As I walked across a quiet Harvard Yard, I looked up to see the lit Memorial Church steeple and a waning moon behind it. With Halloweekend looming in the temporal distance and having missed my annual viewing of “It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” I was in desperate need of some ghoulish festivity. As I entered the dark and crowded church, the audience was already enraptured by the haunting sound of a powerful organ.
My second trip to the annual recital by the Harvard Organ Society, this year held on October 29, did not fail to put me in the Halloween mood. This year, the event added a special reading by Kirkland House Master Tom Conley of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven.” It was creepy. It was kooky, mysterious and spooky. Some might say altogether ooky. But what gave me the chills was the improvised accompaniment by the assistant university Organist at Memorial Church, Thomas M. Sheehan. With no sheet music to rely on, Sheehan was guided only by the classic Poe tale. He followed the action of the story with dissonant chords, sometimes quiet and creeping and sometimes deeply trembling.
Around me were couples, families, and groups of students supporting their friends. An older gentleman in front of me sat with his back against the side of the pew, facing the center aisle, with his eyes closed, just listening. Though there were seats available, students sat in clusters on the floor with nary the glow of an iPhone screen in sight. In the college environment where Halloweekend is typically filled with costume stress and mischief, it was refreshing for me to take a break for some good old-fashioned spookery.
Although the crowd began to thin around midnight, I stayed until the end and was not disappointed. Sitting in the dim church, watching the people around me soak in the piercing, tumbling sounds of the Harvard Organ Society, as the final piece came to a booming, angry crescendo, I was at once filled with festive Halloween energy.