Halloween and The Exorcist – Two Memorable Horror Movies with Equally Memorable Piano Themes

About a year ago I was at an art gallery. The studio had a piano, so I sat down at the bench and started playing a few songs I know.   When I was finished, a man asked me, “Was that The Exorcist you were playing?”   It was not.  It was the theme to Halloween.  His mistake might partly be my fault.   I’m not the best piano player. I only know certain parts of certain songs, and when I play my timing is sometimes off.   Perhaps he couldn’t recognize the tune the way I was playing it. But in general, people mix these themes up with each other.  Both are the main musical themes of horror movies and both pieces have a repetitive yet appropriately haunting piano/keyboard intro played in the higher octaves.
Halloween Theme Song

The Exorcist Theme Song
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=io6KPtmB9cs

I’ve always loved these themes and learned to play the basic essence of these songs on the piano. Once upon a time, if people wanted to learn a piano part or their favorite song, they would have to find it on sheet music (assuming they knew how to read music) or just figure it out for themselves.  Now a days, chances are, if the desired piece is very popular, there is a piano tutorial on youtube.  I learned from videos such as these:

Halloween Theme Piano Tutorial

The Exorcist Theme Piano Tutorial

Here are some fun facts concerning these musical themes. John Carpenter, director of Halloween, composed the theme himself.  According to his written piece on his website (theofficialjohncarpenter.com)  – “the rhythm was inspired by an exercise my father taught me on the bongos in 1961, the beating out of 5-4 time.”   Carpenter composed the piece on the fly.  Having little studio time, he was forced to figure things out quickly.  Since he was the least expensive musician available, he used his talents and in my opinion came up with a simple yet brilliant piece.   True he did have a production crew to get the recording just right and the addition of strings and other orchestra instruments added the final touches.  Still, when removing all the layers of production, when just sitting at the piano without any accompaniment and playing the notes in the way Mr. Carpenters intended, you will find it is a fun piece to play.

The theme to The Exorcist is a different story. Its name is Tubular Bells and Prog-Rock artist Michael Oldfield recorded it in 1973 on the album of the same name.   The same year, The Exorcist premiered and used the first few minutes of the nearly 59 minute piece for its horror theme.

The song goes far beyond what is heard in the movie.  It is arranged in two pieces – Tubular Bells Part 1 and Tubular Bells Part 2.  It is a lengthy composition that takes listeners through many mood and structural changes, like any piece of good progressive rock will do. Beginning with mesmerizing keyboard riffs, continuing with joyful piano pieces of triumph, going on to the hard and heavy guitar, and easing the mood now and then with soft acoustics, Tubular Bells is a well crafted composition that takes the listener on quite the musical journey.   The album boasts of using more than 20 musical instruments, overlaid with each other to craft its two pieces. Mike Oldfield played all of them.

The musical themes to these two movies have thrilled me for many years. I hope they continue to delight music lovers and horror fans for many years to come.  They are classics – they should never fade away.

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