New Music Friday: Haunted Halloween Dances

Haunted Halloween Dances is a new suite of Halloween music from Ingrid Koller.

“Spooky Samba” conjures up images of a frightening graveyard dance with its ghostly harmonics and its relentless samba rhythm. The samba rhythm is established in the beginning and travels throughout the orchestra, with each section getting a turn. It can be heard in three ways: at times pizzicato, at times played with the bow, and sometimes played “col legno” with the wood of the bow. After a brief intro, the melody for the samba begins quietly in the violas and cellos as if coming from a distance. The melody then travels to the violin section, where it gains strength. The dancers are coming closer. Listen for the ghostly whispers as the violins and violas glissando up and down their fingerboards playing harmonics that occur on their open strings. At one point, the melody can be heard in canon with the violins and the cellos. About halfway through the piece, listen for the contest of Good versus Evil which occurs when the upper and lower strings appear to be battling between Major and minor versions of the melody. Finally, the Samba melody returns quietly at the end in the violas and cellos as the spirits recede, perhaps weary from their dancing.

“Terrible Tango” begins with establishing the tango rhythm in the cello and bass, accompanied by tremolo in the viola section. This sets a menacing tone for the whole piece. The sweeping tango melody is introduced by the violins at first in unison and later in harmony. This melody ultimately travels throughout the entire orchestra, and every section gets a turn. Frequently, the music comes first and then the title. In this case, the music for this piece was inspired by its title. When I landed on the name “Terrible Tango,” I knew I had to create a tango that was menacing and frightening.

The strangeness of the “Weird Waltz” is evident from the beginning. The waltz rhythm begins normally enough in the intro but is soon interrupted by a few strangely placed accented notes, creating a very clumsy waltz indeed. Also, we hear what sound like “wrong” notes. These notes, often occurring in the 2nd violin section, are jarring. They occur seemingly randomly in other sections as well and create an unsettled feeling throughout. The title for this work was inspired by a scrap of paper I found in an old folder of unfinished pieces. In my youth, I had started a piece for solo piano called “The Weird Waltz.” (apparently, I have been a fan of alliteration all of my life…) I’m glad that I was able to finally use the title and share the fun and drama of this weird waltz with young string players.

About Haunted Halloween Dances

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Spooky Samba

To help the students really embrace the dynamics, engage the students’ imaginations by creating a narrative about spooky graveyard dancers. Better yet, have the students come up with their own stories.

The dynamics can be reinforced by telling the story of the dancers coming from a distance and then becoming more present or distant as the melody gets louder or softer.
At measure 31, have the students practice the harmonic glissandi at different speeds. Again, engage their imaginations by emphasizing the improvisatory nature of this section and that the “ghosts” can fly at different speeds. When practicing this, the cellos and basses can try this on their A strings along with the upper strings, even if this does not appear in their part during the piece.

At letter C, bring out the violins and cellos as they play the melody in canon with each other.

Between letter F and letter H, experiment with the tremolos and have the students try them sul ponticello for a different color.

At letter H, emphasize the battle between Good and Evil as the upper strings and lower strings battle it out between major and minor versions of the melody. Point out how by changing only one note of the scale, the entire character of the melody is changed.

Terrible Tango

Be sure to keep the tango rhythm steady and not rushed, especially when playing pizzicato.

The tango melody should be very dramatic. Have the players use a lot of bow during the slurs to free their bow arms and make the most of this expressive tango theme.

During the double-stopped tango rhythm in the violin sections at letter A, be careful not to let the violins cover the violas and cellos.

At letter C, emphasize the continuous stream of eighth notes being passed between the 2nd violins and violas as they alternate between eighth notes and tremolo measures.

To demonstrate how the tango rhythm travels throughout the sections, have the students try playing only when they have the dotted quarter tango rhythm. This will promote listening across sections and will reinforce how important it is to keep the tango rhythm steady.

Weird Waltz

Have the orchestra bring out the accented notes during the hemiola sections to emphasize the clumsiness of the waltz.
Have the students isolate the “wrong notes” of the dissonant chords and identify the section which is playing the one note that doesn’t fit the chord. Then, have the students in those sections bring out those dissonant notes.

At letter E, encourage the violists to really bring out this haunting melody. Then, at measure 72, the cellists join in as well.

About Ingrid Koller

Ingrid Koller is a freelance violist, violin and viola instructor, and composer in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. She has played in numerous ensembles and orchestras and has been a member of the Lake String Quartet for over 28 years. Nationally recognized artists for whom Ingrid has played include Roy Clark, Michael Card, and Fernando Ortega. Ingrid is a founder and co-director of the Early Bird String Academy, a before-school orchestra program in North Saint Paul, Minnesota. Inspired by her students, she writes engaging and imaginative pieces for string orchestra and small ensembles. Ingrid studied with John Tartaglia at the University of Minnesota where she obtained a Bachelor of Music in Viola Performance. Ingrid is a member of the Viola Society of America, American String Teacher’s Association, American Composer’s Forum, and ASCAP. Published works: Adeste Fiddles, LudwigMasters Publications and Five Duets for Two Violas, Five Duets for Two Violins, and Five Duets for Violin and Viola, Latham Music, Ltd/LudwigMasters Publications, Hello Cellos, Keiser Southern Music, Haunted Halloween Dances, Tempo Press.

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