Kristen Lawrence composes Halloween carols for the ‘Night of Spirits’
It’s that time of year again, when we carve our favorite pumpkins, tell spooky stories and sing Halloween carols.
So says Kristen Lawrence, who has recently released a 2-CD set, “Hallowe’en: Night of Spirits.”
And if you’ve never heard the term “Hallowe’en carol” before, there’s a good reason: Lawrence invented the term — using the traditional spelling with the apostrophe, short for “All Hallows’ Evening” — and wrote the carols herself.
“ ’Cause someone had to do it,” said the lifelong Tustin resident. “We have Christmas carols, why not Halloween carols? I’ve always thought October was such a beautiful month, so we need something to celebrate the whole month with.”
Lawrence is an organist and organ teacher who plays with the Pacific Symphony, as well as at weddings, funerals and other church services. She plans to play at the Nov. 20 Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra concert at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
“For me, growing up, [Halloween] was a mystical, magical holiday,” she said. “Then, when I went away to college, I started studying Halloween in a scholarly way, reading up on books that told its pagan history, and [I] learned about the Druid traditions associated with Halloween that have trickled down over the years. I wanted to know why I loved Halloween so much.”
Lawrence was especially intrigued by an outmoded way people used to think about the holiday.
“It used to be associated with romance, did you know that?” she said. “Greeting cards would have that theme. But thinking of Halloween, that way lasted only until the first half of the 20th century … I like to dig up this history of Halloween and present it to people through my music.”
Released Oct. 1, “Hallowe’en: Night of Spirits” is the fourth in her well-received ongoing series of Halloween recordings. It has, appropriately enough, 13 carols on each disc, the first containing most of the vocals, the second the instrumentals.
“Night of Spirits” was one of the old nicknames for Halloween.
“A lot of our traditions come from Ireland, for example, fairies being particularly dangerous on Halloween,” said Lawrence, referring to her track “Scary Fairies.”
Lawrence not only wrote all the music and almost all the lyrics, but she also did all the vocals and played organ, harpsichord, celesta, bells and piano and contributed various sound effects.
“Bumps in the Night” features “an old-timey, vaudeville-esque radio program showcasing charming and whimsical sound oddities,” such as ravens, books, doors, breathing and screams, according to Lawrence.
“And in ‘Monsters,’ besides pipe organ and voice, I pluck the strings of a grand piano and smack them, treating the piano like a percussion instrument,” she said. “All that created great monster sounds.”
Lawrence considers “Demons” and “Jack-o’-Lantern” the two “crown jewels” of the collection. The former has a “demon-slaying” pipe-organ rock anthem. And the latter has more Halloween history behind it.
“Jack-o’-lanterns used to be carved out of big turnips in Old World Ireland,” Lawrence explained. “But when the Irish came to the New World, they discovered pumpkins were much easier to carve.”
The Halloween carols started out as only rounds. (Think: “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”)
“But as I wrote more and more, I didn’t want to limit myself, so I branched out,” she said. “The music tells me where it wants to go and is for anyone to enjoy.”
Lawrence is joined by various other musicians she knows from the Pacific Symphony and community orchestras — and even a couple of members from Oingo Boingo.
She promises more Halloween carols to come.
“I hope I’ve created something that will last and will give people something elegant and beautiful to listen to,” said Lawrence. “But also fun and rocking … I’ve always wanted to just rock.”
Michael Rydzynski is a contributor to Times Community News.
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