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Gil Talmi (Emmy-nominated for his score to 1991: A Year To Remember) has provided a poignant orchestral score to the PBS documentary film, Forgotten Ellis Island, about the medical wing of America’s most famous (and infamous) immigration depot.  A soundtrack album is available on iTunes from konsonant/ records, which has also made a few other Talmi soundtracks available for download.  Forgotten Ellis Island is a quiet orchestral score overall, highlighting piano, which often solos, providing a nostalgic feeling for the teeming masses of immigrants, standing motionless in so many brown and white still photos.


The gentle piano and strings melody of the main theme, “Lullaby for America,” presented in 5 variations, is an intensely moving melody – especially for those of us like me, whose grandparents made that very journey – musically poetic in the many feelings embodied by those hopeful foreigners, seeking a new life of opportunity in America, but many, for various medical or mental reasons, were turned away. A variant theme, “Every Day Forward,” captures the same melody but with strings or winds taking the piano part, with some very nice underlying contrapuntal piano fingering near the end.  “The Joys of Youth” reflects a different perspective, a happy and cavorting tune for winds and strings over a grade school piano riff, for the children not yet old enough to feel anything but the hope of a happy day.  The somber cello lines of “Another Day” delineate yet another day of waiting, of evaluation, of worry, on this islet between old world and new.


In Forgotten Ellis Island, Talmi beautifully evokes through sensitive melodies and impassioned performances what images and narration could not: the feelings, fears, and nervousness of the Ellis Island patients, bringing this story and the people whose hopes faced an end, or at least a delay, in those halls.  The soundtrack is a tone poem to the island, its medical buildings, and, mostly, the people who passed through them, whose memories reflected happiness, trepidation, or heartbreak.


- Randall D. Larson

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