If the Halloween Town of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas had a resident keyboardist, it would be Kristen Lawrence. “I’ve always loved autumn,” she says. “Something about the angle of the sun, the chill in the air, and the energy I felt as Halloween neared—it was magical to me as a child, and it still is.” She also cites a childhood spent in Orange County, California: “Basically, I grew up at Disneyland, and my favorite ride was the Haunted Mansion. I still remember the music from it.”
Trained from age 12 in classical organ, and possessing a tremulous soprano that evokes a less breathy Kate Bush, Lawrence has appropriated the Christmas spirit on Halloween’s behalf with an elegance Jack Skellington never quite managed: The songs on her EP Arachnitect and album A Broom With a View are unmistakably carols—in both their structure and their sense of joy—but they celebrate ghosts, bats, black cats, spiders, and vampires.
“There’s so much wonderful music for Christmas,” she reflects, “but what does Halloween get? Bach’s ‘Toccata in DMinor’ and ‘The Monster Mash’ is about it. I wanted to change that.” Though the skeletons of her songs are sing-along rounds (“I love rounds. They’re harmony 101 for dummies.”), there’s plenty of musical meat on those bones. Pipe organ, strings, and harpsichord weave counterpoints as intricate as any spider’s web, and influences run deep—from Camille Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3, which lent themes to “Cats in the Catacombs,” to Richard Einhorn’s score for Carl Dreyer’s 1927 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc. How did her journey begin?
A favorite of Kristen’s, the C.B. Fisk pipe organ at the Orange County Performing Arts Center boasts four manuals and 4,322 pipes.
“At age 12, I was actually tall enough to reach the pedals on the pipe organ. My teacher, Bob Cummings, noticed that I always preferred the Bach pieces that were in minor keys. As a reward for having practiced, he’d let me pull out all the stops! The majesty of that sound coming from all around you, it hooked me for life. Later, in September 2004, I was playing, appropriately enough, at a funeral. I kept hearing the children’s song ‘The Ghost of John’ in my mind. I went home and wrote out the first four carols that day.”
Kristen’s mission to make Halloween as musical as Christmas received a major nod in October 2008, when she performed with Orange County’s Pacific Symphony at their yearly “Spooktacular” concert. “Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center had recently installed a gorgeous, four-manual C.B. Fisk pipe organ. I can’t believe I got to rehearse on it. I can’t believe I still do. The console sits right behind the orchestra and under the pipes, because it’s a tracker organ.” That means that the keys are all physically connected to the valves that let air into the pipes, and it’s only your finger pressure—not an electrical servo as on many modern pipe organs—that opens those valves. “Playing a tracker is a workout,” says Kristen, “but there’s nothing like it. The sense that you’re functioning as the brain of this living, breathing creature is awe-inspiring.”
- Preview A Broom With a View on CDBaby.com
- Connect with Kristen on Facebook
- Learn more about Hauptwerk, Allen, and C. B. Fisk organs.
Korg Triton Studio
“It’s my main controller. The harpsichord on ‘Vampire Empire’ is actually the ‘HarpsiKorg’ patch.”
“My favorite virtual pipe organ. Not only does it get the interaction between different combinations of stops right, but you can voice the pipes individually. Plus, you can add models of historical pipe organs from all over the world.”
EastWest Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra Gold
“This is my source for strings. I tend to use solo instruments and build up sections by recording parts separately, to sound more like how a string section would actually play.”
Allen MDS-35 Organ
“I’m lucky enough to have this organ at my parents’ house. Allen makes such beautiful, well-built instruments. It’s a joy to play.”