SYRACUSE -- One junior high band in Top of Utah is doing something so unusual, band instructor Zach Poulter has heard of only one other school in the state that has tried it.
Members of Syracuse Junior High's Symphonic Band, consisting of eighth- and ninth-graders, composed their own sound track to accompany the silent film, "One Week," a short comedy starring comedian Buster Keaton that premiered in 1920.
When Poulter first described to the students that their final project would be to write their own composition with absolutely no help from him, they didn't believe him at first.
Poulter said he began the year emphasizing critical listening as the band played through their music. He encouraged them to hear the techniques composers use to build and release tension, or add to a funny moment or bring movement into the movie with rhythms and different harmonies.
"The hardest part is getting them started, but once they have their first ideas and something to work with, they really take off, because they're sparked by the fun of creating," Poulter said.
The students started in January by watching the film, then getting together in small groups to develop their ideas and decide which melodies they liked most. Then they worked together as a band to add harmonies with the various instruments.
Poulter said it wasn't too difficult, because they had been in band long enough to have a solid knowledge of how music works.
One student said the hardest part came at the beginning of the process.
"Everyone had different ideas, and we were trying to work together to match what was on the screen, which was probably the hardest part," said ninth-grader Josh Williams, who plays the euphonium.
Many students had their parts memorized, which allowed them to watch the film while they were playing.
"Often I would find myself stopping to laugh at the movie because it was so funny," said Heather Kellmer, who plays the clarinet and baritone sax.
Adding music to a silent film brings excitement, sadness, thrills, and movement, said Poulter, who recently introduced the band's original composition during the final concert of the year.
Poulter pointed out that silent films were never truly silent in that era.
"They didn't use a soundtrack, and instead often used a small band, orchestra or instrument to accompany the film," he said.
Poulter said he started this kind of project several years ago after noticing that the students rarely paid attention to the music he would play before and after class -- until he started displaying images or video on a screen to accompany the music.
"When I had the video playing, they were glued to it, so the idea came together of combining composition and video," he said. "It's an unusual project, but I think that the students are so anxious for opportunities to be creative and to use what they know. This gives them a chance to step into the role of composer for a film, especially since media is something they all know and love."
Poulter added that the students are learning how to work together, which will help them in any career they choose.
Eighth-grader Mitch Schwab, who plays percussion, said working with his peers was the best part.
"It's just fun to be with my friends and make music," he said. "It's fun when you all share a talent, and we can put it together to create something."