Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The 12 Tones of Christmas (The 12 Musings of Christmas #11)

Once again, today's feature isn't my own creation (though I wish it was), but it's a true Christmas classic that should be celebrated - and, I do have my own two cents to add. Richard McQuillan's "The Twelve Tones of Christmas" brilliantly houses a famous count-to-12 song within a 12-tone accompaniment, "fiendishly deployed to maximize the dissonance level," in the composer's words. He also scored it for the unusually piquant combination of ocarina and harpsichord, instruments which are perhaps even more chilling in digitally synthesized form.

I wrote a couple of years ago that it "sounds like the kind of thing that would be playing if Captain Kirk showed up on a planet ruled by some sort of eccentric aristocrat." In fact, I'm sure I was thinking of "The Squire of Gothos" episode, in which you can see the strange guest star playing some intergalactic Scarlatti at the 5:48 mark here. It's not 12-tone music, but it would be better if it was.

Anyway, Schoenberg supposedly dreamed of a day when children would be whistling 12-tone tunes in the street. We're not there yet, but I decided to do the next best thing and have my 9-year old daughter sing "The 12 Days of Christmas" while I played McQuillan's spiky accompaniment on the piano. Child labor laws being what they are and me trying to read from an iPad (which allows Airturn page-turning but makes for some small notes), I can't say I nailed every tone in the few takes we did. Perhaps an advanced ear training class could take on the challenge of figuring out where I betrayed the row. Nonetheless, I think it makes its effect, the child's voice bringing an extra layer of sweetness to the texture.

I wish I'd used separate mics to get better balance, and I wish I hadn't kept rushing ahead to the cadences; but the world needs more domestic 12-tone music-making, and I'm glad to have done my small part. Some day, perhaps, every home will have a harpsichord and Schoenbergiads will be commonplace - if not in this galaxy, then in some strange new world.

The 12 Musings of Christmas (so far...)
  1. Christmas Time is Here
  2. In Season
  3. Vertical Christmas Medley
  4. Trippin' with Chestnuts
  5. Sleigh Ride in a Fast Machine
  6. Sleigh Ride of the Valkyries
  7. Sleigh Ride in 7/8
  8. A Christmas Carol
  9. Savior of the Nations, Come
  10. Make it so!
  11. The 12 Tones of Christmas

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