Another Joseph Bologne Movie - Interview with Dr. Quinton Morris

May 11, 2023, 3:46 PM · Last week, I had the pleasure of performing a recital at Seattle University at the invitation of my longtime friend, Associate Professor of Violin Dr. Quinton Morris.

Well before the recently-released movie Chevalier, about superstar violinist/composer/athlete Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Quinton created a short film called The Breakthrough, in celebration of the 270th anniversary of Bologne's birth.

Quinton's movie, released in 2015, takes the story of the 18th-century Bologne and tells it in a modernized setting.

Quinton Morris
Pianist Molly Tomhave as the Queen and violinist Quinton Morris as Joseph Bologne, in his 2015 film "The Breakthrough."

Quinton plays Bologne in the movie, for which he also recorded an album of Bologne's music. Once the movie was complete, Quinton toured 22 cities on 5 continents, showing the movie, performing the works of Bologne and giving lectures and masterclasses.

While in Seattle, I spoke to Quinton about The Breakthrough - here is our conversation:

Rachel: One can’t think about a movie about Bologne with thinking about the original Bologne movie – yours!

What year did you make it? 
Quinton: I released my short film, The Breakthrough in October 2015, which was part of a larger project that included a two-year world tour and lecture recital on the Three Sonatas for Keyboard and Violin of Bologne. I have studied Bologne’s music since I was a master’s student, so I’ve always been interested in his music and life. I fell in love with his violin sonatas so I decided to focus on them during my doctoral work, while a student at the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas at Austin.

The Breakthrough premiered all over the world, on five continents, with over 60 film premieres, including Les Arts Decortifs at the Louvre Museum, and Guadeloupe, which was the home country of Bologne. I had an opportunity to play the sonatas in the room where he originally performed them. Creating The Breakthrough was one of the most creative, scary and best decisions I have ever made in my career.

The Breakthrough did not originally go according to plan. Originally, I was only supposed to just record the three violin sonatas and do the tour, but I ran out of time and couldn’t meet a major deadline that I had. After sulking for a couple of days, my two friends brainstormed ways I could use what music I had recorded. I didn’t want to do a documentary because that had already been wonderfully done, so I reflected on what I could do.

I knew I wanted to tell his story in a way that had never been done before and eventually, the idea of a short film emerged. I wanted to keep all the historical details exactly the same, but decided to make the timeline 2015, rather than 18th century. Once I had my big idea, I got to work. I used all the music I had recorded as the soundtrack to the film. After I finished recording the film, I went back into the studio and finished my album.
Rachel: What inspired you to do this project? 
Quinton: My career has always involved performing and highlighting the music of Black composers, so creating The Breakthrough felt very natural to me. I wanted to share his story with many different audiences, who were familiar and not familiar with classical music. So, I turned my treatise paper into a screenplay, complete with a beat sheet, and storyboarded what I wanted the film to look like.

I recorded all of the music myself, took some acting lessons, acted, and directed many of the scenes. I secured funding through fundraising and produced it through my production company. I took my film and recording crew to Paris for three weeks, and recorded all over France, which was a blast! It took about four months to film and another five months to edit and put the entire film together.

The most challenging part of filming was performing the music on film. Since I had recorded the music ahead of time, but I couldn’t play along with my recording while filming because we couldn’t have additional audio. So, I had to watch a light on the Dr. Beat to make sure that I was playing exactly the same as the recording. I wanted my filmed performance to align perfectly with my audio recording.

I am confident I drove my film crew crazy trying to make sure that the video shots of me playing aligned with the recorded audio. We did many hours of this, and nailed the shots with the recorded audio. It is not easy and I’m most proud of that. Those who watch my film will see me as both actor and musician playing authentically the violin with the recorded music, almost perfectly. There was no acting with playing the violin. It was all real.
Rachel: How did you put it all together with actors and locations and funding and everything?
Quinton: I recruited several of my former students, friends, and colleagues helped me put the film together. My former student portrayed Marie-Antoinette and I had others who acted as costume designers, makeup artists, various positions on production and crew, and so many extras. It was a massive undertaking, and I’m still wowed that I was able to pull it off. The Breakthrough taught me how to bet and believe in myself. The film has garnered numerous awards from various film festivals: the Global Music Awards (bronze), European Independent Film Awards (Diamond -1st place), New York Film Week (1st place), Las Vegas Film-Off Film Festival, WA State Governor’s Arts Award, and the Evergrey Innovative Award.

Rachel: Can we watch your film online, and if not, will we be able to soon?
Quinton: I am considering releasing it online.
Rachel: After working to promote him for so many years when he was far less recognized, how do you feel about the current interest in him?
Quinton: I am very happy that Bologne’s music and life are finally being recognized. As one of a few Bologne scholars in the world who has been committed to doing this work, one only hopes that others in recognize him. To now have the whole world recognize his legacy is very heartwarming. It means that all those crazy hours of doing this work weren’t in vain.
Rachel:Where can people go to learn more about your career and life in music, especially your amazing music education projects such as your radio program and music school?

Quinton: Following The Breakthrough, I was so inspired telling his story and meeting so many people from around the world, that I felt a real sense of community and wanted to give back. I do that through my violin studio, Key to Change, which provides lessons to underserved students in South Seattle. I also continue this work of elevating music that is written and performed by people of color with my show Unmute The Voices, which airs on Classical KING FM. Here also is the Youtube channel for Unmute The Voices.

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May 12, 2023 at 07:03 AM · Very interesting indeed. I look forward to working my way through Unmute the Voices.

May 12, 2023 at 11:08 AM · Please make this movie available (it doesn't have to be free, it can be on Apple TV or whatever). With the recent movie Boulogne again, I don't understand in 2023 they *still* make movies about violinist with actors that are not violinists! So the movie discussed here shines if only because of that! More generally, there are so many young and good-looking top-level violinists just look at all the competitions over the world, some of them must have a talent for acting! It can't be that difficult!

May 12, 2023 at 10:09 PM · I'm with Jean 100%! I'd happily pay to watch a real violinist in this role!

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