Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

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Merry Christmas, Hooter!

December 29, 2007

Ahh, the holiday season, when families come together, exchange presents, sing carols around the piano, share a feast at the dining table, and the love flows to all as they bask in the warmth of these joyous days in December. 

That’s what we’re supposed to believe, isn’t it?  That is all a fantasy and I’m not sure who dreamed it up, but when that fantasy was promoted by the big marketing machines, the American public picked it up quickly.  Christmas is not what it was when I was a kid, and from what my parents tell me, it certainly is not what it was when they were young.  Sixty years ago, when my mom was a little girl, the tree, freshly cut, was brought into the house on Christmas Eve, often after the children were put to bed.  The presents that were under the tree were few:  an orange, which was rare here in southwestern Pennsylvania, and perhaps a small toy.  This dearth of presents may be due to the fact that my grandfather was a poor coal-miner.  I have the feeling though, that wealthier families restrained their gift-giving as well. 

My own parents followed the trend of the nation and extended the holiday season a bit.  Forty years ago, our tree was live, but in the house and decorated a full week before Christmas day.  They would hand us the Penney’s catalog and tell us to make a list.  As we grew older, and smarter, we were given a dollar limit, and told to stay within it!

We were late getting our trees up this year.  Yes, trees.  Three of them.  We usually have them up by the end of Thanksgiving weekend.  Did you notice that the radio stations have been pushing this extended holiday season too?  The all Christmas music format used to begin on Thanksgiving Day.  This year, it started a full week before. 

Why do we buy into this Christmas reverie? I think it’s because it represents the holiday we want to have.  Those are extremely high expectations and being the imperfect people that we are, we can never fulfill those dreams for each other, nor ourselves. 

I’ve learned to be a bit more realistic about the holidays, reflect on the religious meaning more, and try to give others what I really want from them: love.  It’s not easy.  This past week, I found myself highly agitated.  I made it through Christmas day just fine, but all of my intentions to keep things in balance flew out the window on December 26th. 

Families being what they are in the best of circumstances can be difficult.  When you add divorces and stepchildren into the holiday mix, stir that in with dealing with exes and in-laws, then keep in mind that work and careers continue just as they did before Christmas, well a person can have a big pot of trouble ready to boil over.  Which it did for me. 

It’s not just family and friends, or kids, or work that can cause emotional pain for us.  It can also be the lack of those things.  My cousin, Hooter, isn’t married, has never had kids, is somewhat estranged from his sister, and lives alone in a nice home up in the mountains.  He works hard to gather friends about him during the holidays, and I know that he feels blessed to have the many friends that he does.  He’s told me that as much as he appreciates those friends, as much as he knows how much we love him, eventually he falls asleep alone.  A friend once told me that the reason people marry is so that they have someone who is a witness to their life, someone to affirm their life and share it with them.  I know that Hooter wants that person to witness his life.  He deserves it. 

In the midst of my angst-ridden holiday week, I make the call to Hooter, and soon find myself in his dining room sharing a wonderful, and low-calorie, meal.  We talk and laugh, exchange presents, and I unload my Christmas-driven story of “woe is me” and Hooter takes it all in.  He gives me encouragement and talks of his own holiday stress, which comes from his lack of being in a relationship and the distance of friends, but this time I hear something different in his voice.  It’s a spark of hope.  There is someone new in Hooter’s life.  They are beginning to witness each other’s life in a way that may grow into love.  Time will tell that tale.  As I left Hooter’s mountain home, I was renewed, encouraged, fed physically and spiritually.  I was hopeful, for myself, and for Hooter.  It doesn’t matter how long the holiday season is extended, the message is still the same.  The world is looking for something, or someone to come and change it from what it is, to what it can be: Light of Light, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Hope of Hope.

Merry Christmas Hooter!

