I am reading Dracula for the first time. It seemed appropriate to start a classic horror novel in October. Even more so because on October 18th and 19th I played harp with the “Curse of the Vampire Orchestra” for three showings of the 1922 silent film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror at the Music Box Theater in downtown Minneapolis. We performed an extraordinary score written by Minneapolis composer Philip Shorey.
At this point in the conversation people tend to raise their eyebrows and express surprise to see me taking part in anything associated with the horror genre.
Which is a valid understanding of my general preferences, but I was drawn to the creativity of the project and the unique perspective Philip Shorey’s music (and directing) brought to the film.
A whirlwind few weeks included dramatic and memorable music, meeting all sorts of new people at the rehearsals, the fun of getting to dress more whimsically than usual for an orchestra gig, and the mental and physical challenges of making it through three shows. (I bought picks to save my fingers from getting blisters on all the glissandi!)
On Saturday night for the third and final showing I was feeling pretty good. I had charged my stand light for the two hours between our matinee and the evening show. We had eaten a cozy supper together in the rather cramped underbelly of the theater, sitting on the floor and pulling our feet up to let people squeeze past. (How often does an entire orchestra need to fit into two dressing rooms and a hallway?) We met for a short huddle before the show that culminated in a group “maniacal laugh” rather than the prosaic “Go Team.”
The overture began in darkness – dramatically, as is appropriate for a horror movie – and I saw a middle school-aged child in the audience jump into his father’s arms. I was ready for this last showing. I had some friends in the audience, and was feeling confident.
I was feeling confident, that is, until my stand light started going dim.
Around minute five of the movie, I noticed that shadows were encroaching on my pages and that I was having a harder time making out the penciled-in pedal markings that allow me to change keys with the orchestra. I reached out and adjusted the light closer to the pages, mind racing as I simultaneously counted off the measures until my next entrance.
Did I have a way to charge my battery in the middle of the show? No. Did I have an extra stand light or know where one was? No. Was there anyone that I could run find backstage who might know? No. Had my stand light told me that it was fully charged? Yes. Had it lied? Yes.
Did I have my music memorized?
We were about to find out.
I mentally tabulated possible light sources. There was a candelabra stationed over my right shoulder – three tall candles burning steadily, and likely to last the length of the film. They were unfortunately on the other side of my strings, making for some interesting shadows. I tried to stem the panic rising inside me (as I played a carefully-timed glissando.) People lived for hundreds of years by candlelight; I could do it for one night, couldn’t I?
I played on, reflecting dismally that all bets were off the moment the stand light finally pegged out.
And then, a rescuer! Val, who was sitting next to me and playing accordion, glanced over at my page. With alacrity she grasped my stand and moved it back a few inches. She picked up her own stand and pulled it forward a few inches. She tilted her own light and illuminated both our pages.
It was an imperfect arrangement – half her left page was plunged into darkness, and all of my right page was dim and decorated with stark three-ring-binder-shaped shadows, but I could see my music! We didn’t talk during the film, but I thought “God bless you!” fervently and repeatedly in her direction.
We made it through the showing and it was spectacular. In the movie Nosferatu, John needs someone to rescue him, and Ellen chooses to sacrifice herself to save him. Once the lights had come on and the orchestra was packing up, I turned to Val and said, “You were my Ellen tonight!”
I have a long “To Do” list in the next few weeks, but high on that list is “Buy another stand light.” Also, finish reading Dracula.
Twin-Cities harpist Stephanie Claussen invites audiences to explore new locales and eras through her music. Influenced by her love of fairy tales, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the world music section at her local library, she performs a unique mixture of Scottish tunes, J.S. Bach, and anything rich in medieval or French harmonies. Sign up for her e-mail newsletter to receive important announcements and notifications of upcoming performances.