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More Christmas Music Musings

1. The Chieftains’ BELLS OF DUBLIN, mentioned below by Ohio Brass, is great, really great. 2. For those who have asked, my favorite real Christmas carol is I WONDER AS I WANDER--haunting Christmas melody plus lyrics and especially a title that express "the true meaning of Christmas" and Christianity. 3. I’ve also been asked, what do I think of THE MESSIAH?--I like the choruses 4. Am I moved by THE NUTCRACKER?--no. 5. Do I like HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS by Mel Torme?--yes, Mel is in a different league from Bing. 6. What is the worst Christmas CD you’ve heard today? The one by THE THREE TENORS or Opera men... 7. Did I know I screwed up the name of the Brenda Lee song, ROCKING AROUND THE CHRISTMAS TREE? I’m terrible with titles and happy for the correction.

I’m now soliciting relatively serious comments about real Christmas carols and other seriously religious Christmas music...

Discussions - 10 Comments

I’d expected to find a number of recommends in this comment section, guess I’ll just have to begin.

First, I always listen to
Bach’s "Christmas Oratorio" not Easter’s "Messiah".

"in the bleak mid-winter" by the King College Choir, Cambridge is just a beautiful traditional religious carol, and my favorite individual piece of Christmas music.

The following, by The Choir of Trinity Church, are greatly inidicative of the beauty that Christmas celebrates:
"All Poor Men & Humble"
"The First Nowell"(sic)
"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"
"What Strangers Are These?"

Finally, almost any Gospel groups Christmas album would be worthwhile, I especially like Broadway Inspirational Voices "A Great Joy - A Gospel Christmas".

Mike Daley beat me to Bach. "The Christmas Oratorio" is indispensible at 11:30 on Christmas Eve, it seems to me. I like John Eliot Gardiner’s recording on Archiv.

Camille Saint-Saens composed an interesting "Oratorio de Noël," but I cannot find my recording. I see, through Amazon, that there is a cheap recording on Delta that features Sain-Saens and Felix Mendelssohn. I cannot vouche for it, though.

The Canadian Brass has a couple albums of traditional Christmas music. "The Christmas Album" is the one with which I’m most familiar.

Merry Christmas!

My tastes run simpler. I’ve always been partial to "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." I offer two reasons:

  • The lyrics are deeply theological. Read them and give some thought to the unsurpassing majesty, glory, grace and love of God the Almighty.
  • I can’t watch the "It’s a Charlie Brown Christmas" show without choking up as the kids end the show with this song.
  • It’s not Bach, I confess. But still, my favorite.

Thanks, Mike. I’ve not heard the Harnoncourt. Merry Christmas!

I’m glad someone (Mike) remarked on the randomness of THE MESSIAH in the post. Virtually everyone with musical talent got together in Rome, GA a couple of nights ago to put it on--although it has the Easter ending etc. Their justification: It celebrates the whole life of Jesus. That justification moved me more than the performance (which was musically good but for me the thing drags). I will listen to the Bach tonight to show my class. But I’m with simple Don of AZ: HARK THE HEARLD... is wondeful at the end of Christmas eve or Christmas mass for the reasons he gives. It shouldn’t be sung any other time, though. (Or maybe we should revise tradition slightly to push carol singing during the week after Christmas.) I’m glad all this ended with this series of very heartfelt posts. Have a wonderful Christmas!

A truely marvelous Christmas album is Joan Baez’s 1967 Noel, which, amongst other things, is a reminder that there are things that transcend politics, such as a beautiful voice singing beautiful music. Baez is at the height of her powers and the arrangements by Peter Schickele, best known for his P.D.Q. Bach parodies, are terrific. The orchestrtation features recorders, violas, lutes, harpsicords, strings, etc. accompanying Baez’s pure, clear voice. It includes a great version of "I wonder as I wander".

In a similar vein is "A Tapestry of Carols" by Maddy Prior recorded in 1987. Prior was the lead singer with the 70’s British Celtic Rock group Steeleye Span. Both albums are unabashedly religious and draw on baroque, renaisance and medieval influences.

"Go Tell it on the Mountain" by the Blind Boys of Alabama is somewhat uneven, but has two rousing Christmas spirituals: "The Last Month of the Year" and "Born in Bethleham", the latter featuring the incomparable Mavis Staples.

Hugh, Great to hear from you and great suggestions. Only a crazy ideologue would deny that Joan Baez had a a fantastic--and very affecting in expressing images of liberation of all kinds--voice (when singing), and I wa a big fan of Steeleye Span. "Born in Bethlehem" is, when done well, rousing and genuinely spiritual. So I will try to find all of those...

Hi Peter and Merry Christmas. One more suggestion this time from Steeleye Span: the Latin Hymn Gaudete on their 1972 Below the Salt album.

Hugh, I remember Gaudete from when it first came out and really do find myself singing parts of it to myself now and again. I wish I had remembered to mention it; it deserved to have become a classic.

My favorite Christmas Hymn is I Heard The Bells on Christmas, and particularly the last verse: "Then peeled the bells more loud and deep/God is not dead nor does he sleep/the wrong shall fail,the right prevail/for peace on earth, goodwill towards men. I especially like Johnny Cash’s version...

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