Florida Orchestra lends sound to Charlie Chaplin's 'The Gold Rush'

Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp character in his 1925 movie, The Gold Rush.
Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp character in his 1925 movie, The Gold Rush.
Published Feb. 27, 2014

In one scene from The Gold Rush, Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp sticks some forks in dinner rolls and makes the bread dance. Part of why the table ballet plays so well on screen is the skippy song that accompanies each carb de coté.

The timing has to be just right, which is way harder than it sounds live. It's a challenge that an intimate chamber of 15 musicians from the Florida Orchestra will tackle by playing a live soundtrack to Chaplin's film Friday at the Tampa Theatre and Saturday at the Palladium.

In the movie, Chaplin's Little Tramp goes looking for some gold (and maybe some love). The movie came out in 1925, but the orchestra concert celebrates the 100th anniversary of Chaplin's famous vagrant character, which debuted in February 1914.

Most people know about Chaplin's movies, his hat and mustache and shoes. But not everyone knows that he had a deep love for music. When he was a boy, he met two street musicians who changed his life.

"He heard the song The Honeysuckle and the Bee," said Anne Keady, a Chaplin fan from Spring Hill who runs several websites devoted to him. "He said the music enraptured him. And it was really the first time beauty entered his soul."

Chaplin was untrained but had sensibilities passed down from his musician father. He played by ear, humming or plunking the piano while an arranger figured out the notes.

He re-released The Gold Rush in 1942 with an original score, attempting to keep up with audiences as sound in movies became the norm. His music had to be different than the typical zany sounds of the silent era.

"He didn't want his music competing with his character," said Keady. "A lot of the sound effects they were using were these corny ones. ... He was involved in every aspect. A lot of times, he frustrated the musicians. They thought one way and all he knew was the sound he had in his head, and that's the sound he wanted."

Orchestras around the country are a bit like Chaplin, trying to reach new audiences. Movie-music marriages are a part of that shift. In its 2014-2015 season, the Florida Orchestra will perform to flicks including Singing in the Rain and animated Pixar clips.

"With contemporary films, you get click tracks, which keep the orchestra in line with the movie," said Ernest Richardson, guest conductor for the performances.

With a Charlie Chaplin film?

"You have nothing. You have to memorize the score and the way it fits in with the movie."

Richardson, resident conductor with the Omaha Symphony, led a live performance of The Gold Rush back home. He practiced with the movie and the sound rolling at the same time, then turned off the video to totally feel the music.

To nail the pratfalls, the orchestra will add sleigh bells, temple blocks, wooden spoons, a glockenspiel and a Lion's Roar, a drum head with a cord pulled through it to make a sound just like the name.

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All told, Richardson said, the result is pretty special.

"It's such a beautifully crafted picture and the sound track is the other character that really provides the emotional context of what you're seeing," he said. "There are amazing moments in there."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or (727) 893-8716.