Thursday, November 24, 2011

Listening is important.

Irene Dunne as Vinnie and William Powell as Clarence Day, Sr.
Life With Father

A scene in the Day household -

Clarence: I'll tell you one thing, I'll never be baptized as long as that hideous monstrosity (pug dog statue) is in this house.

Vinnie: Alright. Alright. Clarence (Jr.). That pug dog goes back this afternoon and he is christened first thing in the morning. You heard him didn't you, Clarence? You heard him say that he'd be baptized as soon as I got this pug dog out of the house.

A scene in the Nolan/Hall household -

He: Don't tell me you're listening to Christmas music! The Americans haven't even had their Thanksgiving yet.

Me: You heard him didn't you, kids? He said as soon as it was American Thanksgiving it was all Christmas music, all the time.

What many people (meaning husbands) don't understand is that Christmas music, like the Christmas movies and books, must be started early or the season will pass without seeing reading or listening to all your old favourites.

I have a box full of tapes and CDs, and a shelf lined with LPs that call out to me. These are a but a few of the many.

Vince Guaraldi's soundtrack to the 1965 television special combines a true sense of childhood innocence with a touch of adult nostalgia that is at the same time a part of and transcends the iconic Charles Schulz characters of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder and Snoopy. For many youngsters it is their introduction to jazz. A happy introduction that will influence a lifetime of musical enjoyment.

Round and round the Christmas tree
Opening presents with the family
One for you and two for me
Oh, what a Christmas day!

Bing's classic Merry Christmas album with White Christmas, Silver Bells with Carol Richards, the fun tunes with the Andrews Sisters and the hymns gets a major workout this time of year, but I always start out with A Time to Be Jolly. It is a joyous album with a party feeling that I find irresistible.

Released in 1986 with Milt Hinton, Ralph Sutton, Gus Johnson, Jim Galloway going to town on traditional Christmas songs, The Sackville All Star Christmas Record became an immediate classic in our family. I was "adopted" into a family simply by virtue of reading Harpo Speaks. If you listen to the Sackville album, you automatically become one of us.

The album cover alone is comforting, but add Nat's voice and you are immediately enveloped in a sense of wonder and the best that Christmas has ever meant to you, or will ever mean.

Perry Como. Just thinking about him makes me smile. His heart seems to be in the Christmas music, both joyous and reverent. I must hear Perry recite The Night Before Christmas every year.

Another album I consider an instant classic is the eclectic Christmas album from the glorious Maureen McGovern. A contemporary take on traditional music that retains all of the old-fashioned heart.

It is one of the tragedies of my life that the Hi-Lo's never made a Christmas album. Gene Puerling, being kind of heart as well as genius of mind, made up for it when he took his Singers Unlimited, Don Shelton, Len Dresslar and Bonnie Herman into the studio for this must-have, must-listen-to album. It is what you point to when you want to scoff at those who claim perfection cannot be achieved.

Many of the wonderful tracks on the Singers Unlimited Christmas are the Christmas songs of Alfred Burt. Jazz trumpeter and composer Burt originally collaborated with his father Bates Burt, an Episcopal minster on Christmas songs presented as gifts to family and friends. After his father's death he continued the tradition with organist Willa Hutson.

Al Burt was a member of the Alvino Rey (married to Louise King) orchestra and through that association his carols were popularized by the King Family, first at their personal Christmas parties and on their television specials. His wonderful carols were recorded by Columbia records (company president James Conkling was married to Donna King) shortly before Al's untimely death from cancer.

Al Burt's lovely songs include Christmas Cometh Caroling, Jesu Parvule, Ah, Bleak and Chill the Wintry Wind, Bright, Bright, the Holly Berries, The Star Carol, Caroling Caroling, We'll Dress the House and Some Children See Him.

Al Burt's carols have come to mean Christmas to me more and more as the years go by. Along with the Singers Unlimited album they are front and centre on Bing's A Time to be Jolly and Maureen McGovern's Christmas.

Composer/arranger LeRoy Anderson's thrilling medleys of familiar carols are my traditional Christmas wrapping soundtrack. The album was saved from cutout limbo at the old Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street in Toronto.

Why, oh why isn't this fabulous TV special from 1979 available on DVD?!?

Yeah! Christmas on the Pondersa. Wanna make somethin' of it?!

Old-time opera recordings are my happy place. I think I am reincarnated from the gramaphone set. This compilation features songs mainly from radio broadcasts and cover years ranging from the 1920s to the 1970s. Every year I find a new favourite.

I love the Christmas compilations like this misnamed CD from Publisher's Clearing House. Not all of the tracks are from the 1940s, but I'm not going to quibble if they want to give me Mel Torme and Jack Jones from The Judy Garland Show along with Buddy Clark, Joe Williams and Benny Goodman.

There's also the Robert Shaw Chorale and the Chieftains and Doris Day and The Mills Brothers and Peggy Lee and Jim Reeves and Roger Williams and The Platters and ...

Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends, and thanks for the often mentioned, but seldom followed guideline to when it is appropriate to listen to all Christmas music, all the time.

27 comments:

  1. Great Christmas music choices.

    Years ago I was traveling in Australia and New Zealand about the middle of November and was surprised to see Christmas decoratations, ads on TV, and Christmas music playing. Without the Thanksgiving buffer, they seemed to sling-shot right into Christmas as their Spring season came upon them.

    I like to let Christmas settle in slowly, a bit more week by week, and not until December. Like sucking slowly on hard candy, I like to think it's more enjoyable that way, rather than shoving in your mouth and biting it in half first thing.

