Wellsir, Christmas season is upon us and it is time for you curmudgeons to be jolly. Not saying that all of you are curmudgeons, but you know of whom I speak. One way to become jolly, even after the political season we have just lived through, is to listen to Christmas music. Having been involved with a few Christmas concerts, choir cantatas, and programs, I have become familiar with Christmas music from several venues. As much as I enjoyed directing, performing and arranging choir Christmas cantatas, there was nothing that stirred the deep feelings of Christmas like a good instrumental concert. The richness of the sound, the depth of emotions as the chords melded from melody to accompaniment that resounded in the very basic structures of the humanness of all who heard it was in the words of the poet, “pleasing to the soul.”
I once was offered a position teaching band in a large town in Texas. I was asked why I waited so long to start working on my spring contest material and I told the man that i first had to do a Christmas concert. He was mystified that I would, according to his facial and body expressions, waste my time on that when I “should have” been working on contest material. There was obviously no way to explain to him that the entire meaning of the Christmas season, whether or not one was a Christian, was worth all the hours and all the hard work the kids put in. Besides the fact that they knew there was a critical audience who would judge them waiting for them in a very short time. Had I accepted the offered position that would have been a point of contention between us, I fear.
But Christmas is no time to think of the bad side of things. Starting with “White Christmas” done by the iconic singer, Bing Crosby we have had a plethora of wonderful Christmas songs which have been at the top of most music charts. Bing’s version was in the top ten from 1942 through 1949. It would be starting an argument to say the singer made the song or the song made the singer. Either way, people still enjoy this classic Christmas song. After that the country version, “Blue Christmas, came long and was done first by Earnest Tubb and made a hit in 1950 and Elvis re-did it later. I preferred Mr. Tubb’s version.
For those of us who are old enough to remember, and for the younger ones to wish they had been here back then, Gene Autry turned “Frosty the Snowman” into a #1 hit. The story, as i remember it, was Mr. Autry’s manager did not want him to do that “silly song” but Gene held out, did the song and prolonged his career much further along. Autry also did “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” which shot to the top of the charts and became an almost instantaneous hit. If you listen closely this season you may even hear his version still being played. His recording started the whole Rudolph schtick and you cannot escape all of it unless you are living in a cave in Siberia. And is you are, don’t be surprised if Rudolph flies by your cave just to be naughty.
One thing I had forgotten, but was reminded as I was researching Christmas music, was how “Silver Bells” came to be. The two men who wrote the musical, “Guys and Dolls, knew it was time for something else as the whole song market was down. They wrote this tune and named it, “Tinkle Bells.” One of the men’s wives is said to have told her husband, “Are you out of your mind? Do you know what the word 'tinkle' means to most people?” They changed that word and the title. The song became so popular that a whole scene in the movie, in which it was introduced, was expanded to feature it. Bob Hope, who was the leading man, made it his Christmas theme and used it for all his television Christmas specials. For those of you who are too young to remember, each Christmas season, Bob Hope would take a large group of entertainers to U.S.military stationed somewhere around the world. He did this for many, many years and he always took “Silver Bells” with him.
“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and “The Christmas Song,” (Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...) have been around since the early 1940’s and as good today as they were back in those far-way times. They still raise goosebumps when they are done with the proper voice and style and will probably be around when your grandkids are old. I hope so! All these songs and several others just make the world a better place when one can slow down long enough to listen to them. I hope you get that opportunity.