Students of Reagan Brasch at the Music Institute of Chicago formed the group “The Stomping Vampires” for their annual Halloween group recital. Pictured are Andrew, Vivek, Sydney, Isabella, and Sarah.
It’s August. All my students know what that means—it’s time to plan for the Halloween group recital. It wasn’t always this way—my violin teacher friend, Danielle Charboneau, deserves all the credit. When she moved to California to start a new studio, her former students who joined my studio begged me to continue her tradition of a group concert at Halloween. I agreed. The result is my favorite concert of the year, and all it takes is a little planning.
Assemble the groups. Starting in summer, I pair up my students and their family members who play instruments with other students and their families. The Music Institute of Chicago, where I teach, has several campuses. I try and pair up people from the same campus and same lesson day to make rehearsing easier. I like to match the students who have parents who play together, so that the adults aren’t as self-conscious. The minimum number in each group is three; any less, and the concert is too long for the little ones. The younger kids play in larger groups, and even my Pre-Twinklers participate.
Pick the date. I always have the concert on the week before Halloween (on a Saturday or Sunday) at night. This way, I’m not conflicting with other Halloween celebrations.
Pick the music. I change the repertoire every year. A typical program will have some Suzuki duets, folk tunes, violin choir pieces, fiddle tunes, and of course, spooky music (think Ghost of John and Hot Cross Bones). I always have one group do a sing-a-long at the beginning: for example, Take Me Out to the Ball Game played by a group of violinists and cellists dressed in (you guessed it) baseball uniforms. Over the years, I’ve had a wide variety of instruments. Once, I even had a group consisting of violin, French horn, cello, piano, flute, and tin whistle (probably the most unique Hunters’ Chorus I’ve ever heard).
Set up rehearsal times. I use their private lessons as a meeting time for each group. I try to choose simple music that does not require more than two or three rehearsals.
Pick group names and costumes. The students come up with spook-tacular names for their groups. Sometimes they coordinate their costumes. My one rule is every performer (parents, too) must wear a costume. I must admit, this is my favorite part. One year, I was Mrs. Hippy Hot Dog. Another year, I dressed my then two-year-old like Jack Rabbit Eats Carrots.
Organize the after-party. After the concert, we have a reception with pizza and goodies to celebrate all of the awesome performances.
Late October is a perfect time for a group concert. The kids are just getting back into the swing, so something non-threatening like playing with their friends and families is a great way to kick off the year. Another plus is the families that make up my studio get to know each other better. I love bringing parents out of musical retirement. I have one dad that hadn’t played cello in years. Now, every year he plays with his son and daughter. My hope is to create many happy musical memories for all my students and their families.
A creaking mansion. A witch’s cackle. A ghostly howl. The right combination of sounds can give anyone goose bumps. Last October, the students in my Suzuki piano studio—from kindergarten through high school—celebrated the sounds of Halloween with a program called Music for a Dark and Stormy Night. This program generated a lot enthusiasm from the performers, and from the audience of family and friends.
To create a spooky atmosphere, the students decorated the piano with a creepy candelabrum, a wire black cat, and (piano-safe) cobwebs. A glowing jack-o-lantern stood on the floor nearby. Inside our “haunted house,” each student performed the eeriest music he or she could find. Performers and audience members also got in the spirit by donning their Halloween costumes!
Unlike all our other music performances where, in Suzuki style, the music is memorized, I encouraged students to use printed music. During the summer, I had accumulated spooky sounding sheet music by a variety of composers such as Melody Bober, Anne Shannon Demarest, Nancy Faber, William Gillock, Edvard Grieg, Larysa Kuzmenko, Jennifer Linn, Catherine Rollin and John Williams. Students tried out various pieces during their lessons in September, often because they were drawn to a particularly evocative title. After reading through a number of pieces, students made their final selection. What a painless way to encourage sight reading!
Students who don’t yet read music had fun composing original compositions for the occasion. Discussions of mood, specific characters and scenes assisted the creative process: some used all black keys to depict a black witch’s hat or black bats or cats; low, staccato clusters were scary door knocks; and white keys did well for ghosts. The possibilities were endless!
Students displayed other creative talents during the program. Some students drew artwork to accompany these original works. While they performed, their pictures were displayed on music stands next to the piano for all to see. Other students wrote lyrics to go with their compositions and sang them as they played. The high school students read poems by Poe and others, which added to the ambiance. In the end, we combined music, art, and poetry in an enjoyable afternoon for all, which we look forward to recreating this October.