IGLU gets into the Halloween spirit with improvised music to “Nosferatu”

The Improvisation Group of Lawrence University (IGLU) kicked off the Halloween festivities on Wednesday, Oct. 30 with a unique project of performing live, improvised music alongside the classic horror film “Nosferatu.” This being their first concert of the year, they filled Harper Hall and brought new sounds, tension and humor to this well-known aspect of Halloween.

Led by Lecturer of Music Matt Turner, IGLU is a performing ensemble that focuses on improvisation within various genres, such as rock, jazz, 20th century classical, Arabic taqasim, klezmer and electronic, among many others. Like Wednesday’s concert, all music performed is either learned by ear or created by its members. This ensemble is also open to any student interested in music, providing a space where music majors and non-music majors alike can work together to make music.

For those who have not seen or heard of “Nosferatu,” the 1922 film is an unofficial adaptation of Dracula and has become a key piece in any Halloween repertoire. It was one of the first true horror films, and features iconic vampire-esque shots, such as the well-recognized image of a vampire’s shadow ascending a staircase, clawed hand extended and ready to attack.

A silent film that is normally accompanied by tinny piano music, IGLU brought more than a few new flavors to this Halloween tradition. Instruments included violins, viola, saxophones, string and electric basses, acoustic and electric guitar, tuba, piano, synthesizer, kazoo, percussion, didgeridoo, voice, electronics and even a handsaw.

Senior Rachel Calvert reflected on the concert: “IGLU is a large ensemble this term, which makes improvisation tricky, but I’m so proud of everyone’s thoughtfulness during our performance. It was fun to share what we’ve been working on all term with a huge audience!”

To create a soundtrack for the 90-minute film, IGLU went back and forth between individual soloists musically narrating the actions and conversations of the characters and building full ensemble climaxes as vampire Nosferatu approaches each human for the inevitable bite. Whenever these moments occurred, the audience was enveloped in a mishmash of high squeals from saxophones, screeching strings, crunched harmonies in the piano and violent humming from the synthesizer.

As the main character Hutter travels to the monster’s castle, what else could be the soundtrack for such a voyage but a driving rock beat with guitar riffs and saxophones wailing away? As the townspeople chaotically chase after the town lunatic, what is more perfect than a sprightly Appalachian-style fiddle tune?

In addition to these two non-traditional genres as a soundtrack, the ensemble also moved through an Indian mode and a taste of some contemporary jazz. Moving into these different genres usually involved one person playing an idea and then a fellow musician grabbing that idea and taking it one step farther.

Between the bluegrass band in the library, saxophone quartet in Steitz and chamber orchestra in the Viking Room, it has been a month of redefining where music is played and what belongs where. For more collaborative improvisation, catch IGLU playing with Symphonic Band at the Wind Ensemble/Symphonic Band concert on Thursday, Nov. 21 at 8:00 p.m. in the Chapel!