15 December 2009

Christmas Heart

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

Not to mention Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, and whatever else you might celebrate. I'm not picky -- I love 'em all!

My recording of Handel's Judas Maccabeus has gone missing this year, and I'm feeling a little off-kilter, musically speaking. The "alleluia" from that work has the "Hallelujah Chorus" from The Messiah completely whupped, as far as I can tell. Every time I hear it, the hair on my arms stands straight up. In fact, if memory doesn't fail me, I believe I had it played as part of our wedding music.

Nevertheless, I have all my favorite carols and dippy 1940s and '50s (and '60s) Christmas pop songs, and Dar Williams' "Christians and the Pagans," which makes me smile every time I listen to it.

I will never forget the first time I heard "I'll Be Home for Christmas." I was 10, and it was my mid-year piano recital. The recital was held in the church where the teacher's husband was assistant pastor, in the evening. All the candles were lit, and it was lovely.

My teacher's oldest student was a young woman who was taking voice lessons. I don't remember playing, but I remember this beautiful woman standing up and saying, "My husband just came home from Viet Nam. This is for him." And then she sang. Tears were streaming down her face and many others, but she didn't waver, didn't crack -- she sang her heart out. I have loved that song ever since. (Karen Carpenter helped "lock it in," I'll confess.)

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" -- in context -- is another heartbreaker. It's WWII-era. The lyrics have a not-quite-bitter edge: Through the years, we all will be together -- if the fates allow..." But it's also another wish for love and peace and family, in spite of the distance and the sadness.

For the record, I cannot stand "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Those other reindeer are sorry snots, and Rudolph himself is something of a wuss, running off and sniffling (if not sniveling...) until Santa comes to the rescue. I used to love "Little Drummer Boy" - the traditional version - until I worked retail for a few years. By the time I left Piece Goods Shop, I swore if I ever again had to listen to Burl Ives butcher that poor kid, I was gonna hurt someone.

(Incidentally, I generally love Burl Ives. It's just that one song... And also incidentally, did you know ol' Burl's middle name was "Ivanhoe"? Honest - would I kid you about a thing like that?)

My hands-down favorites are (1) the third verse of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," which I've never seen anywhere except the Episcopal hymnal, and which is a whole 'nother blog, and (2) a recording of "Little Drummer Boy" done in the '80s by a regionally semi-famous North Carolina band called Arrogance. It was a one-take deal, I'm sure. They kept trying to play it straight. In fact, every time one of them would crack up, another one would yell something to the effect of, "Get serious!" They finally made it through the first verse, and then the drummer --

The drummer broke away and ripped into this absolutely knock-your-socks-off, high-school-marching-band-drum-corps-eat-your-heart-out solo riff and just basically tore it up. And I figure that's the whole point.

The whole point of Christmas - the whole point of any birth, but especially Christmas - is to have as much fun as possible and then do your dead-level best to do your dead-level best. Don't look back, don't think about it, just do it. Throw your heart into it and play.

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