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Silent Films / Live Music:
The Kid


Silent Films/Live Music is curated by John Schaefer.

The Kid is scored and performed by Yasmin Williams.

The acclaimed Silent Films/Live Music series is back in the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place! Join us for the second evening to watch the world premiere of Yasmin Williams’ new score set to the 1921 Charlie Chaplin classic, “The Kid.” This funny and deeply humane film stars a young Jackie Coogan in his first role and was Chaplin’s first full-length film as a director.

No RSVP is required. Seating is first come, first served. Free popcorn while supplies last.

Click here to view the program


Silent films were never really silent.  Throughout the 1910s and 20s, these movies would be shown with live musicians, often improvising or incorporating popular songs and classical music.  Since the turn of this century, we’ve been presenting silent films in the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place with live music from some of today’s most adventurous musicians, who extend that tradition with their own scores.  This annual series has been popular for a couple of reasons: the Winter Garden atrium, with its huge size, live palm trees, and dramatic lighting, dwarfs even the grandest of the old-time movie palaces – to say nothing of today’s tiny screens.  And hearing new instrumental music in this setting is an easy way to enter the world of contemporary composition. Plus, we record the performances for broadcast on WNYC’s “New Sounds.”

This year’s silent films include two of the all-time classics as well as a contemporary silent film created specifically with the live musicians in mind.  The latter is “Electric Appalachia,” put together by Eric Dawson, the director at TAMIS – the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound.  Using archival footage, he offers “a meditation on electricity and modernity in East Tennessee” – which sounds like a dull afternoon on PBS but turns out to be a surprisingly engaging, even poignant film.  Guitarist William Tyler and the suddenly ubiquitous harpist Mary Lattimore add a moving, occasionally cosmic score.  After that, the extraordinary guitarist Yasmin Williams (you’ll have to see her play to understand what makes her extraordinary) will give us the world premiere of a new score to the Charlie Chaplin classic “The Kid.”  This wonderful film is both funny and deeply humane – and also stars a young Jackie Coogan in his first role.  Finally, we have “The Passion Of Joan Of Arc,” which regularly tops the lists of the best silent films and which is considered one of the best films of any kind.  Composer David Cieri has written music for many of Ken Burns’ documentaries, among others, and brings a sizable ensemble of instruments and vocalists to this grand finale of our 2023 series.


Yasmin Williams sits on her leather couch, her guitar stretched across her lap horizontally with its strings turned to the sky. She taps on the fretboard with her left hand as her right hand plucks a kalimba placed on the guitar’s body. Her feet, clad in tap shoes, keep rhythm on a mic’d wooden board placed under her. Even with all limbs in play, it’s mind boggling that the melodic and percussive sounds that emerge are made by just one musician, playing in real time. With her ambidextrous and pedidextrous, multi-instrumental techniques of her own making and influences ranging from video games to West African griots subverting the predominantly white male canon of fingerstyle guitar, Yasmin Williams is truly a guitarist for the new century. So too is her stunning sophomore release, Urban Driftwood, an album for and of these times. Though the record is instrumental, its songs follow a narrative arc of 2020, illustrating both a personal journey and a national reckoning, through Williams’ evocative, lyrical compositions.

A native of northern Virginia, Williams, now 24, began playing electric guitar in 8th grade, after she beat the video game Guitar Hero 2 on expert level. Initially inspired by Jimi Hendrix and other shredders she was familiar with through the game, she quickly moved on to acoustic guitar, finding that it allowed her to combine fingerstyle techniques with the lap-tapping she had developed through Guitar Hero, as well as perform as a solo artist. By 10th grade, she had released an EP of songs of her own composition. Deriving no lineage from “American primitive” and rejecting the problematic connotations of the term, Williams’ influences include the smooth jazz and R&B she listened to growing up, Hendrix and Nirvana, go-go and hip-hop. Her love for the band Earth, Wind and Fire prompted her to incorporate the kalimba into her songwriting, and more recently, she’s drawn inspiration from other Black women guitarists such as Elizabeth Cotten, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Algia Mae Hinton. On Urban Driftwood, Williams references the music of West African griots through the inclusion of kora (which she recently learned) and by featuring the hand drumming of 150th generation djeli of the Kouyate family, Amadou Kouyate, on the title track.

Since its release in January 2021, Urban Driftwood has been praised by numerous publications such as Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, The Wasington Post, NPR Music, No Depression, Paste Magazine, and many others. Williams will be touring in support of Urban Driftwood throughout 2021.


John Schaefer is the host and producer of WNYC’s long-running new music show New Sounds (“The #1 radio show for the Global Village” – Billboard), founded in 1982, and its innovative Soundcheck podcast, which has featured live performances and interviews with a variety of guests since 2002. He created the New Sounds Live concert series in 1986, which features new works, commissioned pieces, and a special series devoted to live music for silent films. Done largely at Brookfield Place and Merkin Concert Hall in NY, the series continues to this day.

Schaefer has written extensively about music, including the book New Sounds: A Listener’s Guide to New Music (Harper & Row, NY, 1987; Virgin Books, London, 1990); the Cambridge Companion to Singing: World Music (Cambridge University Press, U.K., 2000); and the TV program Bravo Profile: Bobby McFerrin (Bravo Television, 2003). He has also written about horse racing (Bloodlines: A Horse Racing Anthology, Vintage, NY 2006), hosted panels for the World Science Festival, and been a regular panelist on the BBC’s soccer-based program Sports World.

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