Q&A with Paragon Ragtime Orchestra Director

First up on our 10x10 Arts Series is Paragon Ragtime Orchestra (PRO), the world’s only year-round, professional ensemble recreating “America’s Original Music” – the syncopated sounds of early musical theater, silent cinema and vintage dance. PRO is also known as one of the premiere performance groups for American music written around the turn of the 20th century. Since the 1980s, PRO has been rediscovering and performing the music of that era in hundreds of concert venues and in a large number of recordings which continues to grow. 

Watch as the PRO, conducted by Rick Benjamin, accompanies Charlie Chaplin's 1916 silent film comedy The Pawn Shop using original music cues and orchestrations! This excerpt is the famous "Alarm Clock Scene" from the full screening of the film at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa.


Rick Benjamin is the heart and soul of PRO! He has built a career on the discovery and performance of lost American music from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries and is the founder and director of PRO. And, we recently had a chance to sit down with Mr. Benjamin and pick his brain... 

Q&A with Rick Benjamin

1. What inspired you to recreate the movie music system from the early 20th century?

 PRO and I are recreating an incredibly unique, incredibly fun art form from the early 1900s that combines great stories (projected on a screen - movies!) with amazing live music. It's the combination that made tens of millions of people fall in love with the movies a hundred years ago.  

2. How do you build a score for a silent film?

We use historic materials - lost musical scores and "cue sheets" that I've discovered in over thirty years of "picking." We have original music for hundreds of early films.  

3. Does this passion run in your family?

Yes, my mother was an organist and choir director, and my grandfather (her father) was a violinist in movie house orchestras in the 1920s. 

4. List some of your favorite pioneers of movie music.

We just did a whole album of them - The Pioneers of Movie Music - which includes my fifty-page essay on the top composers. You can read and listen to it on our website! 

5. Who are some of your favorite contemporary composers? 

Eric Ewazan (my teacher at Juilliard), Ian Clarke, Frank Ticheli, Christian Humcke

6. Pick 5 words—that start with the letter ‘p’—to describe your music. 

Peppy, powerful, piquant, pleasant, priceless 

7. What has been your most exciting performance to date?

A three-night engagement at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, with all three nights sold-out. 

8. Do you have a preference for writing your own scores or reworking classics?

I created PRO to perform already existing, historic scores. We have one of the world's greatest collections - 20,000 by more than 1,000 different composers. We'll NEVER run out of tunes! 

9. What is the best advice that you have been given? 

Always be learning, from both mistakes and successes, and always look for the positive. A close second: surround yourself with people who support and inspire you. 

10. Whom do you define as a visionary?

Someone who can synthesize existing ideas into a new concept, with concrete plans for how to move it forward. 


PRO will present The Clown Princes of Silent Comedy on Tuesday, Nov. 17 at 7pm. Be sure to join us before the show at 6pm for a Creative Conversation with the creative minds fr1om PRO, and then again for the post-show party!


Tickets are available online or by calling our Box Office at 479.443.5600.