Halloween

Grim Grinning Ghosts

If you’ve ever been to Disney’s The Haunted Mansion, you’ve heard Grim Grinning Ghosts. Here’s a version by the A Capella group Voiceplay

 

 

 

The music for the song was written in the late 1960’s by Buddy Baker and the lyrics were written by Xavier Atencio. When you go on the ride, one of the voice talents in the attraction is Thurl Ravenscroft, who was recognizable from other Disney projects, the annual Chuck Jones/Dr. Seuss Christmas special How The Grinch Stole Christmas and as the voice of Tony the Tiger. He leads the five “singing busts” in the graveyard scene with his characteristic voice. A projected film loop is used to animate the busts, with Ravenscroft and the other vocalists appearing as “themselves.” The Ravenscroft bust, which is the second one in from the left, is “broken” and has often been misidentified as being an image of Walt Disney himself. The other four voices of the busts are Jay Meyer, Chuck Schroeder, Verne Rowe, and Bob Ebright.

 

The song is written in a minor key, which usually makes for a “spooky” or “eerie” sound. Different variations use 4/4 or 3/4 for the meter. The following chord progression is used for all versions: Am, B, Am, B, Am, F, Am, F7, Am, E7, Am. Typically, each chord lasts for two beats of 4/4 or three beats of 3/4. This underlying chord progression provides a macabre mood for the Haunted Mansion attractions. The song modulates to B-flat minor thus: Am, E7, F7, Bm and on to B-minor via Bm, F7 and F7. The melody then modulates back to A-minor after repeating a dissonant chord six times. When recording the song, the organist actually played the song backwards to achieve the discord that the composer intended. The organ part that can be heard in the song is that tune played forwards.

 

What do you think of this song? Is it spooky? Scary?

 

Check out the previous songs I’ve covered in the 13 days of Halloween

Frankenstein!! Miss Dracula

Spooky Scary Skeletons

 

Halloween

Frankenstein!! Miss Dracula

This one was a new one to me. But it’s absolutely fascinating!

 

 

HK Gruber (also known as Heinz Karl Gruber) was born in 1943 and is the composer/conductor of the BBC Philharmonic. He wrote Frankenstein!!, in 1976-77 and it is called a pan-demonium for chansonnier and orchestra (or chamber orchestra) on verses of HC Artmann. It was developed from the voice-ensemble Frankenstein Suite, 1971)

 

The world premiere of this work was on September 30th, 1979 in Berlin. In doing some research on this piece, I found this from Gruber himself:

The origins of this ‘pan-demonium’ go back to the Frankenstein Suite of 1971 – a sequence of songs and dances written for the Vienna ‘MOB art and tone ART Ensemble’, which was then active in the field of instrumental theatre. Although the Suite was a success, I was unhappy about its improvisatory structure, and also needed the resources of a full orchestra. So in 1976/77 I completely recomposed the work in its present form. It was first performed on 25 November 1978 by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Simon Rattle, with myself as soloist. For the 1979 Berlin Festival I wrote an alternative version for soloist and 12 players (first performed that year by the Vienna ensemble ‘die reihe’ under Kurt Schwertsik, again with myself as soloist). Since then, the two versions have happily co-existed; and in 1983, at the Espace Cardin in Paris, Frankenstein!! entered the theatre for the first time – an unforeseen development, but one that proved suited to Artmann’s multi-layered fantasy.

The title of the volume from which I took the poems of Frankenstein!! – Allerleirausch, neue schöne kinderreime (Noises, noises, all around – lovely new children’s rhymes) – promises something innocuous; but Artmann himself has described the poems as being, among other things, ‘covert political statements’. Typically he refused to explain what he meant. But his reticence is eloquent: the monsters of political life have always tried to hide their true faces, and all too often succeed in doing so. One of the dubious figures in the pandemonium is the unfortunate scientist who makes so surprising an entry at mid-point. Frankenstein – or whoever we choose to identify with that name – is not the protagonist, but the figure behind the scenes whom we forget at our peril. Hence the exclamation marks.

Artmann’s demystification of heroic villains or villainous heroes finds a musical parallel in, for instance, the persistent alienation of conventional orchestral sound by resorting to a cupboard-full of toy instruments. However picturesque or amusing the visual effect of the toys, their primary role is musical rather than playful – even howling plastic horses have their motivic / harmonic function. In order to do justice to the true significance of the texts it would be enough to provide some extra exercises in structural complexity. By analogy with Artmann’s diction, my aim was a broad palette combining traditional musical idioms with newer and more popular ones, and thus remaining true to the deceptive simplicity of texts whose forms at first glance suggest a naive and innocently cheerful atmosphere.

 

What do you think about this piece? Is it spooky? Creepy? Weird? Fun? Comment with your thoughts!

 

Check out yesterday’s post about Spooky Scary Skeletons!

Halloween

Spooky, Scary Skeletons

I found a listening calendar that is the 13 days of Halloween, or the spooky season. I’ve shared it with my students, so I thought I’d expound on it a bit more in a blog post format.

 

 

 

Yes, we’re starting with Spooky Scary Skeletons. Where in the world did this song come from? The song was written by Andrew Gold and has been around since 1996. Thanks to the Internet, it has taken on a life of its own in meme culture. In 2019, Intelligencers Brian Feldman called the song “the Internet’s Halloween anthem”, and that same year, Rolling Stones E. J. Dickson referred to the song as the “Halloween meme” of Generation Z. In 2021, Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post ranked the song number two on her list of the 50 best Halloween songs of all time.

 

Gold put the song on his album “Halloween Howls”, an album solely consisting of Halloween themed music. He played all of the instruments on the album! Of course, the song has been remixed, put into different formats, had different videos added to accompany it, but it’s quickly become a popular and favorite song. It’s one of my 10 year daughter’s favorite songs! The video that the song is paired with is actually a Disney animation from the 1930’s!

 

It seems like after Christmas songs, Halloween is definitely the season with the next largest amount of songs. It’s an interesting thing to ponder why, outside of Christmas, having songs about spooky things is the next most predominant on the list. Why do you think that is?

 

What do you think of the song? Comment with what you think! Happy haunting!