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Susan Pascale

Scary Advice from a Music Teacher: HOW TO MAKE HALLOWEEN A HIT!

October 23, 2012 at 8:23 PM

Snap your strings! Stomp your feet! Play on the bridge!

That may not sound like traditional advice for a conductor to give her
string orchestra, but during Halloween season, it can mean improved
skills and vastly increased enthusiasm for your young musicians as well as for you!

At least that’s what we’ve discovered in our strings program, now
celebrating its 11th year.

Doing Halloween up big started about eight years ago, with monthly
recitals for our strings students. We asked each performer to wear their Halloween costumes. This was a huge hit with both parents and the children – it’s harder to be nervous when you’re dressed like a superhero!

Then we decided the entire orchestra should perform in costume. Our 60 orchestra members are ages 5 – 12. For that concert, I couldn’t resist getting into the act. –I dressed up as Cruella de Ville. The kids and parents at first did not recognize me. It came as a hilarious shock. There were lots of laughs as I ran the recital in character, as a meanie!

The following year, our orchestras were invited to perform at
a children’s museum’s ‘Pumpkin Festival.’ We were to be prominently showcased on an outdoor stage. I decided to rent a Marie Antoinette costume. The hooped skirt was so wide and my wig so tall we had to borrow a bigger vehicle to transport me. Even then, it took a team of parents to pry me out of the van!

After overcoming that obstacle, we were quite a hit! The kids had a blast and so did I. So now, a Halloween concert is an annual ritual.

Here are seven reasons why Halloween can be the best time of year for you and your music students:

#1. It’s a great way to dive into the fall semester, and get your students
excited about being in orchestra, With Halloween just 8 weeks away kids work hard to get ready.

# 2. Halloween can be a technical smorgasbord. There is a lot of
great spooky music out there that inspires kids and teaches unusual
techniques that will be useful in the long run. Things like shifting
up and down the fingerboard; playing harmonics; using different parts of the bow; and playing extreme dynamics. Some of my favorite pieces:

- Creepy Crawl, by David Shaffer and Jason Barrera
- Ghost of John, arranged by Susan Brown.
- The Curse of the Rosin Eating Zombies from Outer Space, by Richard Meyer
- Creepy Classics, arranged by Roy Phillippe,

#3. You can develop creative rituals and traditions. For example, ‘Rosin Eating Zombies’ calls for a solo scream. We hold an open audition during rehearsal. There is tons of hysterical laughter as the kids vote for a winner. We make it even scarier by turning off the lights during the performance so we’re in a completely black room (I wave a light-up baton, and the kids play from memory.)

Another ritual: Long before the concert, we create ‘guess what the conductor will be wearing!’ game. It’s top secret, revealed at the time of the concert. It’s a fun shock for all.

#4. It’s a bonding experience. My goal is to keep kids playing their instruments as long as possible, especially through the difficult teen years. Events like these create lasting friendships, which leads to children staying in music.

#5. The media loves it. A costumed children’s orchestra dressed playing spooky and classical music– it’s eye candy, as well as ‘ear candy’!

#6. It’s a fundraising opportunity. As long as you’re generating
publicity and drawing a crowd, you might as well raise some money. We
sell orchestra totes at the concert, to help raise money for our upcoming trip to perform at Carnegie Hall

#7. It’s an outreach opportunity. We advertise the Halloween concert as
the perfect first orchestra experience for tots and older. Audience parents have told us that the concert inspired their children to take up a stringed instrument.

So what will I wear this Halloween? Shhhh, I’m not saying! You’ll find out soon enough! (One clue: we’ll need an even bigger van than last year!)

The Los Angeles Children’s Orchestra’s performance at the Kidspace Museum Pumpkin Festival in Pasadena, CA will take place on October 28, 2012, at noon. For more information go to www.kidspacemuseum.org.


From Joshua Iyer
Posted on October 24, 2012 at 9:20 PM
This sounds like a lot of fun! I'm definitely going to pull my violin out on Halloween night and play something spooky. In our recent concert, we played Rosin Eating Zombies and I was just thinking about that piece being a great one for Halloween while we played it.

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