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Denied an organ prelude, YSO Halloween show goes on

Daniel Harrison ’86PhD spends most of his time as a music theorist. But every Halloween night at midnight, he has a rock-star moment—playing the Bach Toccata and Fugue in D Minor to open the Yale Symphony Orchestra’s wildly popular Halloween concert. (For years, the piece was played by Robert “Dr. Death” Parker ’82, ’85MusM.) “At the sound of the first notes, 2,600 students packing Woolsey Hall let out a huge roar that hardly subsides until the final chord,” says Harrison, the Allen Forte Professor of Music Theory. “Organists rarely get this kind of reception.”

This year, though, things didn’t go as planned. Harrison, the Allen Forte Professor of Music arrived to find that a timer had been installed on the organ to prevent its being played after 11 pm. Frantic voice mails to get the timer overridden were to no avail, and the concert started without its traditional prelude. No one in the audience seemed to notice, though, Harrison says. They just wanted to party.”

The Halloween show is one of the hottest tickets on campus: this year’s show sold out 90 seconds after ticket sales went live online, a new record. (A single ticket the Yale Daily News auctioned off to raise money for charity sold for $80.) Even as costume-clad students gathered outside Woolsey before the show, others were scalping tickets.

The centerpiece of the Halloween show in recent years has become an hour-long Halloween-themed silent film with musical accompaniment by the orchestra. This year's film was a parody of The Wizard of Oz, in which one Yale student was magically transported to “Yalippiac” and teamed up with three new friends—a brainless Cornell student, a heartless MIT student, and a cowardly Princeton student—to return home. Along the way, the protagonists encountered a good witch (dean of student affairs Marichal Gentry) and the wizard (played by President Peter Salovey ’86PhD), as well as the obligatory wicked witch (a nefarious Harvard student).

Celebrity cameos are a longstanding tradition for the film. This year did not disappoint, with both Connecticut congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and comedian Jimmy Kimmel making appearances. (One moment that drew particularly raucous laughs occurred when Kimmel reminded the film’s protagonist that “all roads lead to” Toad’s Place.)

“Since the midnight show is our first and only performance, it’s always exciting to hear how the audience will react,” said Rachel Perfecto ’15, the conductor of the show. “Everything went smoothly, the musicians had a great time, and the audience seemed to really enjoy it.”


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.


Filed under Yale Symphony Orchestra, Halloween, Music
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