A Christmas Carol Playlist

I love Christmas music!  Not the oh so frantic “holiday cheer” songs (e. g. “Here Comes Santa Claus”)  or dreary “Silver Bells” (done like a dirge most every year, I groan each time I hear it).  It’s actually a pretty song;  it’s just been killed too often.  “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” is cute the first one hundred times you hear it, as is “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.”  Cringe-worthy tunes that make me feel tired the minute they appear include “Blue Christmas,” and any Christmas tune sung by the late lamented Michael Jackson.  There’s always Bob Dylan, heaven forfend!  Makes me want to pack away the Christmas tree and head to Jamaica.  “Little Drummer Boy” can be a dirge, too—though Bob Seeger does a not-so-bad version.  Manheim Steamroller . . .

Now we’re getting somewhere.  I adore Manheim Steamroller and Trans-Siberian Railroad, two groups which do lots of surprising Christmas music.   “Pat-a-pan” is my very favorite Steamroller tune, though I also love “In Dulce Jubilo,” (a song I love most versions of), which hints at my love of medieval and Renaissance carols.  Then there’s TSR’s “Pachibel’s Canon / Merry Christmas.”  Secular Christmas classics I love include “Winter Wonderland,” (give me Annie Lennox!)  “Let It Snow” and “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.” (Both by Bing, plase!)  “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” should only be performed by Nat King Cole.  Or perhaps Mel Torme, who wrote it.  Frank Sinatra did a nice one about Santa that’s bouncy and cheery (“Hickoy do and dickory dock, and don’t forget to hang up your sock!”).  And I always laugh at “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”  There are contemporary Christmas tunes that warm my spirit each time I hear them.  And they are:

“Do You Hear What I Hear?”  My absolute favorite Christmas tune, I recently found it was written in 1962, in response to the Cuban missile crisis as a prayer for peace.   I have mixed feelings about this little factoid.  I still haven’t decided whether I’d like to keep this bit of knowledge, or have it extracted from my brain.  (I pictured it as coming from the 1930s or WW II.) Bing Crosby does the best, fortunately, the most-played version, with choir.   I’ve heard some ballad-belting female singer try to climb this mountain of a song and . . . she murders it.  I don’t even want to figure out who tried it, but Mariah Carey may be one culprit.  Someone in her neck of the woods anyway, complete with uncessary trills, a cold tone, and notes forced far past her range.

Steamroller doesn’t offer the best version either, I admit.  This song sounds deceptively easy, but with key changes, long note-holds and the necessity to build with each verse, this is a demanding piece.  One must infuse it with warmth and faith —which requires singing it in a strong and vital manner, never pushing the range.  This song requires a huge range, strong suppoort and effortless control.  Much as I love Manheim Steamroller, an instrumental just doesn’t cut it!

Vince Guraldi’s jazzy “Charlie Brown Christmas.”  I could actually play this one year-round.  It’s cheerful, and includes songs that are poigniant (“Christmas-time Is Here”) and great piano that just keeps the energy going throughout.  Like a sparkling tree filled with lights and beautiful ornaments, it surprises with each hearing.

“Mary Did You Know?”  Another delightful song of faith, which requires the equipment of Bing and the faith of Billy Graham to put across.  I first heard this by Kenny Rogers, who does a lovely version. (I wish an equivalent could be written for Joseph.)  Not so many people have murdered this one, so it still sounds fresh.

“Grown Up Christmas List” is a beauty from Amy Grant.  Quiet, thoughtful, poigniant, and simple, but never simple to sing. Mostly has lived well within the world of gospel.

Grant has another favorite:  “Breath of Heaven.”  This is even more difficult; a singer must place herself in Mary’s shoes (oh, sure, easy!), and this song requires sensitive pacing, and dynamics.  One must stay on the edge of wonder, yet hold to the reality of the event.  Magnificent.

Sting does a delightful “I Saw Three Ships,” and of course does it justice.

This may be the first posting on Christmas tunes , for there are so many carols to remember!


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