.

In fact, it was the festival in France that inspired Glenn Georgieff, the Fullerton event’s president, to organize an event in his hometown. Years ago, Georgieff and his family lived in Paris, and he found himself struck every June 21 by the sound of music emanating from unexpected places along the street.

“It was one of those days where you say, ‘OK, I’m going to have to call in at work and go around town and discover music,’” Georgieff said.

Among the acts Georgieff recalled seeing in Paris were blues shouter Joe Cocker, jazz musician Chick Corea, opera companies and visiting orchestras. For Fullerton’s Day of Music, he and his team have created a similarly eclectic lineup, including blues harmonica, mariachi, ukulele and, yes, silent-movie organ.

Whatever the genres, Georgieff wants the festival’s heart to be the same thing he marveled at in Paris: a slew of great public art, offered for free.

“It’s open to all,” he said. “We want everyone to come to Fullerton and enjoy Fullerton and see what we see.”

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IF YOU GO 

What: Day of Music Fullerton

Where: Assorted locations around Fullerton

When: 10 a.m. to sunset Sunday

Cost: Free

Information: thedayofmusic.com

 


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