Phantom of the Opera with Live Organ by Jay Warren (Sept. 22nd – Davis Theater)

| September 13, 2017

If you’ve never seen a silent film projected while someone plays live organ to the flicking images above, you are truly missing a magical experience. On September 22nd, 2017, Jay Warren will be playing organ accompaniment to one of the most beloved and terrifying of all silent films: The Phantom of the Opera (1925) at the Davis Theater, 4614 N. Lincoln Ave, ChicagoPhantom of the Opera, starring Lon Chaney in a stellar performance, is one of the most enduring of all Hollywood films even as it nears its 100th birthday.

We talked to Jay Warren, the virtuoso organist who will be playing live organ with Phantom of the Opera on the 22nd (tickets for the show are only $12 presale here: to find out about the joys of playing along with silent films and what makes Phantom of the Opera a classic film worth visiting and re-visiting.


FM: When did you first become interested in music? 

Warren: Early, maybe 4 or 5 years old.


How did you end up playing live organ to silent films? 

As a younger person, I realized “I could do this.”


What were some of the first films to have an effect on you?

At first we were exposed to comedy shorts like the Keystone Cops—pie-in-the-face, crazy and wild chase scenes, with an out-of-tune piano providing the music. Then I stumbled across Battleship Potemkin; the power of that film blew me away.


Are there any challenges to playing live organ with silent films?

You have to be prepared.


What makes playing to Phantom of the Opera special?

It’s often the initial film for silent film first-timers. I get a kick out of the reaction from the audience from my place in front of the screen. At first there’s of lot of coughing and candy wrapper noise, eventually morphing into silence as Christine encounters the Phantom. When I can hear a pin drop, I know the audience has bought into the film.


Lon Chaney was a giant among silent film actors, what makes him special to you?

“The Man of a Thousand Faces”… ’nuff said right there.


Why do you think Phantom of the Opera has endured over the years? 

As I mentioned, it’s often first-time exposure to the silent cinema for many. I think people enjoy all the shadows – the Paris Opera House – backstage, the secret passages, the attic (chandelier scene), and the foreboding sub basements along with its secret underground lake, setting the atmosphere for the Phantom.


It seems like there is a resurgence of interest in people seeing silent films with live scores, what do you think brought this about?

There seems to be a pattern (not sure why) of an every six years or so uptick. I know The Artist in 2011 helped.


What are the most rewarding parts of playing live organ with silent films? 

Bringing and helping preserve the art form and the music of the silent era to the forefront. Many scores today are performed by rock, jazz, or other musical backgrounds, and while being of high caliber musicianship, sadly have nothing to do what is being projected on the screen. Our historically correct accompaniment also showcases the theatre organ – the silent film workhorse of its day – tonally superior to the piano, and more spontaneous than an orchestra.

Visit Jay’s website for upcoming shows:


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