Halloween

Part 2: Paranormal Haunts and Happenings of the Classical Music Realm

For many listeners, hearing some of history’s greatest classical works can be a transportive experience. You’re sliding your headphones on one minute, and the next, a composer’s personality comes to life within your mind. Soon enough, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Rebecca Clarke, and Edvard Grieg begin to feel like old friends. But the effect might not be so comforting if, say, Beethoven showed up at your door one night. 

As you’ll soon discover, that hasn’t stopped long-dead classical music icons from (allegedly) returning to the land of the living, leaving orders and nuggets of wisdom in their wake. One word of caution: you might want to read these stories with the lights on.

Part 1 of this article is available here

   

Tears of the “Unknown Normal” 

Chopin’s death mask, by Clésinger
By JackGibbonsPianist, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Chopin’s restless spirit strikes again! In fact, this story is just one of several spooky experiences pianist Byron Janis has had involving the late composer. Feeling a supernatural link with Chopin, Janis was once gifted a rare cast of the composer’s face from Georges Sand’s estate, which he proudly displayed on his piano. One day, guests who were visiting Janis’ family at home asked about the mask – and suddenly, something remarkable happened. Salty fluid began to leak from the cast’s eyes, followed by a frothy foam bubbling forth from its mouth, leaving the family and guests in awe and “terribly shocked.” Janis’ explanation for the incident? The mask was crying tears of joy – and “Chopin was happy he could communicate, somehow, with the current world.” 

As for Janis’ attitude toward uncanny moments like this one, we’ll let him explain. “I don’t like the word ‘paranormal,’ I like ‘unknown normal, because that’s what it really is,” he shared in an NPR feature. “Things are unknown, and once they become known then they become normal after a bit.”

   

Chad Lawson’s Audience of One

Two years ago, North Carolina’s own Chad Lawson was wrapping up a soundcheck at Austin’s Paramount Theatre when he got the idea to snap a few pictures of the empty recital hall for social media. Three quick taps in rapid succession later, Lawson had what he needed and carried on with his day. However, while scrolling through the pictures to make an Instagram post later that night, he noticed something odd: although he believed he had been alone in the hall, someone was standing on the mezzanine floor in the second snap. In the first and third pictures, no one was there.

Soon, Lawson discovered that the theatre had a reputation for paranormal visits, in particular the specter of a woman in a white dress who often appeared in the mezzanine – exactly the type of figure that had appeared in his photo. Though there is no consensus about the spirit’s identity, some have guessed that she might be a relic of the Civil War era or a former projectionist, and audience members sometimes report an unexplainable feeling of discomfort in that area of the theatre. For now, all we can do is speculate (and get a glimpse of the haunting photos for ourselves). 

Chad Lawson: So, I wasn’t gonna post this because it freaked me out a good bit and hadn’t noticed until returning to the hotel. After soundcheck for our Lore Podcast show, I took 3 quick-tap photos from stage to share. In the photo you can clearly see someone in the mezzanine. Noticing it, I looked at the 1st & 3rd pics and the person is absent. So, i google “ghosts paramount theatre, Austin (see 2nd pic). Needless to say....I didn’t sleep too well last night.
From Chad Lawson’s Photos on Facebook
     

   

Koussevitzky Gives His Blessing

Serge Koussevitzky, Wikipedia/Public Domain

Even in death, conductor, composer, and double-bassist Serge Koussevitzky wouldn’t trust just anyone with his beloved instrument. Years after the Maestro’s passing, his wife Olga accepted an invitation to hear the New York debut recital of the up-and-coming bassist Gary Karr, unaware that an eerily familiar face would be in attendance. 

As Karr played, Olga was awestruck to see an apparition of her late husband, which appeared to embrace the young bassist. Olga would present Koussevitzky’s instrument to Karr as a gift days later, inspired by what she viewed as a sign from beyond the grave, and from that moment on the bass would be Karr’s faithful companion until his retirement forty years later. 

In a fitting way to return the Koussevitzkys’ generosity, Karr donated the coveted instrument (now known as the Karr-Koussevitzky bass) to the International Society of Bassists, which has lauded the gift as “perhaps the best known bass in existence.” The jury’s still out on whether it’s also the most haunted bass in existence – but some who have played it, including bassist Dennis Whittaker, have sensed something more historical than ghostly. “It’s impossible not to feel the heritage of the instrument. Some say they feel a presence,” Whittaker explained in an interview with Culture Map Houston. “I’d like to think that it’s the spirit of Koussevitzky making sure that we are playing music right.”

   
Sources

Chopin In The Shadows: The Supernatural Adventures Of Byron Janis (NPR Classical)

This pianist thought he was alone in the concert hall. His photo tells a different story. (Classic FM)

Phantom of The Paramount? Artist performing at Austin theater shares chilling photos (KVUE ABC)

Karr-Koussevitsky Bass (International Society of Bassists)

Serge The Musical Ghost: Great haunted instrument makes a spooky Houston debut (Culture Map Houston)

Paranormal Haunts and Happenings of the Classical Music Realm

For many listeners, hearing some of history’s greatest classical works can be a transportive experience. You’re sliding your headphones on one minute, and the next, a composer’s personality comes to life within your mind. Soon enough, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Rebecca Clarke, and Edvard Grieg begin to feel like old friends. But the effect might not be so comforting if, say, Beethoven showed up at your door one night. 

