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Howard Stern writer scores Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze soundtrack
Better known as a writer and on-air personality for Howard Stern's radio show, Richard Christy drew from his experience as a musician to score the soundtrack for The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson.
“I was obviously ecstatic, because I’m such a huge fan of the event,” Christy said. “I’ve been a big fan of horror movie soundtracks since I was a little kid. ... This [Blaze soundtrack] is right up my alley. It’s the perfect thing for me.”
Kicking off Saturday, with additional dates running through Nov. 11, the Blaze has been an annual tradition spearheaded by the nonprofit Historic Hudson Valley since 2005. Last year’s sold-out event attracted tens of thousands of visitors, who roamed the 18th-century riverside landscape to scope more than 5,000 hand-carved, illuminated jack-o’-lanterns that are enhanced by synchronized lighting and a spooky soundtrack. (Check out our photo gallery to get a sneak peek at this year’s Blaze.)
Devout fans of Stern know Christy has always been a Halloween fanatic. The writer-musician said he first attended the Blaze in 2010 after he’d received an invitation from Rob Schweitzer, a Stern fan who also happens to be the director of public relations for Historic Hudson Valley.
“I’d been familiar with the Blaze for many, many years,” Christy said. “I’d tried to go earlier, but it had always sold out before I got to go to it. So, I was really excited when I got to meet Rob, and I finally got to go."
He wasn't disappointed with what he saw.
“It exceeded my expectations,” he said. “I carve pumpkins myself, but I’m nowhere near the level of what the carvers from the Blaze are. ... I think I was there for several hours, just amazed by the artistry and the whole aura of the whole event."
A few months ago, Schweitzer approached Christy about composing the soundtrack to this year’s Blaze.
“Each year, we’re looking for ways to upgrade the event,” Schweitzer said. “This year, we really wanted to boost the sound quality, and the first thing that I thought of was asking Richard if he would help us out with that.”
Christy — who has toured internationally with hard-rock bands Charred Walls of the Damned, Death, Iced Earth, Incantation and Demons and Wizards — jumped at the opportunity. In April, he met with Schweitzer and Blaze creative director Michael Natiello to look at a map of this year’s installations. Soon thereafter, Christy worked on the project whenever he wasn’t writing bits or making prank phone calls for Stern’s show.
“It was kind of like Halloween in May, June and July for me,” he said. “While I was working on the music, I got to light my pumpkin candle and drink some pumpkin beer in the summertime.”
Clocking in at 67½ minutes, Christy’s 50-song soundtrack for the Blaze is full of echoey spookiness, with movements inspired by the staccato, frenetic tones of the “Halloween” soundtrack and the moody, etherial approach Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor used to score “The Social Network.” A representative song from Christy’s soundtrack is No. 13, “Through the Woods,” whose intense combination of gurgling synth and percussive crescendo evokes images of running from a murderous lunatic in the woods at dusk.
“I love really moody kinds of keyboard pieces, so we did a mix of that and sound effects, and just really created a mood for the whole event that changes as you go along,” Christy said.
It isn’t the first time Christy has enjoyed spooky theatrics thanks to a friend in the Hudson Valley. Stern fans will recall one of Christy’s collaborations with Somers special effects artist Brian Spears, whose makeup transformed Christy’s healthy arm into one that appeared to have an infected gash near the elbow. The prank angered Stern so much that the shock jock banned Christy from pranking him ever again.
“I definitely learned my lesson,” Christy said with a laugh. “That was the last time I ever pranked Howard. I just thought it was a fun thing to do, because I love special effects, and Brian Spears is an amazing special effects artist. ... A lot of [Stern fans] enjoy hearing people get yelled at on the air, so it made for a pretty good bit, because I definitely got yelled at.”
Seven of the 23 dates for this year’s Blaze — including three of five Fridays and four of six Saturdays — already had sold out as of Tuesday afternoon, but Christy won’t be shut out this year.
“I not only had a blast writing the music,” he said, “but now I can’t wait to visit the event and see it all come together.”
Tickets for the Blaze must be booked in advance. For non-Saturdays, tickets are $16 for adults, and $12 for children 3 to 17; on Saturdays, tickets are $20 and $16, respectively. The event is free for children under 3, and for members of Historic Hudson Valley. Tickets booked by phone have an additional $2 surcharge per ticket. For more information, call 914-366-6900 or visit www.hudsonvalley.org.