A Musical Halloween

| October 27, 2010 | Comments (1)

Halloween concert from the chicago symphony orchestraDoesn’t it feel like Halloween has gone from being a one-day holiday to a month-long death march of costumes, parties and candy? First, you have to take your kids to the pumpkin patch — and by the way, when did “pumpkin patch” become code for “dusty carnival with the occasional gourd thrown in for good measure?”  Then, there’s the Halloween festivities at all the local landmarks, like the Brookfield Zoo’s “Creatures of the Night” and the Chicago Botanic Garden’s “Trains, Tricks and Treats.” Add that to the school parades and parties; by the time Halloween rolls around, your kids’ costumes are torn and stained and you never want to see another candy corn as long as you live.

But there is one Chicago Halloween tradition that doesn’t make me grumpy: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Hallowed Haunts concert. On a Saturday afternoon in October, the Chicago Civic Orchestra, which is the training orchestra for the CSO, performs a lively concert at Symphony Hall for kids ages 5 and up featuring some of the spookiest music in the classical canon. (Think Bach’s Toccata in D Minor and Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, which many of us know from Bugs Bunny cartoons. Yes, its the “Kill the Wabbit” song.) The kids and the musicians come in costume; the concert is preceded by activities and games in a wonderfully decorated “Haunted Ballroom” and the concert itself is full of fun and mischief.

This year, my mother-in-law, who is a very serious amateur pianist and classical music devotee, was in town visiting the weekend of the Hallowed Haunts concert and so she got to accompany Zuzu — dressed as Hogwarts’ own Hermione Granger — and I to the concert. We arrived early to enjoy the Halloween activities in the Haunted Ballroom and were just in time to see the Civic Orchestra’s young musicians arrive in their imaginative costumes. It was hard to decide whether we preferred the viola section, who had dressed as different-colored crayons or the Smurf double basses. (Of course, I had to explain to Zuzu what Smurfs were….)

As for the concert itself, it was impossible to resist the good humor of guest conductor Alistair Willis as he presided over a costume contest judged by the audience, led the orchestra through its bone-chilling program and bantered with the ghost of Romantic composer — and notorious show-off — Franz Liszt (aptly played by actor Alan Schmuckler). The highlight for the music-lovers in the audience was undoubtedly the virtuoso piano performance by Aurora native Brett Rowe. Rowe did a masterful job playing Liszt’s feverish Totentanz, a “dance of the dead,” which surely has slayed many a lesser pianist. Zuzu is now in her second year of piano lessons and it was great fun to watch her amazement as Rowe’s fingers flew over the keyboard.

The Hallowed Haunts concert is actually only one of many family-friendly offerings from the CSO. The Kraft Foods Family Matinee series offers three kid-friendly concerts a year — a performance of “Peter and the Wolf” in conjunction with the Lookinglass Theater is coming up on November 6 — and there is also a wonderful family holiday concert in December. I am more grateful than I can say to the CSO for doing so much to make classical music accessible and fun for kids. Our symphony is truly one of the great treasures of this city and by offering performances specifically geared to families with young kids, the CSO ensures that it is a treasure that we all can enjoy.

Happy Halloween!

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Category: arts, New Posts

About Emily: Emily is a Washington DC native now living in the near west suburbs of Chicago. A lawyer by training, she works part-time teaching at a local law school and spends most of her time taking care of her family and volunteering in her community. Emily and her husband have a daughter who is in second grade and a three-year-old son. Emily’s daughter has many food allergies, which can make birthday parties, school lunches and dining out a challenge, but she strives to keep her daughter’s life pretty normal and even fun. Emily’s son does not appear to have any allergies, just a profound aversion to the word "no." Emily’s tastes range from the serious to the frivolous. She subscribes to US Weekly and The New Yorker. She follows politics, theater, movies, television, fashion and pop culture. That doesn’t mean she actually goes to the theater or dresses fashionably, of course. Emily loves to cook more than almost anything else and she recently became an avid canner; but she doesn't garden and she barely decorates. You can read Emily’s thoughts on all these topics and whatever else comes to mind at her personal blog <West of the Loop. View author profile.

Comments (1)

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  1. Chefdruck says:

    I agree that Halloween has become a month-long affair, but I actually love that it has. Keeps the fun going longer and takes the emphasis off of candy. I’m so bummed that I missed this concert. I’m leaving this post and signing up for Peter and the Wolf. Can’t wait. Thanks for spreading the word about this great series for kids.


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