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  2. Thanksgiving is a handy buffer indeed.

    For me, Christmas is more about the buildup than the actual day. I don't know exactly when it became that way for me, but a song here, a movie there, an unexpected gift purchase lightens my step during the dull days upon us.

    I like your hard candy analogy. Is it the ribbon shaped, striped kind?

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  3. I'm with both of you, C.W. and Jacqueline. I like all the run-up to Christmas more than the actual day which usually goes by in a frenzy of gift giving and receiving. (Though that's fun too.)

    It was much more fun when my daughter was little. But now I have a granddaughter to shop for. :)

    Love listening to special carols and thinking about the Big Day.

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  4. CW.
    I expected to see Bing on the list but I was pleasantly surprised to see The Muppets making your list too.

    A fun list in the spirit of Christmas. I guess I'm ready for the season and if I get discouraged I'll refer back to your list and find a nice Christmas classic.
    Page

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  5. "I like your hard candy analogy. Is it the ribbon shaped, striped kind?"

    My one vice. Well, not my only vice, but the only one I care to mention.

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  6. LOVE your comments....last week my wife and I went to a local craft store and purchased three frames for LP's. We put them up with Christmas LP's and realized the wall looked lop-sided, so we got three more frames today, and have 6Christmas LP's on the wall in our living room. Once we get through December and into January, we might keep the frames up with other LP covers.

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  7. Yvette, it's such a wonderful time of year backed by the soundtrack of Christmas.

    Your granddaughter must light up your world. My 15 month old niece pointed at me and said "Nana"! It might have something to do with her mom being 16 years my junior. Well, that's my story and I'm stuck with it.

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  8. Page, the other day my daughter caught me getting all weepy over Kermit singing The Christmas Wish. She just shook her head. She thinks I'm cute. Sigh!

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  9. Your secret is safe with us, Jacqueline.

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  10. Thanks, John. I'm crazy about your decorating plan. You don't need holly wreaths when you can relax beneath the warm glow of album covers and the memories associated with them.

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  11. Caftan Woman, I love your Christmas music picks, and your candy analogy, too! For the record, my favorite Christmas/holiday candy is peppermint bark (especially Williams-Sonoma's version)! :-)

    Team Bartilucci's holiday music picks run the gamut from traditional holiday tunes to more modern songs such as the gritty yet funny and moving "Fairy Tale of New York" by The Pogues and Kirsty McColl; the Phil Spector versions of traditional Christmas songs (Darlene Love's version of "Marshmallow World" is our fave); and goofy novelty numbers like Count Floyd's "Rastafarians Make the Christmas Scene in Transylvania."

    Hope you and yours have a happy and heartfelt holiday season!

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  12. I'm a huge John Denver fan, he voice is so beautiful. I'm so glad that you included him on your list.

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  13. Caftan Woman, I share a lot of these albums with you. Nat King Cole could, of course, sing the phone book and I would want to listen. One of my favorite Christmas albums is, I admit, Gene Autry, especially "Here Comes Santy Clause"! I have a CD with Jose Carreras singing gorgeous Christmas songs, which I especially love. Mormon Tabernacle Choir album is one I've had since 1970, and it still plays!

    Lovely idea for a post, and very entertaining and nostalgic...

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  14. Hate to go off-topic here, but I've started round two of the "Classic Film: Six Degrees Of Separation" game by selecting the lady in my avatar (Carole Lombard) and the leggy, lovely Goldie Hawn -- and I've chosen you for the next degree. You can learn more here: http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/463696.html

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  15. I love your selection of Christmas music, Caftan Woman. Of the albums on your list the one I listen to without fail every year is "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Other favorites are holiday LPs/CDs by Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee and The Manhattan Transfer.

    I prefer a slower build-up to Christmas, too - though when I was very young, of course, it couldn't arrive fast enough...

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  16. There's a wonderful medley of Alfred Burt carols on the Boston Pops Christmas CD titled "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" with John Williams conducting. I wish more of these were better known.

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  18. What? No Chipmunks?!? Hard to beat Nat King Cole singing Mel Torme's The Chritmas Song. Perfect.

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  19. Great choices. But then, what would one expect from you?

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  20. Dorian, it is only at Christmas time that I venture into Williams-Sonoma when it is so crowded I don't feel like a Cratchit getting above my station.

    Christmas at your place sounds like a heckuvva fun time. And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

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  21. Dawn, I saw John Denver in concert at Maple Leaf Gardens years ago. He was absolutely mesmerizing - never left the stage although he gave the musicians with him a break. His beautiful voice filled that arena and I get goose bumps just remembering the night.

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  22. Becky, I'm crazy about that Gene Autry album. Is it the one where he does a little introduction before each song? Gene had the friendliest voice. He made you feel like a chum, enjoying a bit of cheer together.

    I saw the most recent version of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on their summer tour when they hit Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall. All I can say is "Wow!".

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  23. Vince, one thing and another has kept me away from the computer for over a week now. One of these days I'll catch up with the game. Sorry if I held things up for even a little while.

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  24. Ah, Lady Eve, any fan of The Manhattan Transfer (I probably should return my sister's copy of that CD) will surely enjoy The Singers Unlimited album.

    I'm crazy about Peggy Lee's version of Jingle Bells. It just isn't Christmas without "I like a sleigh ride, I like a sleigh ride...".

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  25. Kevin, the Boston Pops album is definitely on my must-have for this season. Thank you so much for the heads-up.

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  26. Actually, Readerman, I was doing my best chipmunk impersonation the other day even though I never could handle a hula hoop. I got a big thumbs down from the family. Everybody's a critic!

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