Kalina Mladenova

Before a typical orchestra concert, the audience sits calmly in their seats, politely squirming and speaking in hushed tones. Most of the musicians are already on stage, tuning their instruments or going over that tricky passage in the third movement one last time. They’re dressed in somber, unassuming black, so as not to distract the viewer from the beautiful music that is soon to flood the hall. 

The Yale Symphony Orchestra Halloween Show paints a different scene. The audience streams in minutes before midnight, wearing Halloween costumes in various states of disarray. They yell over to their friends three rows down and cheer intermittently for no apparent reason. The cheers get louder when the Dracula-like Toccata and Fugue in D minor finally rings out on the organ — you know, the one that goes, “Ba-da-daaaaaaa! Ba-da-da-da-daaaa-da.

After the organ introduction, a pageant: the musicians enter stage right, section by section, dressed in group costumes. After three years of shows, my personal favorite is still the 2018 Viola section — one person was a bright lamp and the rest were moths circling it. The hall dims, the projector lights up and the silent movie begins. We start playing the 20th Century Fox theme.

The Halloween show is a silly spectacle, but it’s not to be underestimated. It’s something the whole college can get behind. It’s a collection of weird, intimate jokes that no one outside of Yale would find remotely funny. What other crowd would go wild at a scene in which President Salovey makes a dramatic entrance? Who else but a Yale undergrad would laugh at a well-placed joke making fun of JE — and TD and Saybrook?

It’s also a crucial bonding experience for YSO members. On the night of the show, we huddle in the impossibly hot basement of Woolsey Hall. Nervous first years finally break out of their shells. Seniors realize that this is only the beginning of many lasts to come. And we are all reminded that the YSO is not just an orchestra, it’s a community. We come together to ensure that on Halloween, every undergrad has an opportunity to simply have a good time. 

No one has a more important role in making it happen than the Halloween Show production team. Made up of a director, producers, a music director and camera people, this is the team that works from August to October to create the show. As one of the producers in 2019, I was responsible for a lot of early mornings and late nights; a lot of face paint and a lot of prop procurement. I was stressed out and often buried in the tiny details of the big show. 

But when it all came together on Halloween night, as it miraculously does every year, I saw the bigger picture. The best traditions, the ones that are worth the work and the literal tears, are the ones that bring us together and make us feel like we’re a part of something greater than ourselves. We are all guilty of losing ourselves in our own problems; our own homework; our own friendships. The Halloween Show is one of those events that brings us out of our day-to-day lives and into a wondrous, shared Yale experience. 

Even though the show is scaled down this year, the spirit is the same. I can’t wait to experience the sweaty excitement of Woolsey’s basement for the last time. I can’t wait to hear the crowd cheer for their favorite costumes. And I can’t wait for the flood of texts after the show from my friends — none of whom managed to get a ticket, but will still be gathered around a livestream somewhere on this hallowed campus, making the best of things just like everyone else. 

Live streaming, one of Yale’s many pandemic accommodations, is one of the few changes that I hope persists long after I graduate this spring. I know I’ll tune in every year to cheer on the next generation of YSO and to say cheers to the brightest spot in my college years.