A Performer’s Worst Nightmare: Carolina Musicians Share their Spookiest Dreams

Nightmares often wander into the world we know best. Maybe you’re a student who routinely dreams about taking a test you didn’t study for, a waiter whose nightmares are haunted by the sound of trays falling to the ground, or a motivational speaker who dreams of addressing a huge crowd, only to realize you’re wearing pajamas.

For performing artists, dreams that start off with a routine trip to the concert hall can quickly devolve into a performance gone wrong… very wrong.

Carolina artists and friends of WDAV recall musical nightmares that made them wake up in a cold sweat. 

Barbara Krumdieck

Baroque Cellist
Davidson, NC

“This musician’s worst nightmare FELT as if it went on all night long!

In the dream, I was in the John Clark Performance Studio at WDAV, which was more like a creepy warehouse than an actual studio. I was there to play solo Bach live on the radio, but things kept going wrong at every turn.

The folks at WDAV put me in a tiny corner surrounded by furniture, so I wasn’t able to move my arms back and forth. They turned off all of the lights, so I wasn’t able to see my music, and of course, I hadn’t memorized the pieces. Then they brought in a brass ensemble and wanted me to play a piece with them. I didn’t have the music, AND the brass group was tuned to A=440, while I was tuned to A=415 (Baroque pitch).

I felt like a terrible, inflexible musician, and I could tell I was really getting on Frank’s nerves!”

Ethan Uslan

Ragtime, Jazz & Swing Pianist
Charlotte, NC

“I once dream-journaled for a week or so, keeping a pen and paper on the nightstand to jot down my dreams before I forgot them.

I discovered that almost every night, I would dream that I was before a live audience with the impossible task of playing a song I didn’t know. For example: I was at the piano, accompanying Louis Armstrong at the Bechtler.

He started playing a song that I didn’t know and I struggled to keep up.

Louis was doing his famous schtick, scat singing and hamming it up. He even had his famous white handkerchief. The crowd was loving it! But Louis was tremendously disappointed in my piano playing. As soon as the song soon ended, he turned towards me and his big smile gave way to a long, contemptuous death-stare.

I was so mortified and ashamed, it was literally my worst nightmare!”

Pamela Howland

Winston-Salem, NC

“My scary recurrent performer’s dream began like this:  a singer and I were backstage waiting to go on for the performance, when I was handed a raft of Richard Strauss songs (some of the hardest and most beautiful piano music I know), told that this was now the music she would be singing, and we were immediately thrust out on stage.

Shockingly, here I was sight reading horribly in this performance, and wondering how this could be happening. 

Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the week before, my singer daughter’s M.M. degree recital accompanist quit just a week before the recital, and guess who had volunteered to learn the music and accompany?!”

And one real-life nightmare

Tom Burge

Trombonist, Euphoniumist
Charlotte, NC

“In 9th grade, I was asked to perform at my local town hall in front of the whole school. Of course, back then I used to spend much more time playing my instrument than running the required maintenance and repairs on it that I should…

A trombone has a thumb valve that we use to open up extra tubing for some notes, but on the night of this performance, my valve was on the fritz.

Right before the performance. Not a problem – you can get those notes elsewhere on the slide without using the valve, so the show would go on.

Reflexes, however, are funny things. What I didn’t factor in was the fact that I had only ever practiced this beautiful piece with those notes on the thumb valve, and in the heat of performance my reflexes did what they had been trained to do. Each time I would play the wrong note (because the valve didn’t work) I’d hear it, remember, and scramble to the other place I could get the right note. This happened maybe 50 times in the space of 5 minutes. I was devastated, and this potentially beautiful piece was… well… not beautiful. I think for the last phrase I just stopped playing – I just looked at the audience and sadly shrugged. I’m sure it was the highlight.”

WDAV Staff Members Share their Favorite Halloween Memories

Whether you’re old enough to remember seeing the original Halloween movie in theaters or young enough to go trick-or-treating, Halloween brings back special memories for all who celebrate. To help you get in the spirit this time around, some of our staff members have shared their favorite Halloween moments from years past (and reading them will feel almost as good as finding the house with the full-size candy bars). 

