There’s a lot to love about Halloween: the costumes, the candy, and the treasure trove of spooky music that resurfaces every October. Psychology, physics, cultural norms, and personal memories each influence why we consider certain music scary (more on that HERE). As a result, many songs that we associate with Halloween share some musical commonalities, like minor keys, dissonant chords, and dynamic contrast, but some have earned a place in the Halloween canon without any of these characteristics. Here are a few of the VSO administrative staff’s favorites to add to your Halloween playlist:
For me, nothing says “Halloween” quite like one of the most rapturously weird folktales of all time: the legend of Baba Yaga. According to Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga is an ancient iron-willed bog-witch living in a hut perched on giant chicken legs surrounded by a fence made from human bones, who rides around on her mortar (wielding the pestle as a destructive wand, naturally), and whose primary source of nutrition is stolen children. Neat! The most famous musical depiction of Baba Yaga is from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, but I’m partial to Anatoly Liadov’s less famous Baba Yaga, a short piece he wrote in the early-1900’s. Enjoy!
-Ben Cadwallader, Executive Director
Monster Mash is a pretty self-explanatory Halloween song, but it’s one of my favorites purely because of a memory I have. A few years ago I was in a bar with a good friend and she cued up Monster Mash on the jukebox—and I’ll note here that this was in January or something, NOT an appropriate time of year to listen to Monster Mash—and when it was over she proceeded to play it six or seven more times. There were plenty of people in that bar who definitely did not want to hear Monster Mash for thirty minutes in mid-winter, but it was hilarious and it still makes me laugh. Who says Halloween needs to be limited to October 31st?
-Grace Spain, Box Office Manager
Other than Monster Mash (which was a classic Halloween Karaoke song of choice at JP’s when I hosted), I would go with the Bette Midler version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” from the movie Hocus Pocus. My annual tradition is to put that movie on and carve pumpkins while I sing along and watch them run “amok, amok, amok!”
-Sasha Vaut, Director of Philanthropy
Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini would be my top choice for a spine-shivering Halloween “ditty.” The VSO included it on a Halloween-themed concert at the Flynn in 2011—with cast and crew in costume for an extra treat! Night on Bald Mountain by Mussorgsky (on a CD called Heavy Classix) also jumps to mind because it was our go-to spooky tune for the kids’ costume parades at our Halloween family concerts.
-Eleanor Long, Orchestra Manager
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve associated Halloween with Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in c# minor. A man who lived around the corner from me growing up used to incorporate the piece into a legendary shtick for trick-or-treaters. When we knocked on his door, he would emerge in a hooded robe, play it on a piano just inside his glass front door, then come to the door to give us candy. He never said a word, just offered up a candy bowl with one hand and shakily held a candelabra in the other. Spooky stuff.
-Margot Van Horne, Marketing Manager
P.S. Major thanks to Scott Morris, the Choral Director at my high school. I couldn’t remember the name of the piece, so I sang it for him over the phone (beautifully, I’m sure) and he knew it immediately.
In middle school, my friends and I would go to a haunted house and then stay up late watching Children of the Corn movies. Our school was surrounded by corn fields on all sides, so we were sufficiently freaked out taking the bus out into the country every morning in the dark.
-Mary Stuessy, Accounting and Benefits Manager