As you’ll soon discover, that hasn’t stopped long-dead classical music icons from (allegedly) returning to the land of the living, leaving orders and nuggets of wisdom in their wake. One word of caution: you might want to read these stories with the lights on. 

   

A Violinist Summons Schumann

(And Wouldn’t You Know It, He’s a Fan)
Jelly d’Aranyi
By Unknown author

If your cousin’s wife’s middle school friend is to be believed, ouija boards are bad news – but Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Aranyi must have been willing to take a risk. D’Aranyi and her sister Adila, both accomplished musicians and lovers of the supernatural, reportedly spoke to the ghost of Robert Schumann through a gadget similar to a ouija board at a séance. Schumann instructed d’Aranyi to find and perform a long-lost work of his, and just like that, Jelly d’Aranyi had been chosen to premiere Schumann’s Violin Concerto from beyond the grave. 

Despite this compelling news, a battle broke out over who should be the first to perform the work when its existence became public knowledge. After the dust settled, d’Arányi gave the concerto its third performance in London with great success (though it’s unclear whether this outcome was disappointing for Schumann’s restless spirit). 

Schumann’s Violin Concerto has since gained recognition as an important work – and to think, we might have never heard it had it not been for his meddling ghost. 

   

Scott Joplin Comes Home

Scott Joplin
By Unknown author
Palisades Virtuosi, Public Domain.

It’s closing time at the Scott Joplin House in St. Louis, and the museum’s curator is getting ready to lock up for the night. The curator turns to tell the final guest it’s time to head out, but the man, who had been idling by the window seconds before, has disappeared without a trace. Later, it occurs to the curator that the guest had looked extremely familiar – and in fact, the museum was once his home.

Well, that’s what the curator told author Tananarive Due (who was subsequently inspired to write the novel “Joplin’s Ghost”), and whether the story is true or not, there is another way we might feel Joplin’s phantom presence. In 1959, a St. Louis music collector uncovered player piano rolls that may have been punched by Joplin himself, and the rolls remain in good enough shape to be used today. According to Due, the sound the rolls produce “is almost like having a ghost in the room.”

More from Tananarive Due – and snippets of what could be Joplin’s handiwork at the piano – can be heard here in a 2006 NPR segment

   

Masterpieces from Beyond the Grave? 

Rosemary Brown
By Louis-Maxime-Dubois
Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

A visit from a spectral stranger in a long black coat would set anyone’s nerves on edge, but for seven-year-old Londoner Rosemary Brown, the alleged encounter marked the beginning of a very unusual career path. The spirit claimed to be a long-dead composer, explaining that he would return to make her famous one day – and years later, Brown identified the visitor as none other than Franz Liszt. 

In her late 40’s, Brown began to report ghostly visits from Liszt and nearly a dozen other classical music figures, claiming that the composers would dictate new works to her as she sat at the piano. Liszt’s promise was soon fulfilled: after a media firestorm erupted, Brown briefly became a household name. She went on to publish several books detailing her experiences, including “Unfinished Symphonies: Voices from the Beyond” (1971) and “Immortals at My Elbow” (1974). 

But was Brown’s story too good to be true? Some psychologists and composers believed the tale, mostly because Brown’s musical training was viewed as too limited to have written such convincing imitations of famous composers’ works. Others felt Brown was simply a genius who had pulled off the ultimate hoax. Whatever the truth may be, surviving recordings of Brown’s works baffle classical music fans – and inspire conspiracy theories – to this day. 

   

David Bowie Meets the Ghost of Chopin

David Bowie
By AVRO – Beeld En Geluid Wiki
Gallerie: Toppop 1974, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl.

Nestled in the French countryside a stone’s throw from Paris, the 18th century castle Château d’Hérouville began a new life as a recording studio in the 1970’s, attracting many of the era’s most high-profile artists (Elton John, Pink Floyd, and Cat Stevens, to name a few). However, when David Bowie arrived to record his 1977 album Low, he may have been greeted by more company than he anticipated.

You see, Frédéric Chopin and the writer George Sand were guests of the chateau at the height of their ill-fated romance in the 19th century – and there’s a persistent rumor that their spirits roam the chateau’s halls, causing mayhem and passing on ghostly messages. The story goes that Bowie instantly refused to sleep in one bedroom upon his arrival, citing inexplicable cold spots and general unease. Producer Tony Visconti, who took the room in Bowie’s place, told Uncut magazine that “there was certainly some strange energy in that chateau… but what could Frédéric and George really do to me, scare me in French?” As for whether Chopin and Sand made any appearances on the album, well… you’ll have to listen for yourself. 

   

Sources

The Séance and Robert Schumann (The American Scholar)

Ghost Stories: The Rediscovery of Schumann’s Only Violin Concerto (Strings Magazine)

Joplin’s Ragtime Style Lives on in Print and Song (NPR)

All hail Rosemary Brown – the dinner lady who played like a pianist possessed (The Guardian)

Château d’Hérouville: The Castle Studio Where Bowie, Elton, and Pink Floyd Recorded (Reverb)

Secret History: David Bowie and the Ghost of Chopin (Slipped Disc)

The Return of the Honky Chateau (BBC)

Bowie Golden Years: Low

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

Pianist
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?”

Variety

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!!

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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.