Christmas on the Air

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Christmas songs. You have to love them or... or what? Several local radio stations are midway through their month-long "holiday" programming. I happen to find this very relaxing and a pleasant respite from the rockin' electric guitars, sports talk, or political rhetoric otherwise available.

My preference is the older songs. Frank Sinatra. Bing Crosby. Perry Como. Brenda Lee. Burl Ives. Yesteryear's pop stars made some great music which I fondly remember because they were very much the soundtrack to the season in my younger years. And they still are.

Listening to Bing Crosby sing "White Christmas" is about as good as holiday music gets. The tune is familiar, the words are pronunciated ever so clearly, and the vocal chords resonate throughout amidst an arrangement that is beautifully matched to the lyrics. The current generation may not appreciate it, but they can't say it's bad.

Intermixed with the golden oldies are the efforts of more recent artists. A few are excellent, many are tolerable, and some are awful. For the sheer abundance of them, it seems that every artist with at least one album under their belt or a top 10 hit becomes obligated to release holiday music. I'm sure it's an easy thing to do to keep a "name" in front of the public between albums. But it also makes me wonder how many hope to achieve a lasting place next to Bing or Frank within a cultural tradition that carries many years forward.

Compared with Bing, many current artists lose sight (or an ear...) of the mood of many holiday songs. I won't name names (Mariah Carey. Oops!), but holiday songs often seem to become ego trips for those who want to expand on the original to showcase their talent, such as turning one or two syllable words into breathy 5-10 syllable expressions of..."I did it because I can," melody be damned.

I enjoy Christmas music. This includes the seasonal, wintry, good cheer of the songs I regard as holiday music, as well as music which speaks specifically to Christian beliefs - the reason for the season, as it were, as opposed to a year ending holiday.

Often, it's surprising to read the lyrical riches in Christmas songs. The tune or chorus is so familiar, that the rest goes unnoticed. Songs like "Joy to the World," "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" are good examples of the the theology contained in what were hymns before the era of Christmas music overload.

Put these songs to a nice piano, or woodwinds... yeah, I like that. Give it to a choir and...

Hate.

It's such a strong word, and even within an "everything goes" society, it's probably the one thing which is not tolerated. But, dislike is such an inadequate word when one really, really uber-dislikes something.

I hate choir music. This particular type of hate does not lead to an adrenaline rush or certainty of fistacuffs.  Indeed not.  The eyelids begin to drop, the mind wanders far away, and a church pew seems a not so far of a distant cousin to a Sleep Number bed, pillows and blankets included. See? I just yawned thinking about it.

To be fair, maybe I don't hate choir music itself. Maybe I just hate the dread that comes with knowing that the appointed hour of having to listen is coming, the "dressing up" beforehand, the travel involved, the impropriety of using ear plugs, the... you get the picture. 

Or, maybe I just hate the goosebumps when it's done right. Yesterday we went to the annual Christmas concert at Roswell United Methodist Church. It has a 120 person choir, accompanied by the BIG organ pipes that belong in BIG sanctuary. I would love to hear them play "Phantom of the Opera" or even Scooby Do, but I digress. It's not the organ I hate, after all.

I think often that the best music, regardless of category, is that which elicits an emotional response, whether its the blues, happy pop, or raging against the machine. So it's a bit conflicting. I hate choir music, but there are times when they do it just right, where the vocal expression matches the majesty of the lyrics and the spirit of worship that should accompany a truly Christian, Christmas song. "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" and "Angels We Have Heard on High" were finer examples of that at this year's concert.

Not included this year was "O Holy Night," a song well suited to choirs. For much of the music, it retains a measure of familiarity that pulls one along, then surprises with each listen as it reaches for the heights of music and worship.

Sadly, it's also one of the songs most often mistreated by popular artists who, in other genres, so often get it right.  

For those that may think I'm way too serious about this stuff, here's one of my favorites:


2 comments :

  1. Trans Siberian Orchestra's Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24 is by far my fave xmas song... Then on to some Manheim Steamroller... That is what I remember in our house every year...

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  2. I love the different 12 days of Christmas songs, whether its the traditional one or the 12 Pains of Christmas or the 12 Redneck days, I love them all.

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