Kendra Intihar
Assistant General Manager & Director of Community Outreach

“In 2009, we were getting ready to make a big move from North Carolina to Pennsylvania. My daughter loved flowers – especially magnolias (or, as she called them, ‘mag-a-nolias’), so I made her a Magnolia costume for Halloween that year. I think it was my way of hanging on to a tiny bit of the South for just a little while longer… and she was the cutest little mag-a-nolia I’ve ever seen.”

Heidi North
Administrative Assistant

“I let my daughter pick out my costume two years ago, and she picked Glenda, the Good Witch of the North. I was of the opinion that I resembled an exploded bottle of pepto bismol, but this little girl, a regular patron of our library, thought I was a Disney Princess and insisted on getting her picture taken with me. First and last time that’ll happen, guaranteed, but made my day.”

Will Keible
Director of Marketing and Corporate Support

“This is a picture from one of my memorable Halloweens.

I was in college, didn’t have any money, and was too busy to think of a costume until 30 minutes before a party. So, I did what any good student would do: I made up a costume out of what I had in my dorm room – a Friday the 13th mask, cape, and of course, duct tape.

I don’t recall if I named my character, but I do know that I billed myself as some sort of vigilante crimefighter. Although the costume was well-received, it was taking it off that became a major fail. In my dedication to going ‘all in,’ I had duct-taped my hair. Removing it required scissors and new haircut. College is the best.”

Mary Lathem 
Marketing & Digital Communications Specialist

“When I was in school in Indiana, I planned a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show over Halloween weekend while working at a local theater company. If you’re not familiar with Rocky traditions, you should know that no one comes just to watch the movie. Die-hard fans dress like their favorite characters, chant in unison, throw things in the air and at the screen, etc. – it’s a full-on interactive experience.

To raise extra money, we packed and sold 500 prop bags with water guns, rolls of toilet paper, pieces of toast, and everything else an audience member would need to participate. Imagine that everything in those bags ends up in the aisles, soaking wet, trampled by hundreds of dancing feet – and you’re the one who has to clean it all up at 2 a.m.

It was miserable, but what makes this memory a good one is that some of my friends stayed behind to help, missing out on the Halloween festivities downtown. It was the first time since moving from Georgia two months earlier that I realized I had good people in my corner so far away from home!”

Myelita Melton
Afternoon Host & Producer, Symphony at 6 & Concierto

“Magda, ‘the Witch of the North, South, East and West-well, the Witch of everything,’ made her first appearance several years ago in a video explaining her love of classical music.  Her mummy friends love their ragtime and her ghostly friends adore spirituals. Magda’s fav is the Scherzo!”

Get Out and Hereditary: Innovative horror film scores to make your pulse race

by Marisa Mecke

As horror fans flock to their screens this Halloween, they’ll notice fresh, striking additions to the holiday movie marathon lineup from the past few years. Recent psychological thrillers such as Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) and Ari Aster’s Hereditary (2018) are noted for weaving social commentary and family dynamics into the genre, but there’s something else that sets these films apart: their innovative scores. 

Director and writer Peele called on classical composer Michael Abels to score Get Out after coming across his orchestral piece Urban Legends on YouTube. While creating a horror movie focused on the experience of being Black in America, Abels explains that it was important to Peele to find a composer who “could have lived some of the scenes that the lead character in this film has lived.” Though Get Out was Abels’ first film score, he was able to pull inspiration from his own experiences as a mixed race African-American man, especially moments in which the lead character “suddenly becomes very aware that he’s the darkest face in the room.”

During their first conversation in pre-production, Abels and Peele began to develop the score with the idea of gospel horror:

“(Peele) told me that he wanted the African-American voice both literally and figuratively in the music, so we talked about African-American music and about how it tends to be hopeful… but what he really loves in horror movies is the unexpected terrifying music, and how can we manage to bring both of those things together?”


Peele also sent Abels examples of music he found unsettling – but that is not typically considered “scary” – including samples of bluegrass, blues, and chanting. Abels melded these influences into a cohesive sound, opting for live instruments like rattles and strings over electronic noises to keep the score connected to the natural world. A great example of this blend is the bluegrass-tinged main title “Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga,” which features a choir of voices chanting in Swahili over an ominous, pulsating rhythm. Abels explains that the whispers are “meant to represent the departed slaves and lynching victims” who are trying to warn the main character, Chris, that he is headed into a nightmare: “Brother, run! Listen to the elders! Listen to the truth! Run away! Save yourself!” 

