Dallas — The Dallas Chamber Symphony opens its sixth season on Tuesday, Oct. 17, with another of its highly successful presentations of a classic silent film with a new score performed live. Douglas Pipes, who was previously commissioned to score the DCS’s presentation of The Lodger, returns with a new composition to accompany Buster Keaton’s 1926 comedy masterpiece The General, wherein The Great Stone Face tries to recapture a hijacked Confederate train and win over his romantic interest (Marion Mack) in the process.
Pipes, whose credits include the 2006 animated feature Monster House, the horror flicks Trick ‘R Treat and Krampus, and the just-premiered Netflix Original thriller The Babysitter, entered the field because of a chance meeting.
“I was playing in a four-piece band when a film student approached me to make music for a $300,000 film he’d gotten financing for while he was in college,” he says. “I enjoyed it and went to university to study composition, classic musical writing and orchestration. From there I started scoring student films. I met a film director [Gil Kenan] at UCLA. I scored his student film and his Master’s Thesis film, which was a hybrid live action/animation.”
That film was noticed by Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, who hired him to do the Sony animation feature Monster House.
“What’s most amazing is that he had the guts and bravery to trust my musical instincts,” Pipes adds, noting that he had help from orchestrator Jon Kull. “[Spielberg] liked my musical approach to storytelling.”
Unlike with The Lodger, which Pipes composed on his own, for The General he brought in John Clement Wood to help.
“As a suspense thriller [The Lodger], just from a technical standpoint, music is longer, slower, there’s less actual notes, less pages, less measures,” Pipes says. “The General is more action and frenetic. There’s a lot of emotion in the movie. The music’s not trying to point out Buster Keaton’s comedy all the time. He’s good at doing that. His motivation isn’t action-oriented, it’s emotional. So I sort of took an approach of more swashbuckling adventure, like he’s off to do this [mission]. It’s not like [he] learns something, but that [he is] motivated to do something, which is more heroic.”