Whidbey Island Orchestra presents “The Witching Hour”

— Created October 27, 2021 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Whidbey Island Orchestra is getting into the “spirit” of things this Halloween weekend by offering a free video concert, “The Witching Hour,” on its website, whidbeyislandorchestra.org, beginning Saturday.

The concert will feature plenty of treats and the only tricks will be the shivers some of the musical selections may cause. Or perhaps the dancing zombies or special guest Jeff Belfiglio’s impression of Boris Karloff will be responsible for the chills of delight audiences are sure to encounter with this unique, “Thriller” of a performance.

“We’re doing scary, fun, wonderful music with a lot of the orchestra in costume, and all of us in masks, of course,” described WIO Conductor Cynthia Morrow. “Daunne Zinger and her Luigi Jazz Dancers are joining us as highly choreographed zombies in Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller.’ Jeff Belfiglio is our special guest, performing ‘Monster Mash’ along with an entire cast of the dancing undead. It’s our way of sharing the holiday safely with the community, and it’s completely free of charge to everyone.”

As it has for just about everyone, the past year-and-a-half has presented some unique challenges for Whidbey Island Orchestra. According to Morrow, the pandemic has forced the orchestra to focus on strings, percussion and piano with a little flute thrown in for some added richness.

“This year has been different for us,” she said. “We’ve kept the orchestra alive by reverting to a string orchestra format rather than using the full group. This way, we’ve been able to distance, at times practicing outdoors, at other times using the black box theater or stage at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, and most recently the foyer of Island Church in Langley, masked at all times.

“As soon as vaccinations were possible, we were asked to play a concert at WICA, so in March our string orchestra performed four Mozart String Quartets in a concert called ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,'” Morrow continued. “Possibly because the strings had practiced together even when there was no concert planned, our sound developed into something lush and recognizable. It was a very well-attended performance, and so we were asked to return and do an August 2021 concert as the closing concert of WICA’s ‘Summer Nights’ series.”

Morrow said the group was hoping to include brass and woodwinds for this season, but special masking requirements and other health protocols made it difficult for some performers to come back.

“Unfortunately, not enough brass and woodwinds showed up to cover all the parts necessary for a full orchestra program for Halloween, so after four rehearsals we decided to pivot, and returned to our previous and successful string/piano/percussion/flutes format,” she explained. “Flutes, by the way, do not spray aerosols the way other mouth-propelled instruments do, so after a lot of research, we feel safe having them in the orchestra, and they add a beautiful sound.”

The program for this bewitching performance runs the gamut, from perhaps lesser known but recognizable pieces like “Incantations,” by Richard Meyer to “The Haunted Carousel” by Soon Hee Newbold. Others will be instantly recognizable, like “Psycho” by Bernard Hermann, “Thriller” by Michael Jackson, featuring Daunne Zinger and her and her Luigi Jazz Dancers and “Monster Mash,” which will include Jeff Belfiglio and the Luigi Jazz Dancers once again.

Morrow said WIO is excited to add other local performers to its video concert.

“Daunne Zinger…has degrees in dance from University of Washington Seattle and has studied in New York City with Luigi and his protégé Francis Roach, and has choreographed for productions at WICA, Whidbey Playhouse and at many professional studios in Seattle,” said Morrow. “We have had her young dancers perform with us in the past and are excited to have adult jazz dancers with us this time!

“Jeff Belfiglio, who has been a member of the orchestra for about five years, will perform his Boris Karloff impression in this wonderful novelty piece [‘Monster Mash,’] by Bobby Pickett, which took the English-speaking world by storm when it premiered on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1962,” she continued.

It may seem counter-intuitive to take instruments known for producing beautiful music and use them to produce exquisitely hair-raising sounds, but it could be that’s all part of the fun and challenge of playing spooky music. Chilling sounds can take just as much practice, training and imagination as playing the “pretty stuff.”

“When Bernard Hermann wrote the music for ‘Psycho’ he very innovatively used ONLY strings in the score,” Morrow said. “He had the violinists do downward, repeating slides from the top of their strings to the bridge to simulate the slashing of the knife through the shower curtain and ultimately the flesh of [actress] Janet Leigh. To this day, when string players slide with repeated downbow strokes, everyone immediately recalls this horrifying murder scene in ‘Psycho.’ John Williams used only two notes played by the strings, repeated faster and faster, to represent the unrelenting danger of the oncoming shark in ‘Jaws,’ which you will hear for a few very recognizable bars in ‘Fright Night.’ Tremolos, those very fast, repeated notes at the tip of the bow, set the stage for something very creepy in the opening measures of ‘Thriller.’ Richard Meyer sets the stage in ‘Incantations’ with high, very eerie harmonics and notes scraped behind the bridge, an effect that sets one’s teeth on edge.”

Morrow said she hopes people will take advantage of the opportunity to celebrate “The Witching Hour” with Whidbey Island Orchestra.

“We’re hoping that our audience will get into the mood of Halloween by hearing the many ways that music can create those eerie, goose-bumpy, stomach-clenching moments that define a special night of witchcraft, goblins, ghosts, and unearthly spirits,” she said. “Also, this video will provide a fun way for the entire family to enjoy a Halloween experience from their own, very safe homes during this pandemic.”

“The Witching Hour” is free to watch, but those so inclined to make a donation to the nonprofit orchestra may do so online. The video will be available to watch starting Saturday at whidbeyislandorchestra.org.

Whidbey Island Orchestra has several upcoming live performances on its schedule as well.

“Next will be a live Christmas concert on Dec. 19 at WICA, ‘Santa’s Holiday Playlist,’ and a free Christmas concert for the community at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland on Dec. 23,” Morrow said. “Following these, we will be performing on the night of Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, at WICA, with our most romantic program yet, ‘Lollipops and Roses.’ And that’s just the beginning. We’ll let you know as the season progresses what’s coming up next.”