Former longtime Philadelphian Brendan Cooney is a pianist, banjoist, trombonist, and teacher who plays baritone in the West Philadelphia Orchestra, banjo in the City Wide Specials and Noggin Hill, and piano in Rhinoceri Trio. He is also an accomplished composer who, among other things, has created original scores for a number of silent films including Battleship Potemkin, The Mark of Zorro, and Nosferatu, the latter of which will be performed by a five-piece ensemble at the International House later this month followed by a tour of the northeast.
CINEDELPHIA: How did the initial concept of scoring Nosferatu come about?
BRENDAN COONEY: The first time I did the film I just improvised to it on piano at the Germantown Mennonite Church. I improvised to it once and then performed to an audience later that week. The next year I decided to try scoring it for an event in West Philly, we did it at the Rotunda and had a huge crowd of several hundred people.
C: How did you go about creating a refined score?
BC: I just watched the film and came up with music that works for the scenes without having pre-conceived melodies that I wanted to use.
I listened to a lot of Transylvanian film scores and various gypsy music from Romania. There are a lot of Klezmer elements in the score, I’ve played a lot of Klezmer music in Philadelphia.
C: Can you describe the differences between experiencing a live score versus a traditional recorded score?
BC: People come up to me and say that it’s like they watched someone run a marathon. It’s very exhausting. Nosferatu constantly cuts back and forth between Germany and Transylvania, the film has a lot of quick changes unlike other films I’ve done where there are long scenes of the same feeling. It takes a lot of concentration to play and is athletic in that sense. It’s really an intense thing to pull off and I think that audiences pick up on that. We often take the music we hear in films for granted and forget how the music effects what we’re watching. So when it’s live you get more clued in to how the musical choices effect how you perceive a film.
C: You recently moved to Boston, what do you miss most about Philadelphia?
BC: Yeah, just over the summer. I miss the music scene that I’ve been involved with for a decade. I miss being able to drive and not get lost. I miss the warmth, it’s already cold here.
Nosferatu screens at International House on Saturday, October 15 at 8:00 PM.