Decatur chorus spreads Halloween spirit

Spirits, spells and spooky things. Oh, and even fog machines.

This year Decatur’s women’s and mixed choruses performed a Halloween themed concert. Though not all songs contained Halloween related lyrics, they were spooky enough to make the cut.

Chorus teacher Elise Eskew-Sparks included some non-Halloween oriented pieces in the program that written in minor keys. This makes the songs sound darker and more dissonant.

“In some pieces, the text may be ‘beautiful Jesus has redeemed us by his blood,’” she said. “Okay, that’s not really spooky, but that’s as close as you can get in liturgical music. Another one is in the key of B minor with strings, so it sounds a little haunted.”

A performance last fall by the Atlanta Women’s Chorus (AWC) inspired Eskew. Decatur teacher Stephanie Gillian is a member of the chorus. Gillian created a jabberwocky costume for AWC’s production, which she lent to the Decatur’s chorus for their show.

Nelson Jones and Davis Tyler practice enacting Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky.”

Eskew joked about how the women’s chorus would have men accompanying them for their performance of David Brunner’s “Jabberwocky.” Sophomore Davis Tyler and sixth grade student Nelson Jones dressed in costume to act out the lyrics found in the program. 

Eskew introduced to the concert idea to her students at the beginning of the school year.

“Of course they liked thriller, but we didn’t start that until a month ago,” she said.

The chorus first worked on arrangements of Macbeth’s witches scene. Eskew believes the darkness, dissonance and difficulty of the pieces caused her students to originally be unaccepting of the concert’s theme.

“Now that they’ve accomplished being able to perform it, they like it a little better,” Eskew said. “We do a little chanting about the devil, so at first they were like ‘what’re people gonna think?’ but it’s intriguing and entertaining.”

Principal Arlethea Williams believes “what Ms. Eskew does with the kids is just awesome.” She enjoys hearing the ranges of voices in the chorus.

“You look at kids and you think ‘that voice is coming out of that kid’s mouth?’” Williams said.

Mixed chorus member Chelsea Jones was shocked when Eskew announced the theme because their last concert’s theme was paradise. Jones sees the show’s theme as an attempt to diversify the music the chorus sings.

“We sing about Jesus and heaven one year, and the next year we sing about Satan,” Jones said. “We have to get both sides of it.”

Jones and Eskew both looked forward to the audience’s reactions.

“I hope that nobody will complain about us chanting ‘devil, devil, devil,’” she said.

This chanting is from a setting of E.E. Cummings’ Halloween poem, “hist whist,” which the chorus does a “dramatic speaking interpretation.”

“I try to choose music from different genres and style periods, so we have a complete music education experience going on, yet we have a theme that ties everything together,” Eskew said.

She believes the concert’s theme can be entertaining for “little brother and sisters, moms and dad and aunts and uncle that don’t love choral music so much.”

“You know, if people can take a joke, I hope this will be a good one,” Eskew said.