The current social media frenzy concerning the holiday tune “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” causes one to reflect on Christmas music in general.
Relax, dear readers, I’m not even going there on the current brouhaha.
Immediately my Episcopalian friends are throwing down their Rome News-Tribunes and exclaiming, “Aha, Harry, you KNOW it’s not even Christmas yet, it’s Advent!” No Christmas music, my Anglican beloveds cry into the wilderness.
Let’s get right to Handel’s venerable “Hallelujah.” First of all, everyone sit down (see what I did there?). The actual piece is placed late in Handel’s complete oratorio, so musically/legally, it shouldn’t be a Christmas tune at all.
Then, friends, we must look at “How” we should sing the big hit. Big bodacious chorus? Eight English choral scholars with pained expressions? It goes on and on, and frankly, I don’t think the majority of audiences care, they just want to hear the darned tune. I’ll tell you one thing; they sure want to stand up. I’ve sung the work with numbers of directors who have requested in print in the Christmas program for the audience to remain seated. Always there are those who leap to their feet and then turn to fellow listeners with an expression of disdain and superiority even in contrary to the instructions. After all, the King of England, y’all.
Speaking of “Messiah,” why will I never forget the stirring chorus, “And the Glory of the Lord?” Well, one afternoon we were rehearsing the piece in the famous Berry College Ford Auditorium, and two well-meaning young gentlemen hired a Dolly Parton impersonator to appear from backstage and wish me a happy birthday. As the chorus began singing Handel’s immortal lines, my singers regarded me with a horrific look. Scaring me quite to death, a hand reached and grabbed my elbow. I turned, and there stood the ersatz Dolly. The two young men didn’t return to class for a week they were so chagrined.
I sure wish I could attend the Christmas show put on by my great friend Scott Thompson. The pictures are certainly appealing as that Scott Thompson million-watt smile broadcasts from the stage of Rome City Auditorium. I would bet a Christmas turkey that everyone leaves Scott’s concert with a smile on his or her face.
Here at the Ranchero Musselwhite, we go back and forth between sacred and secular Christmas music. I have one of those multidisc compact disc players, and we load up a variety of music and let the tunes come forth.
Last Christmas, we went up to Albuquerque for a Lessons and Carols service at the Cathedral and, well friends, it was the longest holiday music event we’ve ever attended. There was a thirty-minute prelude, world premier music, Lessons and Carols and every hymn was sung completely through with all verses. I don’t know how those poor choral singers had anything left by the end. We were so music’d out that we drove back to Los Lunas in complete silence.
My favorite solo at Christmas time is an arrangement of an old spiritual, “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.” I usually perform it with guitar, and it is even more special in that it was my late mother’s favorite song at this time of the year. I took the song to my dying grandmother’s bedside at the hospital and sang it for her. It even brought a gleam of love to her fading eyes.
All said, it seems to me that music, especially Christmas or holiday music, shouldn’t be an instrument of “better than thou.” Music is such an individual choice in that it stirs both our emotions and our intellect. Gather with one’s holiday birds of a feather, and sing “Hallelujah” or not.
For me, the holiday song that brings the biggest smile to my face is probably in the minds of my readers an unlikely one. Robert Earl Keen’s “Merry Christmas from the Family” is a PG-rated homage to every redneck southern Christmas Eve on record. It is not for the fainthearted, but if you have ever spent Christmas Eve around a warm fire emanating from an oil barrel while Christmas tunes blast from a pickup truck radio, well, this one’s for you. And yes, I have.
For all of you, don’t “have-a have-a blue, blue Christmas.”
Former Roman Harry Musselwhite is the author of “Martin the Guitar” and is an award-winning filmmaker.