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  • Phyllis H. Moore

Scary Music

We went to the symphony this afternoon. It was the Halloween performance. The Galveston Symphony has an entertaining and engaging conductor, Trond Saeverud. He selects the music carefully and is obviously enthusiastic about the composers and the history of the pieces. He frequently turns to the audience to explain the composition. Today was no different, but there were tales to tell, scary tales and most of them were from Europe about witches.

The first piece they played was titled Baba Yaga, Op. 56. by Russian composer, Anatoly Lyadov. Baba Yaga is an old hag of a woman, some say she's a witch. She lives in the deep woods in a crooked hut that stands on chicken legs. The fence around the hut is made of bones of the people she has eaten and the hut has hands sticking out of it. Some people say she is also a good spirit, able to help people in trouble. She has a broom, but she flies around in a mortar, using the pestle to steer. She also uses the pestle as a weapon and her broom to sweep away any evidence of her trail.

Baba Yaga is a well-known witch, popular among other composers also. She's known to eat little children. This composition is recognizable and you can hear her when she enters the scene. Better not to approach her hut, even if you need her help.

Night on Bald Mountain is also a Russian composition by Modest Mussgorsky, who based many of his compositions on Russian folklore and legend. Bald mountain is so high the trees no longer grow. The witches' sabbath is celebrated there on the top of a barren, windswept mountain. On a cold night with bitter winds, the witches circle and wail until Satan appears to select the witches that catch his eye. This piece has been featured in several movies.

Another piece begins with a pastoral scene and French horns for the beginning of the hunt, but in the Accursed Huntsman, Cesar Franck leads the listener into the deep woods where demons await to take the huntsman to the depths of Hell.

It's Sunday morning and church bells call the village to services, but the huntsman wants to hunt, so he ignores the bells and heads to the woods. The villagers curse him as he takes off on his horse and he even beats at peasants with his whip as they try to stop him. What starts as a sunny, pristine day, deteriorates as a fog descends on the dark wood and he becomes lost and terrorized by demons. The huntsman is a German count, but Franck is a French composer.

Guess what? Witches don't just come out at night. They can appear any time of day. An exasperated mother threatens her disobedient child that the Noon Witch will soon arrive if he doesn't improve his behavior. Guess what else? She came and took him. Lady Midday is a demon known in Eastern Europe. Antonin Dvorak composed the Noon Witch based on Bohemian legend. Spooky music.

The final piece in the concert was composed by Sir Malcolm Arnold, Tam O'Shanter Overture. Robert Burns wrote a poem in 1790 about a man who stayed too late at the pub and had to return home to an angry spouse. Arnold put the story to music.

Tam O'Shanter has to ride his horse by the graveyard and abandoned church on a dark and foggy night on his way home from the pub. As he passed, he heard wild music and light poured from the windows of the church. He peered through the window and saw an attractive woman in a short skirt. He called out "Weel don, cutty sark." and the music stopped.

All the unholy participants at the party, including the devil began chasing Tam as his horse headed to a running stream, because Satan and his crew cannot cross a running stream. However before the horse reached the stream, the witches pulled her tail off. From that day forward, Tam's tailless horse was a reminder not to stay too late at the pub.

So, the music was fun to listen to and the percussion section took a bow for the Tam O'Shanter Overture. There were cymbals, gongs and other things I'd never seen before. The characters were alive in the music and the audience could feel the mood change and evil enter. European witches are scary and they don't play. BOO!

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