Thursday, December 8, 2011

Deck the Hall with Ives of Chestnuts

Let’s face it, Christmas is one big mashup of intersecting experiences: religious traditions, cultural traditions, shopping traditions, movies, TV episodes, yard decor, music of all varieties on the radio, in stores, on street corners, in church, etc. Even the signature seasonal food, the fruitcake, is a kind of mashup. (OK, bad example.) It's very popular to rail against all this - Christians lament that the true meaning of Christmas is lost, others feel religion becomes uncomfortably public, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa get a sort of patronizing "yeah, you're special too" treatment, everyone seems to object that radio stations and retail stores start Christmas too early, it's too materialistic, families are a pain, we hear again and again how depressed everyone gets. Well, I don't buy it. I love the big messy way in which all of this comes together (except for the fruitcakes), so I've come to celebrate the mashup that is the Christmas (or holiday, if you prefer) season, and I've brought mashups to the party.

Just this past weekend I put together the first family Christmas mp3 CD of the year – it combines about 10 albums worth of music from Handel's Messiah, John Rutter’s Cambridge Singers, the Baltimore Consort, the Boston Camerata, string quartet carol renditions, the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack, John Denver and the Muppets, the Chipmunks, some Scottish harp/dulcimer disc – not to mention (except that I am) all sorts of folksy chestnuts via Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams, Steve and Eydie, Bing Crosby, Doris Day, the New Christy Minstrels, the Brothers Four, Percy Faith, etc. In fact, those not-to-mentionables are the best example of my mashup experience with Christmas.

Growing up, the Goodyear "Great Songs of Christmas" LPs spun constantly in our house, and I still have a strange affection for the way in which "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" and Messiah choruses played nice with "Jingle Bells" and "Silver Bells" and Burl Ives. My favorite way to use our Christmas mp3 disc is to shuffle among all the albums, which kind of recreates the Goodyear experience. Mainly this is about relieving the whole "anxiety of choice" problem ('What's the perfect song for this moment in time?') and just letting what happens happen, but it's often quite satisfying to jump genres this way.

Anyway, I don't know if I'll have a new Christmas special for the blog this year, but it occurs to me that four of my past specials are mashups of one kind or another. So, it's time to break them out along with the Advent wreath, the tree, the lights, the lawn reindeer, and the rappin' Santa.

The Vertical Christmas Medley from 2007 is kind of my holiday answer to Terry Riley's In C - let's put a bunch of melodic ideas together and not be too picky about how they go together, but let's keep it all in one friendly key. [WARNING: Clicking this image will lead to a page where music starts automatically - kind of like stumbling into a Christmas party.]

Last December, the mashup spirit visited MMmusing twice, first with the woozy Trippin' with Chestnuts. [This is more like stumbling out of a Christmas party - but if you can't take it all, check out the cool, Copland-esque cadence at the end.]

And, just a week later, I found a seasonal use for John Adams' Short Ride in a Fast Machine:

Finally, we have my oldest Christmas classic, The 12 Composers of Christmas. It's really less a mashup and more a purposeful arrangement than the others, but Day 12 does get pretty manic:

The message: enjoy the season for all its wondrous and kooky variety. You're gonna hear some songs you're not anxious to hear and get some fruitcakes you're not anxious to eat, but don't be anxious. Every good  mashup needs a little internal tension. Merry Christmas Season!