Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas(-tree-decorating) music

A few CDs my family listens to around Christmastime...

Christmas Country Rock is apparently obscure enough that I can't even find the cover image online. It is from 1990 (according to Amazon), but still, makes me wonder where my parents got it in the first place, haha. We've listened to this CD for years and years, as in, when my brothers and I were little, we'd run around our (then-much-smaller) living room and play on the plastic rocking horse or sit-n-spin to these songs. And we probably skipped most of the "slow songs" in the middle of the album. "Jingle Bell Rock" was definitely one of my favorites back then, and I was always excited when we finally made it to that song, cuz it was the last one on the album. (Did I not know about shuffle, or something?) Yet only yesterday did I find it slightly ironic that it's "Jingle Bell Rock" on a country album... When I was little I also loved "Blue Christmas" and hey, I still do. It was probably a number of years though before I began to appreciate the great jazz(?)-like piano playing on the song, though. The album may feel a little worn out - we've been listening to it for like 17 years - but it's kinda like a pair of slippers with a hole in them that you don't want to get rid of and actually still really like because they are familiar and comfy.

Vanessa Williams's Star Bright is just an awesome Christmas album. The three customer reviews on the Amazon page describe this feeling very well. The songs are based on traditional and well-known melodies, but are rearranged to be upbeat and new and just really fun to listen to (and musically well-done, in my opinion). And I agree with one reviewer who said the music is still reverent - to me, (some of) these songs sound like they are really celebrating the birth of Jesus. (I say "some of" because some are secular.) I love her voice as well; she can sing both powerfully and ponderingly (ok I made that word up), whichever a song calls for. I'm not sure how long my family has had this album (Amazon says it came out in 1996 which is earlier than I had thought), but it's definitely one I know I'm going to enjoy every year. :)

Hmm... trying to think of other Christmas albums that have become "classic" in my house. We have one of Kenny G's Christmas albums (I've discovered, thanks to Ruckus, that there are quite a few of them) and an acoustic guitar album, both of which are collections of relaxing renditions of well-known songs. Of course there's the Nutcracker, the brilliance of which I fully realized a few years ago - part of broadening musical taste, I'd like to say. And speaking of broader taste, while decorating the tree yesterday evening, our CD player shuffled to a Christmas album by Chicago, which someone gave to someone in our family as a gift. Nearly everyone else in my family proceeded to state how Chicago and Christmas songs just don't mix at all, blah blah... I didn't think it was quite that bad, but after a song and a half or so, I think we did put on something else.

I've just come back from Christmas Eve Mass, which included quite a lot of music. Most of it was very traditional songs, sung by the choir and accompanied by piano, sometimes with handbells. The readings were interspersed with song verses, and the priest sang all the prayers that precede Eucharist. This abundance of music made me notice a few things. One's that I was able to pay much better attention if I had the hymnal out in front of me and followed the words of the current song - i.e. this mitigated quite a lot of my focusing problem. And though I've heard these songs many times, by focusing I found myself trying to find new meaning in them. Or at least I tried to immerse myself in the scene of the night of the birth of Christ - the stable, the gentle mother Mary, the curiosity of the shepherds, the angels, and above all, the joy to be found in the love embodied in the gift of God's Son. (I also started imagining scenes I could draw, including one of Mary, well, rocking out, and baby Jesus raising an eyebrow. Then I thought maybe this wasn't the best idea, haha.)

Anyway, taking a step back, music seems to be an integral part of praise and worship. I noticed that I was missing playing clarinet with the choir and even imagined adding in some accompaniment parts to the songs - I wish I had the compositional ability to do so; though, I haven't tried, so maybe.... But when I start getting caught up in enjoying playing with the choir, something always nags me: I feel like I may be forgetting the point of the music and enjoying the music as its own entity. The music is supposed to be a gift of praise, maybe even considered "using our gifts" (talents) as we are often told to do in various places in the Bible. Technically/physically I don't think I'm doing anything wrong, but mentally, again I think my focus could be out of place. I would guess that enjoying the music is fine, and good, assuming that God wants us to enjoy our gift back to Him. But I think I should also have my mind on the thanking, praising, and sharing of God, as these are (some of) the purposes of the music. Maybe when I go back to Penn and start playing clarinet with the choir again, I can try to reflect on the message of the song (or the readings of that Mass, or whatever) while playing. That would be a start, I think.


Rebecca said...

I'm not really a big fan of Christmas music, but a big band my dad plays with in Kansas City has one out that has a couple of pretty good arrangements. Maybe next year I'll lend it to you or something haha.

PS Sorry it's been so long since I've commented!!

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