Portraits of former University deans and professors adorn the walls, and the space flickers with the eerie glow of camera flashes. Students with laptops, sleeping bags and tired expressions fill the cavernous Sayles Hall. Strange costumes abound, and couples scatter the floor, looking for the best place to lay their blankets, pillows and Ivy Room falafels. A projector on the back wall reveals a black abyss with a sole light.
No, it’s not the line for SexPowerGod tickets. It’s the annual Midnight Organ Recital, one of most famed University Halloween traditions.
Reinstated in 1993 after an eight-year hiatus, the Midnight Organ Recital proves consistently popular, combining classical organ music with the excitement of the holiday. Mark Steinbach, University organist, curator of instruments and lecturer in music, said the concert has grown significantly since its inception.
“The first year, there weren’t that many people,” Steinbach said, but “these years, it’s absolutely packed.” Despite the cold weather Monday night, this year’s concert was no exception.
Arnie Ramirez ’13, who has attended the organ recital each year she has been at Brown, said the inviting atmosphere helps introduce students who might not otherwise listen to classical or organ music to the craft.
“It’s like a giant sleepover for Brown students, except a very short sleepover with very cool music,” she added.
The recital’s cozy atmosphere and student participation contribute to its ever-increasing popularity, said Florian Sprung GS.
Joseph Cadabes ’14, a second-time attendee, praised Steinbach for taking a high art form and embellishing it “with little quirks like the opening casket presentation, the costuming and the overall theater of it.”
Each year, the concert opens with a dramatic entrance from Steinbach who — as he tells the audience — has risen from a 200-year slumber to play organ for the crowd.
Carried in a casket by two lines of black-robed priests, Steinbach emerges to ask the audience the year and place, taking in resounding cries of “Halloween” and “Sayles Hall.”
Monday night, one student yelled “I love you, Mark Steinbach,” to which the vampire organist responded, “I love you too.”
Steinbach typically begins with more classically oriented pieces, which this year included Jehan Alain’s “Litanies” and Charles Gounod’s “Marche Funebre d’une Marionnette.” He followed those with the crowd-pleasing “Hedwig’s Theme” from the Harry Potter film series.
The frosty weather was not the only aspect unique to this year’s performance — Steinbach said he had never before played a Halloween recital with snow on the ground. Members of Brown University Gilbert and Sullivan accompanied Steinbach in a rendition of Arthur Sullivan and William Gilbert’s “When the Night Wind Howls.” Bryan Tyler Parker ’11 GS sang the solo vocals, impressing the crowd with his resounding baritone voice.
“I really liked how they changed it up by having Tyler Parker sing the solo piece with the organ,” Cadabes said.
Steinbach fondly recalled the most memorable concert moments since he revived the annual recitals, including the student-accompanied rendition of “The Monster Mash” and the year the casket nearly flipped him upside down.
He always makes sure to close the recital with the ominous sounds of Bach’s “Toccata con Fuga in D Minor.”
Sprung said the piece is the appropriate end to the annual concert, as the music itself sounds like an idea progressing. Similar to the toccata, the recital, he said, is only “becoming bigger and bigger.”