A little bit of everything: Joshua Stafford, on Massey, to accompany silent film ‘Gold Rush’ featuring Chaplin


A couple watchtes the silent movie “Safety First” as organist Joshua Stafford improvises music to the film on Sunday June 27, 2021 in the amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

A younger Joshua Stafford’s order at Andriaccio’s was a ham and cheese calzone. A Jamestown native, he grew up coming to Chautauqua during the summer and learned to play the organ here under the tutelage of the late Jared Jacobsen.

Now, Stafford holds the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist and is the director of sacred music at Chautauqua. He has been performing at Chautauqua and at a variety of events for many years. His newest staple at Chautauqua is playing the Massey Memorial Organ over silent movies, such as “Safety Last,” which he performed at the Amphitheater as one of the first performances of the 2021 season.

“It really brought me a lot of joy,” Stafford said. “After being here last season with absolutely nobody around in an empty Amphitheater the two times we were able to use it, to have a room full of people just laughing their heads off, it was so satisfying. It made me so happy.”

And at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 25 in the Amp, Stafford will take to the stage yet again to play along to “Gold Rush,’’ starring Charlie Chaplin. It’s a dramatic comedy with a little bit of everything, he said, from bandits; police; love; dancing; a scene where the characters sing “Auld Lang Syne;” a snowstorm “like a Chautauqua winter;” and a house falling off a cliff.

“I guess part of it is making sure that I rein myself in a little bit, and don’t take every bit of bait that’s there, because it could easily become pretty ridiculous,” Stafford said. “Trying to make something cohesive out of it is a fun challenge.”

His favorite scene is when the prospectors run out of food.

“Finally, Charlie stews a boot, and then he fillets it like a dover sole. I think it’s just a beautiful, touching thing,” Stafford said. “He had something like 30 pairs of licorice boots made for that scene.”

Stafford loves hearing people laugh when he plays, especially children. He is also the appointed director of music ministries and organist for Riverside Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Florida. Much of his work during the offseason revolves around working with and setting up programs for children in Jacksonville, including teaching and coordinating music lessons.

“It gives kids great leadership skills, great collaborative skills, in addition to becoming great musicians,” Stafford said. “I usually find that with kids, the more you ask them, the more they give you.”

He said children are capable of more sophistication and learning than adults may expect.

“So many people think, ‘Oh, They’re just kids, like, you do kids’ music with them.’ No. I have kids that are doing really challenging music and doing it really well,” Stafford said. “It’s such a joy.”

Tags : accompanyCharlie ChaplinGold RushJared Jacobsen Chair for the OrganistJoshua StaffordMassey Memorial Organ

The author Nick Danlag

This is Nick Danlag’s second season at the Daily reporting the morning lecture recap. He worked remotely last year but loved waking up each day in Las Vegas to learn more about Chautauqua through his reporting. From Mount Laurel, New Jersey, Nick earned a creative writing degree from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. As editor-in-chief of his student newspaper, The Current, he loved helping the staff develop their voices.