Halloween Piano Concert: music from horror films

Halloween music can come from horror movies or those with ghosts, vampires, monsters, and other fantasy creatures. Anne Ku gives a piano concert to celebrate this occasion on Maui.

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In the spirit of themed piano concerts, I decided to do one for Halloween, after my previous one for Earth Day in April 2014. Because Halloween is so popular in the USA, rather than run away and hide from trick-or-treaters as I usually do, I thought I’d face the music and celebrate with an audience that may appreciate a journey down memory lane.

The word Halloween originates from “All Hallows’ Even” or “the eve of All Hallows’ Day.”  All Hallows’ Day is simply another name for All Saints’ Day, the day the Catholics commemorate all the saints.

You might remember the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.” “Hallowed be thy name” means “let your name be sanctified.”

As a kid growing up on an American air base in Okinawa, I remember looking forward to Halloween fondly. We’d go trick or treating unchaperoned. When I got older, I stayed at home and gave out the candies. When we ran out of candies, we’d go trick or treating and recycle the candies.

Thus it was a disappointment when I moved to London and discovered trick or treating was a very American tradition. I forgot completely about this custom until I was caught off guard on my first visit to Maui in 1999.

Prelude from Psycho (1960) music by Bernard Herrmann
Prelude from Psycho (1960) music by Bernard Herrmann

The music of Halloween can be associated with horror films, the most terrifying of which is the 1960 Hitchcock movie “Psycho.” Half-steps naturally create dissonance, as heard even more menacingly in the lowest register in the “Jaws” theme.

Theme from
Theme from “Jaws” (1975) by John Williams

When we hear Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” we immediately think of the Exorcist, though it was not originally written for the movie. The treble pitched ostinato travels from 7/8 to 9/8 time and back, meandering through additions of organ and other instruments.

“Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield, used in “The Exorcist”

This example of minimalist music can be found in John Carpenter’s theme to Mike Myers’ 1978 movie “Halloween.”

Piano theme to Mike Myers'
Piano theme to Mike Myers’ “Halloween” composed by John Carpenter

You could do a lot with repetition, as in the ostinato above, but also a simple broken chord placed in a high register, such as that of Hans Zimmer’s “Samara’s Song” in the 2002 film “The Ring.” It gives an eerie and chilling effect.

“Samara’s Song” by Hans Zimmer from “The Ring” (2002)

That same steady broken minor chord was used by Mark Snow in the theme from the TV series “The X-files” and by John Cale in “The Ritual” and “Monologue 1” in the 2000 thriller “American Psycho” starring Christian Bale.

“The Ritual” by John Cale from “American Psycho” (2000)

Where did this repeating minor chord come from? Perhaps you have heard of the first movement from Beethoven’s Sonata no. 14, op. 27, no. 2, Quasi una fantasiaMoonlight Sonata, as it has become affectionately called, is hardly the prelude to a horror movie, but rather, composed with romantic intentions.

First movement from piano sonata no. 14 in C-sharp minor, composed by Ludwig van Beethoven
First movement from piano sonata no. 14 in C-sharp minor, composed by Ludwig van Beethoven

And there are plenty of love songs and romantic stories to do with vampires, monsters, and ghosts.

“Unchained Melody” music by Alex North used in the 1990 film “Ghost”

Perhaps I should end my Halloween Piano Concert with love or a sense of humor. The theme from the 1984 comedy Ghostbusters starts with repeating half-steps, similar to that of Jaws, and is anything but ominous.

Theme from Ghostbusters (1984), composed by Ray Parker, Jr.
Theme from Ghostbusters (1984), composed by Ray Parker, Jr.

Anne Ku, piano

Halloween Concert

Friday October 31, 2014

10  – 11 AM

Roselani Place, Kahului, Maui

Author: BLOGmaiden

As one of the earliest bloggers (since 1999), I enjoy meeting people who embrace "out-of-the-box" thinking and fear not the unknown. I believe in collaboration for sustainability because it increases stakeholder value.

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