Listen: “Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga,” Get Out

Toni Collette in Hereditary (2018)
Toni Collette in Hereditary (2018)

To create the score for Hereditary (2018), director Ari Aster looked to the more avante-garde approach of saxophonist and composer Colin Stetson. Having worked with everyone from Arcade Fire to Tom Waits, Stetson is known for his inventive solo records and has scored films ranging from Westerns to thrillers – but Hereditary presented a unique challenge.

The film relies very little on jump scares, instead building a sense of slowly increasing dread, and Stetson wanted to mirror this by avoiding “cheap horror tropes” that would not line up with the film’s revelations. In the beginning stages of the project, Aster explained to Stetson that the music should embody a “spectre of evil” without “any semblance of sentimentality or nostalgia.” 

To achieve this, Stetson avoided the use of strings and synthesizers and chose to to replicate traditional horror sounds with non-traditional instruments, particularly the clarinet and his own voice. The idea of “hiding in plain sight” was vital to the instrumentation: when the audience thinks they hear a section of violins or the drone of a synthesizer, they’re likely listening to carefully layered woodwinds and vocalizations.

Listen: “Charlie,” Hereditary

Abels and Stetson demonstrate unconventional, but vastly different takes on the horror film standard of heightening fear through music. Abels takes inspiration from blues, bluegrass, and African and African-American musical traditions to intertwine the subtext of the film into the music, while Stetson creates deceptive instrumentation by trading in a full orchestra for clarinets, saxophones, and his own voice – but no matter the approach, the disquieting movies they accompany are better for it. 

Sources and Further Reading

How Scores to ‘Three Billboards,’ ‘Get Out’ and ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ Tune Up Intensity (Variety)

How composer Michael Abels produced the chilling score for Get Out (Crack Magazine)

The Meaning Behind ‘Get Out’s’ Haunting Score  (The Hollywood Reporter)

How Hereditary composer Colin Stetson made the movie ‘feel evil’ (The Verge)

The Most Terrifying Move of the Year, Hereditary, Has Colin Stetson to Thank (Pitchfork)

The Story Behind the Haunting, Unconventional Music of ‘Hereditary’ (Thrillist)

Spotify Playlist of Notable Tracks

Ghostly Voices: 4 Eerie Art Songs for Halloween

Is that the wind rushing through the trees, or something far more sinister? Featuring terrifying creatures and otherworldly visions, these art songs and lieder set the perfect tone for your Halloween festivities.

1. “The Vampire’s Lullaby,” Geoffrey Allen

Vampires: they’re just like us! If you’re a classical music fan, you might think you’ve heard every kind of lullaby under the sun. British-Australian composer Geoffrey Allen’s “The Vampire’s Lullaby” is here to prove you wrong. Part of the set Songs that mother never taught me, the piece depicts a vampire mother coaxing her little one to sleep “till nightfall” with happy thoughts:

“And when the dark comes, we will take wing

And hunt for our victims, to whom we will cling.”

Video: Songs that mother never taught me, Op. 17: No. 3. The vampire’s lullaby

2. “Erlkönig,” Franz Schubert

A ride through the woods goes horribly wrong in Franz Schubert’s iconic art song “Erlkönig,” widely considered to be one of the greatest ballads ever written. During a late-night journey on horseback, a young boy tells his father that he is being chased by the Erl-King, a supernatural being with questionable intentions. The father doesn’t believe him – until disaster strikes. 

“My son, why do you hide your face so fearfully?

Father, don’t you see the Erl-King there?

The Erl-King with his crown and train?”

My son, it is a streak of mist.”

Video: Franz Schubert: Erlkönig

3. “The Wanderer,” Franz Joseph Haydn

Franz Joseph Haydn’s lied “The Wanderer” places the listener in a gloomy forest, a nice place to reflect on awful memories…. right? The singer is trapped in the past, lamenting that there is nothing to hope for and nothing to fear (despite the unsettling sights all around). 

“To wander alone when the moon, faintly beaming

With glimmering lustre, darts thro’ the dark shade,

Where owls seek for covert, and nightbirds complaining

Add sound to the horror that darkens the glade.”

Video: Haydn: The Wanderer

4. “Hexenlied,” Felix Mendelssohn

Equally infused with joy and horror, Felix Mendelssohn’s “Hexenlied” (“Witches’ Song”) follows a coven of witches as they celebrate a special time of year. Ghastly visitors join them as they dance, leaving behind wonderful gifts (and scaring off the local humans).

