One of the things I love about the Internet is that it allows me to stay connected to far away people, places and organizations. Just because I’ve moved out of NYC, I don’t have to leave behind its classical radio station, WQXR. It’s my favorite radio station during the winter holiday season because it has “The Holiday Channel”. Yes, 24/7 from Thanksgiving until Epiphany, I can be in my own personal version of “Miracle on 34th Street”.
Listening to the Holiday Channel is like listening to winter’s greatest hits, and it seems as if composers tried to put their best musical foot forward at this time of year. For most of my life, I have sung in some choir or other, beginning with the choir of St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church in Hollis, Queens at age 8. So in addition to visions of the tree at Rockefeller Center, and the windows at Lord & Taylor and Macy’s Herald Square, music for Christmas also conjures up memories of candlelit altars decked in green, red and gold. A good deal of the music comes from the Baroque period, though I have faves from medieval to the modern day. Most of it is relentlessly optimistic and playful: songs of celebration, songs that embrace the concepts of awe, beauty and wonder, and dances, lots of dances.
I had a great deal of fun this past December singing along to the hymns, the cantatas, the carols and humming along with the instrumental pieces. Among my faves:
“Gaudete”. Early Renaissance? Medieval? Who cares. It’s just plain fun to sing.
“Jolly Old St. Nicholas” played by I Solisti di Duino, and arranged to sound like a Bach Overture. It’s a real hoot for those of us into such things. :-) They also do a similarly baroque version of “O Tannenbaum”. You can’t find these on YouTube, but Amazon has them on mp3.
Corelli’s Op. 6, No. 8, the “Christmas Concerto”, a long-time favorite that I’ll listen to any time of year. The Freiburger Barockorchester has a great performance of this on YouTube.
“Symphonie de Noel” by Michel Delalande. This and Charpentier’s “Messe de Minuit pour Noel” make me feel as if I am celebrating the holidays at the court of Versailles.
Mozart’s German Dance No. 3 in C, K 605, “Sleigh Ride”. It’s a sleigh ride in minuet form. Sehr witzig, Herr Mozart!
Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” gives us a Brooklyn take on the same mode of transport. It’s fun whether sung or played by an orchestra.
Fauré’s “Cantique de Jean Racine”. This gorgeous piece washes over you in waves, especially when sung with organ accompaniment by a choir whose French is excellent.
The “Waltz of the Flowers” from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker”. I find myself waiting for the moment when the violas and cellos get to have their moment in the sun. It thrills me every time.
“Fum, Fum, Fum” as arranged by Alice Parker and Robert Shaw. I hadn’t heard or sung their arrangement of this Catalan song before, but I loved it from the moment it caught my ear.
Alas, it is now mid-January, and the Holiday Channel is on hiatus until the end of November. I guess I’ll just have to find other music to listen to for the next 11 months.