Christmas time, in addition to all its other celebrations, is a time to bask in the joy of music; music that is not typically befitting to listen to throughout the rest of the year.
As most of us turn to a potpourri of bland radio stations that revolve their 25-song Christmas playlist starting Thanksgiving weekend, there lies beneath that mainstream superficiality a tradition that survives through the human need for ritual. In other words, the Christmas music that is most divine is not always the common hymns and traditional arrangements which we inherited from the Victorians, sung by Bing Crosy, Perry Como, or The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Don’t misunderstand, for there is an inherent joy in Der Bingle’s voice of Christmas, or the common chorale arrangements that we grew up with. Traditional pop Christmas music can be glorious, if staid, and will always have its place of honor.
However, there is music that cuts through that mainstream exterior, and gives us a taste of our ancient roots or the founding principle of religious freedom through the joy of euphony and composition. Modern production of early Christmas music like Medieval, Celtic, or even Early American is a joyous endeavor, and one that is made easier nowadays by the accessibility of purchasing music on-line. Call this a reawakening of sorts, for there is an alternative to Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer and Jingle Bell Rock.
These alternatives come in Celtic forms, with the presence of the bell-like, lucid tones of the hammered dulcimer mixed with harps, flutes, acoustic guitar, and violins. Also, modern medieval Christmas music combines the earthy vigor of early song and dance with modern electronic wizardry and choral arrangements. Early American tunes draw from the life experienced and explored by Appalachian peoples, early settlers, and old New England colonial heritage.
Much of this type of music is reproduced most masterfully by an organization called The Christmas Revels. A vocal and instrumental mega-production, they draw from two-thousand years of solstice celebration for the inspiration of music and Christmas fun. Other artists are Joemy Wilson, Maggie Sansone, Bonnie Rideout, Madeline MacNeil, etc., all producing an uncommon sort of Victorian sound reminiscent of British, Welsh, Irish, Scottish or French folklore, and ancient carols. Mannheim Steamroller, made famous courtesy via its employment as Rush Limbaugh’s holiday bumper music, produces splendid Renaissance and Victorian sounds using strictly electronic means.
Christmas, as wonderful a season as it is, is made even more desirable with this genuine tradition, along with the glorious rejoicing of religion and personal expression. Festive music of past centuries helps to capture that revelry. Listening to these sounds makes one sense a fashion that is so implicative of ancient culture. It takes one back to a time where expression wasn’t conveyed through Rapping Pepsi commercials or Sony PlayStation shoot-’em-ups. Rather, expression was a vocal-visual mix of worship and respect for life.
Karen De Coster is a politically incorrect CPA, and an MA student in economics at Walsh College in Michigan.