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Melisma: Find the Pitch, Stay There

November 28, 2007

’tis the season…. fill in the blank with whatever season you like.  It could be baseball, football, opera, Spring, Duck Season (or Wabbit season, for you Daffy Duck fans) and if you’re in southwestern Pennsylvania right now, it’s hunting season!  For this installment of “this terrestrial ball”  I’d like to talk about the holiday season, Christmas in particular.  ‘Tis the season when radio stations play the worst renditions of Christmas songs recorded by shallow pop stars.

 Let’s look at two categories:  Good Songs/Bad Versions, and Bad Songs/No Cover could ever be good. 

 Good Songs/Bad Versions first:  The classic, and semi-classical song, O Holy Night.  This is a dead giveaway to anyone who has studied voice.  A singer breathes with the phrases, and the phrases in music tend to fall naturally with the way we speak.  When we speak, we do not take a breath between syllables.  When we sing, it is improper, and the sign of a poor singer, to breathe mid-word.  Destiny’s Child, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, take note:  Don’t breathe in the middle of a word.  If you need a breath at that point in the song, you need to do some more work.   The melody:  there are definite pitches in this song.  There were written down by Adolphe Adam in 1847.  Trained musicians expect to hear something relatively close to those pitches that Adolphe put on paper.  Singers who need to take a look at the music:  Christina Aguilera, Michael Bolton, David Hasselhoff, LeAnn Rimes, Jessica Simpson, and others too numerous to mention.  One final piece of advice:  the word divine is sung with a short i sound in the first syllable in order to produce a pure vowel sound’  please do not sing “dee-vine.”

Anything said about “O Holy Night” can be said about the following list of songs and carols:

  • Silent Night
  • Joy to the World
  • Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
  • O Come All Ye Faithful
  • O Little Town of Bethlehem

I guess I should mention that I really do enjoy a good gospel song, and that I know that the gospel genre employs a liberal use of melodic ornamentation.  These songs do not need that kind of enhancement; the melodies are beautiful on their own.  If G.F. Handel had wanted more pitches on each syllable of Joy to the World he would have written it that way.  He was, afterall, a master of melisma ( a group of notes or tones sung on one syllable) but he didn’t write them into the melody of Joy to the World.  Find the pitches, stay there.  If you’ve got a decent voice, the song will be lovely. 

That is just a brief cover of the traditional/sacred holiday music.  Some secular songs suffer just as severely as the sacred ones.  The Christmas Song, and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas come to mind.  White Christmas is reported to be the most recorded Christmas song, so we can imagine how many of them are just plain bad. Other versions are mediocre, and there are very few that are good. 

 On to the songs that are just bad and could never be good, no matter who attempts the cover.  Let’s start with Christmas Shoes.  What a blatant attempt to pull at the heart strings!   Here are a few more that just don’t do it for me:

  • Last Christmas
  • Celebrate Me Home  (this is a Christmas song???)
  • Same Old Lang Syne (again, it mentions Christmas Eve, so that makes it a Christmas song?  NO!)
  • All I Want for Christmas is You (put your sex drive aside for one night)
  • Snoopy’s Christmas (are we talking about the dog, or some WWI pilot?)
  • Wonderful Christmastime (we get it, you’re having a good time)
  • Where are You, Christmas?(pre-adolescent girls who think they are Faith Hill have murdered this song in countless middle school concerts.)

One last thing:  some pop stars just don’t seem to be able to pull off the Christmas album.  Sorry Carly Simon, I love you, but that holiday album is weak.  Neil Diamond, something just isn’t right about your cover of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.  Stevie Wonder, Twisted Sister, Britney Spears, I’m just not feeling the holiday spirit from your tunes.  Ella Fitzgerald, you’re a great crooner, but who arranged your charts for Jingle Bells and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.  You’re worthy of better.  Babs, I love your Ave Maria, and have even been thrilled by your Jingle Bells? up to the point where you remind me that you don’t really care to celebrate Christmas the same way I do. It’s where the music pauses and you let out a nasally “upsought?”  Then I just feel patronized, which is the point of this rant;  it seems that most of these Christmas albums are more of an attempt to capitalize on a sacred holiday without considering the cost to the beautiful songs that are being sacrificed.