Arthur Hatton is a connoisseur of music and the founder of Linescratchers, a site that highlights LDS musicians who play music other than LDS-themed music. We’re pleased to have him as our guest for a special series of posts.
Last time I talked about the fun garage antics of Fossil Fools and the 5th Friday Open Mic in Portland. This time, we move to a spookier kind of music. Her tale might seem out of place this time of year, until you get to know Kristen Lawrence. For her, Halloween is all year round.
Kristen Lawrence, Halloween musician extraordinaire, began her musical career as a young child. Her father is a pollster, who used his polling and survey experience to author a book called “How Americans View Mormonism: Seven Steps To Improve Our Image” , but he is also a pianist and organist. From his inspiration, a mother who drove her to organ lessons in a cathedral and an early love of classical music, Kristen Lawrence became a skilled and versatile keyboardist, playing both piano and organ.
Kristen was influenced early on by musicians such as J. S. Bach, Danny Elfman, Tori Amos, Loreena McKennitt, and Ralph Vaughan Williams. From such a variety of styles and artists, Kristen perfected her craft and found a spooky, unfulfilled niche in the modern music industry: Halloween. I will include some excerpts from her erudite, carefully crafted interview with Linescratchers, because her intense artistic passion really comes through in her words.
“I started studying Halloween history on my own during my college years, and decided to make a lifetime project out of it. I love fall time and can’t get enough of fiery leaves, crisp air, the lower angle of the sun all day, and early, cozy evenings. A quick anecdote: at BYU, I’d wake up early to practice before my classes began. One autumn morning I was about to walk into the HFAC, but I stopped right outside the door by a tree. This tree was wet with rain so its brilliant yellow leaves shimmered and its trunk was darker than usual. The contrast was so striking and mesmerizing, like a meal for my eyes. I had a hard time pulling myself away to start practicing. These intense, autumnal feelings are the energy behind what I write. It’s like those cartoons where a guy shovels coal into the train, and the fire roars all cartoony-like and the train speeds faster and faster down the tracks. Autumn is my coal…
…The beginnings of my specific “Halloween Carols” project happened one afternoon after playing for a funeral. It was a week before the autumn equinox a few years back. Maybe it was because the deceased was the center of attention and fall was a week away, but I found myself going straight home to the piano and writing four Halloween rounds inspired by the traditional American round, “Ghost of John.” I adore “Ghost of John” and find it thoroughly haunting in the true sense of the word – it lingers with you. Right then and there I decided that the world needs more Halloween rounds. My long-time project had become clear and I began to write the Halloween Carols.
We all pull out our Christmas CDs in December, but what do we pull out in October? Spooky sound effects, “The Monster Mash,” and other junk? Blechhhh. Halloween has evolved into a month-long celebration and I want to provide beautiful, enchanting music to celebrate it with.” – Kristen Lawrence, interview with Linescratchers
Kristen’s music, like her words here, are a feast for the ears. She brings a technical proficiency to her organ playing that paints all her songs in the fresh colors of Autumn, full of swirls and powerful walls of sound. However, she is not afraid of a little silence here and there to provide a little contrast. Kristen’s music fills a spot that really has no equal anywhere else: Halloween music that is neither childish nor overly adult and morbid. It is a celebration of the Fall and everything in it, with its roots in old Halloween folk superstitions and traditions of Europe and early America.
In her interview with me on our podcast last October, Kristen lamented the loss of these older traditions that long predate the commercialism we see in Halloween today. For instance, listen to her Souling Songs, one written from the point of view of those celebrating the wild Celtic pagan Samhain rituals, and the other written from the point of view of those celebrating the relatively tame, sacred All Hallows, or All Saints Day. It was the blending of these two traditions (one polytheistic, and one Catholic) that made Halloween such a wonderfully strange syncretic holiday for many years.
When I asked Kristen what she would say to those very conservative members of the Church who worry that Halloween is too dark, or even promotes dark superstitions such as witchcraft and sorcery, she offered a simple dismissal:
“Nothing. Every religion will have its extremists. These people are not to be heeded. I find Halloween endlessly fascinating. The ancient customs it hails from reveal so much about people, about cultural history – why people do what they do. And it’s just fun! It’s fuuuuuuuuuuuuun. I love the whole feel of lit-up jack o’ lanterns, ghosts, silhouetted-Halloweeny-branchy trees, costumes, candles, old stories, mythical creatures, silly antics.” – Kristen Lawrence, interview with Linescratchers
Kristen Lawrence is not content to be a one-day-a-year entertainer. She wishes to make Halloween a month-long celebration of life and the cycle of the seasons. She is hoping to expand her music of Halloween into stage productions, books, decorations, cards, and everything anyone could ever want out of an interesting and ancient holiday. And her musical portfolio continues to grow. She has been writing this music for years now, and she finds Halloween to be a seemingly endless well of inspiration.
I have found that in life, people really achieve great things when they develop a new idea and then put all their energy and effort into making that dream a reality. Kristen Lawrence is the perfect example of someone doing just that. Like many of the ghosts that appear on the spookiest day of the year, we haven’t heard the last of Kristen Lawrence or her Halloween empire.
“We are all born to be interesting.” – Kristen Lawrence
To find out more about Kristen’s music, her inspirations, and her updated news, please visit her website. Her Halloween Carols are a real treat for anyone looking for some added musical enchantment for their Fall season.