“A fiery dragon flies round the roof

And brings us butter and eggs:

The neighbors catch sight of the flying sparks,

And cross themselves for fear of the fire.”

Video: Palais Lichtenau session • Hexenlied

Terrifying Films, Terrific Music

By Hannah Lieberman

Think about your favorite scene in a scary movie. What is it that makes you cringe? Maybe it’s the notorious “dun-dun” of Jaws, or the cutting strings in Psycho. Music has a unique ability to heighten the tension in horror films and make audiences jump. The right soundtrack can even turn beloved family flicks into horrifying movies, as one editor did with Mrs. Doubtfire.

Pianist Ethan Uslan, known for his ragtime remixes of classical pieces, has experience in accompanying films of various genres, including some that might be on your Halloween playlist. We asked him a few questions about his experiences:

What goes into preparing for this type of performance? Do you have a score or are you improvising?

For most comedy films, I just wing it. I have lots of happy marches and ragtime pieces in my repertoire that fit well with slapstick action and a “funny” feel. I also have love music, sad music, danger music, etc, ready to go.  I often improvise and play with harmonies and tempos and volume and different registers of the piano and make stuff up on the fly.

Sometimes I make up little melodies but usually I use existing pieces in my repertoire (although I still improvise with tempos, volumes, etc). An example of existing music that I use: “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” makes a great love theme and Grieg’s Triumphant March works great when the hero vanquishes the villain.

For dramas or horror movies, it does not work to play lots of bouncy ragtime, so I prepare by seeing the movie in advance and compiling a little score filled with existing music (and lots of improvising in between).

The existing music can be classical (I played a lot of Handel in The Black Pirate and I like to play the Mendelssohn’s Gondola Song during the underground gondola in scene of Phantom of the Opera) or I use photoplay music, which was movie mood music published in the 1910s and 1920s just for the purpose of silent films.

Pieces would be called “Agitato #32” or “Love Theme #6” and you can use the in any movie at an appropriate scene.  Sometimes I use these and they work great.

What’s most exciting for you about playing music along with a silent film?

When the crowd gets into it they boo the bad guy and cheer the good guy and the room becomes electric.

What addition do you think live music brings to a viewer’s experience of a film?

Live music makes the event more exciting, and when everything is going right the performer feeds off the crowd.

Can you share an experience of the best feedback you’ve gotten about a gig accompanying a silent film?

After the film people have said nice things to me about the performance but honestly for me the best feedback is to hear audience reaction during the film – that shows me they are engaged and that’s the highest compliment I can receive.

Want to learn/hear some more on silent film music? Check out Episode #9 of Ethan’s podcast “The Carolina Shout,” entitled Don’t Open That Door!!


Hannah Lieberman is a senior at Davidson College where she studies Political Science and Theatre. She loves her work at WDAV, where you can hear her live on Sunday mornings.

Top 5 Scariest Halloween Soundtracks

It’s Halloween, and that calls for creepy themes to give you a chill. Matt Rogers, host of WDAV’s Reel Spooks, gives us a show preview by sharing his top five picks for scariest Halloween soundtracks.

Cape Fear

This is Bernard Herrmann at his brassy best. When the horns kick in, you know you’re in trouble. The score was so good that it was used in both the original movie and the remake.




The main theme, “Tubular Bells,” by Mike Oldfield, wasn’t written for the movie, and by itself isn’t particularly scary. But see the movie, and those seemingly innocent chimes will forever after conjure images of sweet little possessed Regan.



The Omen

Jerry Goldsmith finally won his Oscar for this chilling score. He was also nominated for Best Original Song for the film’s choral piece, “Ave Satani” (“Hail Satan”). It’s creep-tastic.



This is the pinnacle of the Herrmann/Hitchcock collaboration. Those screeching strings are iconic. Try to imagine the famous shower scene without them. Just wouldn’t be the same.



Bride of Frankenstein


UPDATE (10/27/15):
To listen to all of Matt Rogers’s picks — including Psycho, Bride of Frankenstein, The Exorcist, Dracula, The Omen, and more — tune into ‘Reel Spooks’ Friday, October 30, 2015 at 9 p.m. Are you in the Charlotte area? Tune into 89.9fm Classical Public Radio. Prefer to stream? Listen live at WDAV.org or on Apple and Android apps.