Tuesday, 15 December 2009

[Not] Silent Night: Clay's Christmas Music Preferences

There are some I know who relish the chance to bathe in Yuletide tunes 24/7 come 1 December, but I am not one of them.

Sometimes I feel bad that I'm not more excited about Christmas Music. Perhaps it's because, having been accused of harboring tendencies toward music snobbery, I can't get past the fact that most Christmas Music - or, more specifically, most treatments of Christmas music - are really really bad. The Onion's AV Club had this debate a while back, which made me feel much better about my reluctance to turn up the volume every time a new version of Jingle Bells or Rudolph comes over the radio. They also provide a list of some not-so-treacly TV specials and music here.

So, in an effort to clear the air and dispel any notions that I am The Grinch reincarnate, I provide, in no particular order, my favorite Christmas music and criteria for music that could become my favorite Christmas music in the future.

Clay's Christmas Faves:

  1. Feasts and Spirits: Finest Kind with John Huston. All kinds of amazing. Lesser-known carols sung in close harmony, interspersed with a reading of the Dickens classic. Their annual concert at the Black Sheep is now an essential part of my holiday season. Their version of Please to see the King cuts through the treacle like nothing else can.

  2. The Mystery of Christmas, by The Elora Festival Singers. Neatly combines traditional carols with lesser known songs and The Huron Carol, one of the first from the New World. Equally reverent as hushed and spooky.

  3. A Charlie Brown Christmas, Vince Guaraldi Trio. Not entirely surprising, except perhaps for my preference for the more melancholy "Christmastime is Here." Guaraldi died at age 47 in between sets at a gig, which also adds something.

  4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Again, not a surprise. But a great story well-told. I've always found the title odd, as he really doesn't steal christmas. But Max looks like my dog Findley, so it balances out. The less said about the Jim Carrey version - one of Ron Howard's many cinematic sins for which he's yet to atone - the better.

  5. The Ventures' Christmas Album: A revelation courtesy of Derek S., you haven't heard Frosty the Snowman until you've heard it mashed up with Tequila. I manage to sneak this one into the CD player when the gifts are being opened.

Clay's Christmas Music Criteria:
  1. In no circumstances must it involve Kenny G, Michael Bolton or any combination thereof.

  2. It must have a discernable melody. No time of the year says "singalong time" better than Christmas, and, conveniently, most Holiday Favorites are the most tuneful I know. Yet, perhaps in an attempt to be different, many contemporary "interpretations" feature tempos so slow that you'll be breaking out the New Year's champagne before they're over.

  3. It must be simply adorned. A corollary to point 2, most modern interpretations fill in the spaces where the melody used to be with strings, backup vocals, bells and other fussiness. The power of the Christmas story is in its simplicity. Why all the gilt?

  4. If possible, I'd prefer it not be Silent Night. I just don't like the tune.

  5. See number 1.

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