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From My Window

Issue Date: December 14, 2016

The Songs of Christmas

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,


I grew up in a house with music - from 78 r.p.m. "Blue Velvet" label records on our cabinet record player to my Dad's harmonica playing. In those days singing was a part of the classroom activities (oh, I mourn what we've lost there,) and I graduated to choir and small group singing in high school with Mr. Boehm. So it's no surprise I love the music of Christmas. I have my favorite CD's staged before Thanksgiving, so I can start listening and getting in the holiday mood the minute the turkey is gone. I sing along in the car, as I run all the errands required to prepare for the holidays. I've never understood people who like music but not Christmas music. Nearly any popular artist who is around for more than a year has their own Christmas album, of admittedly varying quality; and there are also collections of every type of Christmas music in any genera including country, rock, contemporary, classical, jazz and blues. There really IS something for everybody. It's a refreshing break for your ears from the other 11 months of the year.

Every year, I kick it off with the classic "The Nutcracker." This is a ballet normally performed during the holiday season, and it is classical music, something not normally on my "play" list. In fact, it's more than 100 years old (1892) and was composed by a Russian (Tchaikovsky.) Altogether it's an unlikely choice for me, but it is so compellingly beautiful it would be impossible not to love it.

Next up is the sound track to "A Charlie Brown Christmas," the timeless children's classic that speaks directly to the hearts of adults. The Vince Guaraldi Trio wrote much of, and performs, the jazz-styled background music; and it is so associated with the warmth and joy of the season that all my siblings and both my kids love it as well. The opening notes make me smile, and it's not only the music, but my ability to recall the scenes from the story that match each song that evoke such good feelings.

There are many excellent versions of the church hymn classics, so you can choose a version done by your favorite artist. My favorites are performed by powerhouse vocalists " Barbara Streisand; Emmy Lou Harris; Mariah Carey. High on my religious favorites list are "What Child is This?" "Do You Hear What I Hear?" and the achingly gorgeous "Silent Night," probably my favorite of them all.

Then there are some I love that are more fun - "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree" - Brenda Lee ; "Little Saint Nick" -the Beach Boys; "Step Into Christmas" by Elton John; "Santa Claus is Back in Town" - Elvis or Bruce Springsteen.

A few that I think of as "new and old classics" - "Blue Christmas" by Elvis; "All I Want for Christmas is You" - Mariah Carey; "Ave Maria" by Barbara Streisand. I hear versions by others but they all leave me wishing for the versions above. A contemporary carol makes my top ten list - the haunting "Mary, Did You Know?" Many artists have done this song but you can't go wrong with the version by Jordan Smith. (Check it out on You Tube if you are not familiar with this lovely song.)

Try "I Believe in Father Christmas" - Greg Lake; "Someday at Christmastime" - Stevie Wonder or "Christmas Baby Please come Home" Jon Bon Jovi for a fresh carol you may not have heard before.

I also like the Christmas music by Trans-Siberian Orchestra - saw them live a few years ago; the level of musicianship was astonishing. You may know their music from the internet clips of over-the-top decorated houses changing their lights in time to the music (That's "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24" by TSO you hear.) I find their music, like that of Mannheim Steamroller, a refreshing break from the traditional. "Christmas Canon" by TSO is lovely.

But not all Christmas music is happy and honestly the holidays are very hard on some people. We would be less than the people we need to become if we didn't spare a thought for those who are sad, hungry or homeless at Christmas. A dose of reality from "Do They Know It's Christmas Time?" - Band Aid; the wistful "I'll Be Home for Christmas" - an anthem for deployed military or other exiled people by either Michael Buble or Frank Sinatra; and the sweet "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." All of these make me a little weepy and feel the empathy that comes when we care about others.

And now, a few of Janie's "lumps of coal" for these:

"Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer," "Jingle Bells" (I know, a classic, but I'm just tired of it unless it's my child or a grandchild singing.) "Rudolph" (no commentary needed.) "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" (disturbing,) and "Santa Baby" by anyone at all (marginally appropriate.)

I will conclude by sharing that I own two absolute classic relics. One is a cassette tape "Christmas Favorites" by The Barnyard Seven. I can't actually listen to this gem as we no longer have a cassette tape player; however, my husband assures me it is not to be missed. The other is a 33 r.p.m. album which was no doubt a Christmas promotion, "Christmas Eve with Colonel Sanders." Yes, the chicken guy. He's pictured fast asleep in his Santa hat on the album cover. Don't bother calling me to offer me $10 for it, it's a "special collector's edition" and I am sure someday you'll see me on Antiques Roadshow with it, being appraised for $15,000.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com .


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