Saturday, December 13, 2008

As a result of listening to Sunny 95.5 for an interminable week...

...I have come to the following conclusions in re Christmas music that I do not yet possess.

1. I've made good choices to this point; the average quality of the Christmas music I already possess is a couple of notches higher than the average quality of what Sunny has been playing, which I presume is the best music Sunny can find. (I have a smaller, more exclusive collection; you couldn't run a 24/7 Christmas station for a month off of my collection successfully. Of course, it's arguable that Sunny hasn't done it successfully, either.)

2. I let Dessie keep the Josh Groban Noel album because I found it disappointing after buying it last year. Upon further review, I have concluded that it actually is an outstanding album and that I simply had absurdly high expectations for it. In particular, his treatment of "I'll Be Home For Christmas" is the only one since the original that I've ever heard that not only knows what the song is about (the heartache felt by servicemen at war and their families back home at Christmastime), but found a way to capture that within the song itself. I literally wipe tears off my cheeks every time I hear it -- and any version of that song that doesn't break your heart, is a failed version. I should own the album just to own that song. (But his "O Holy Night" is first-rate as well.)

2. Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" is a great song, but I'm guessing the rest of that album kinda sucked, because Sunny, which is in desperate need of Christmas material to eke out its rotation this month, never plays anything off that album except that one number.

3. Barry Manilow's treatment of "Winter Wonderland" is actually pretty inventive. You'd think Christmas music would be right up Manilow's street. I think I'll have to acquire that album.

4. Why in the world do I not have the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's whole trilogy yet?? Sunny plays half a dozen different TSO cuts in this rotation and every single one of them is a winner.

5. Obviously I have Johnny Mathis's original classic Merry Christmas album, but there are at least a couple of Mathis Christmas numbers that Sunny has been playing that aren't on that album but are well worth the hearing. So I think I'll have to set about acquiring his later Christmas stuff, too.

6. Amy Grant continues to hold her spot as the queen of Christmas music; every cut from her early Christmas albums except the painfully forgettable "Tender Tennessee Christmas" has held up spectacularly over time. The one other piece I didn't particularly care for (the treacly, paint-by-numbers sanctimony of "Grown-Up Christmas List") has been covered by something like seventy-five other artists, including a Spanish version by Luis Miguel; so arguably, when it comes to that cut, it's me that has the problem rather than the song.

7. But Karen Carpenter's Christmas efforts have not held up well. Too bad because I always liked Karen Carpenter.

8. On the fence about James Taylor. Good, but I'd've expected better. You'd think his voice was a made-for-Christmas voice but the cuts Sunny's playing are merely workmanlike.

9. And speaking of voices made for Christmas: Didn't Anne Murray once do a Christmas album? Maybe not. At least, if she did one, Sunny apparently wasn't impressed.

10. I'd give a year of my life just to hear one version...just a single solitary one version...of "Silent Night" that was sung by a person who had not misunderstood the lyrics of the "radiant beams" verse. But I suppose it will never happen.

For the benefit of any talented singers who are considering singing "Silent Night" in my presence this Christmas, that verse does not mean that the Son of God is love's pure light, nor does it say anything at all about any radiant beams:

Silent night, holy night.
Son of God, love's pure light radiant beams from thy holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

Or, in other words:

Silent night, holy night.
Son of God, Jesus, Lord: love's pure, radiant light beams from thy holy face, since redeeming grace is dawning at thy birth.

So for heaven's sake, phrase it properly, will you? Carry the "light" right through into the "radiant" with no rest, deaden the t of "light" as much as you can in order to keep the "light radiant" transition as legato as possible, and make the t of "radiant" and the b of "beams" both nicely crisp: it's your job as the singer to make "radiant" go with "light" rather than "beams." And no breath after "face," either; "love's pure light radiant beams from thy holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace" is one phrase with no commas. Do your job; sell the meaning across the natural rhythm of the music so that the musical melody itself becomes counterpoint to your phrasing and the meaning of the poetry -- it's one of the nicest artistic effects in the carol canon when done properly -- rather than slavishly following the musical path of least resistance and thereby allowing the meaning to disintegrate.

I mean, really, how hard is this?


At 9:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sunny 99.1?

At 8:08 AM, Blogger Kris with a K said...

Kudos on discovering Barry and Christmas! I am a not-so-closeted Fanilow. I've never liked his Another New Year's Eve (blech...just pathetic sounding), but love that he used the same arrangement of Jingle Bells that Bing Crosby used (Bing had the Andrews sisters to work with then). And his Baby It's Cold Outside with kd lang is great, too...they have a nice flirty sound in their singing. which is kinda interesting as well, when you really think about THAT.

For me, I look to Barry, the Muppets, or the classics (Robert Goulet, Roger Whittaker, Mitch Miller, Bing, Mahalia Jackson, etc) for the songs I love most because they are the artists I grew up hearing on the stereo LPs.

At 1:36 PM, Blogger Stephen said...

You've inspired me to share the setlist from our Christmas program last night. However, it would take too long to explain how the Beach Boy's "Little St. Nick", Mariah's "All I Want for Christmas is You", a 10-second snippet of the dogs barking out Jingle Bells, the Chipmunk's Christmas Song, "Christmas Time is Here", a Bach chorale, Vivaldi's Gloria (first two movements), Mannheim Steamroller's "Stille Nacht", and "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 1914" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra (complete with professional rock guitarist) and even more can be made to fit together and be truly crowd-pleasing to boot.

Oh, and a husband and wife singing a verse of "Baby It's Cold Outside" seemingly off-the-cuff was a small shock!


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