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Steinbach haunts in first virtual Halloween Midnight Organ Recital

In an empty Sayles Hall, Steinbach continues the University’s long-standing tradition, brings spooky organ music to U. members online

University Organist Mark Steinbach, dressed as Dracula, virtually emerged from his coffin in a live-streamed rendition of the annual Halloween Midnight Organ Recital Saturday night. Over 300 people enjoyed the recital — which commenced at midnight — from the comfort of their own electronic devices. 

Steinbach ascended to the organ and enchanted listeners with “Apparition de l'église éternelle” by Olivier Messiaen, followed by a piece that he adores, the “Marche Funèbre d’une Marionnette, Op.35, no.2” by Charles Gounod. 

Throughout the concert, Steinbach actively participated in the Zoom chat with viewers, answering questions ranging from the differences between playing the piano and the organ to which organ the Dracula “played 250 years ago.” 

Steinbach concluded his concert with a University favorite, “Toccata con Fuga in D minor, BWV 565” by Johann Sebastian Bach. He then bid the audience farewell and retreated to his coffin. 

The recital, while live streamed over Zoom, was recorded the weekend prior in an empty Sayles Hall on the 1903 organ gifted by Lucian Sharpe, class of 1893, in memory of his parents, according to Encyclopedia Brunonia. The Hutchings-Votey Organ is two stories tall, 20 feet deep and has more than three thousand pipes, Steinbach told The Herald. 

Steinbach, a senior lecturer in music at Brown, arrived at the University in 1993. Soon after, he heard rumors about previous midnight organ recitals and decided to start hosting his own. 

“The first couple of years, there weren’t as many people, but it grew. It’s so fun to play for an audience,” Steinbach said. “I like the informal aspect and how people can just look up at the ceiling and fall asleep.”

This year, however, due to the University’s COVID-19 restrictions, Steinbach couldn’t play for an in-person audience for the first time since 1993. He initially had hoped to play the recital live at midnight in Sayles Hall and have it projected outside on the Main Green, but he soon realized that it would be too difficult to enforce social distancing and agreed to pre-record the concert. 

“At first I was so bummed, but I thought, ‘let’s go with it and see what we can do better,’” he said. 

The digital format of the recital increased its accessibility and reach, he noted, given that anyone could watch the recital, regardless of their location and whether they were a student or an alum. Additionally, he said that they were able to highlight different angles of the organ that would have been difficult to show live, due to the use of a drone and multiple camera locations. 

This was not Steinbach’s first virtual concert. During Quiet Period, Steinbach performed a concert in a similar style to the Halloween recital and received positive feedback, said Associate Professor Emily Dolan, department chair of music. The Department of Music and the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life co-presented the event. 

“One of the things that has been lovely is that when we broadcasted the first concert, we were able to hear from alums,” Dolan said. “Mark and I agree that once we can go back to live concerts, we might want to keep broadcasting them so people can tune in whether they are at Brown or not.”

Reverend Janet Cooper Nelson, chaplain of the University, also noted that she was happy that the recital was able to unite Brown students. 

“This semester, this year probably, I feel like (the concert) is tremendously important,” Cooper Nelson told The Herald. “As the chaplains, we’re really trying to strengthen anything we can to help all of you that are back studying and still trying to connect around some of the things we would normally connect around.”

Community members like Holly Zheng ’22 and Rachel Ma ’23 tuned in to enjoy the concert. 

“Last time, I had to line up for an hour outside Sayles, so it's definitely a lot more comfy this time that I could just watch it from my living room with friends,” Zheng said. “I also have friends who tuned into the recital from across the world, and it's great to know that they also got a chance to listen to the recital.”

Rachel Ma ’23, who also enjoyed the virtual concert, said she enjoyed seeing the concert from a different point of view. 

“It was great that they were able to capture as much as possible through alternating between shots of Professor Steinbach's hands, his feet and farther out shots as well so we could see everything,” Ma said. “Even though we aren't on campus and are unable to watch it live, it was great that we could still get much of the experience.”



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