Monday, December 14, 2009

Oldie but Goodie #5 (holiday edition)

We have moved into music heaven. Not only do we have a huge ward choir, but the stake also has a spectacular choir, as evidenced by the marvelous Christmas fireside last night which featured stellar performances and excellent selections. It renewed my faith. In fact, I was needed in the choir in our Richfield ward, but here I may be substandard. I'm a wobbly, insecure alto at best, with a vibrato that grows wider every day. We went to choir practice Sunday and the performance is next Sunday, with a practice/social event (i.e. breakfast) Saturday morning. If I stand next to somebody good, I can manage, but I'm still not sure about standing there with so many who are really good at it. I feel like a fraud. Roger, of course, is a marvelous singer and will enjoy making his considerable contributions. I'm thrilled about that.

In the spirit of Christmas music commentary, here is a rerun of my slightly revised essay from last year which contains large quantities of exaggeration and irony, and which goes down easier if taken with a grain of salt:


My husband and I were on a phone call recently that required us to wait on hold for about half of the total one-hour time it took to complete the transaction. While we were on hold, we were subjected to the torturous sounds of New Age ‘music,’ put there by some well-meaning person convinced we needed to be entertained while we were waiting. Running barefoot on broken glass would have been infinitely more satisfying. I am convinced that New Age ‘music’ diminishing brain cells and breaks down resistance to truth, logic and common sense, leaving people believing that evil is good and good is evil. It dissolves any conscience a person may have hitherto possessed. Suddenly everything is hunky-dory for these people and they think all the problems of the world will go away if we all just sit around listening to and grooving on this foulest form of air pollution. New Age ‘music’ is the sorry consequence of bra burning, free love, and Woodstock.

That’s one way of saying I’m picky about music, especially now that it's Christmas time and there's more questionable music in the air. My eclectic musical tastes were formed in a radio-oriented home where we listened to the Metropolitan Opera broadcast on Saturday mornings, and ended the day with both the steel guitars, sweet harmonies and ukuleles on Hawaii Calls, and the authentic Western sounds of Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch. It was pure and never Osmondized.

Because music has such power, my deeply personal celebration of Christmas very often centers on great music inspired from a heavenly source, and its effect on me is profound. Most especially, probably because I pay close attention to the precise meanings of words, my soul yearns to hear or sing appropriate lyrics from significant texts, paired with satisfying and spiritually rewarding melodies expressing the deepest meaning of Christmas. Let me worship through reverent music in the most sublime, eloquent way, as the Savior of the world deserves. My heart is touched by so many inspired works – Handel’s Messiah, O Come O Come Emmanuel, O Holy Night, Lo How a Rose ‘Ere Blooming, Mary Did You Know, O Come All Ye Faithful, Angels We Have Heard on High, Once in Royal David’s City, much authentic folk music and many heartfelt spirituals.

However, there is some Christmas music so patently offensive that I want to wipe out all memories of ever having heard or sung it. I want to slink, Grinch-like, into all the music stores, radio stations, private collections and sheet music publishers and obliterate some sounds I hear over public address systems in stores during the holidays. You don’t have a choice when you hear this drivel in a shopping mall. They mean well, but it doesn’t entertain. It inspires my inner Scrooge, making me want to buy less so I can leave the premises as quickly as possible and try once again to obliterate from my memory Elvis Presley's version of White Christmas. That’s how I first heard the number one selection on my Top Twenty List of Christmas Songs I Never Want To Hear Again. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s the complete and generous list of losers with the heartfelt scorn and derision each so richly deserves:

20. It’s Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas – …to which I want to respond, “Well, duh! What was your first clue – sundown on Halloween?” It sounds like the guy who says during a heat wave, “Hot enough for ya?” This is something clueless Goofy would have said to patient Mickey, who is far more tolerant of stupid remarks than I.

19. (tie) Winter Wonderland/Marshmallow World – Ain’t no time nowhere winter is a wonderland for me; I cannot celebrate the charm I do not find. Winter is a slip-on-the-ice, sprain-your-ankle, freeze-your-tushie-off, endlessly boring season broken only by the sweetness of celebrating a sacred holiday. Don’t let’s confuse the two.

18. I’ll be Home for Christmas – Total schmaltz when you first hear it, mind-numbingly dull after that. So you’re not going to be there except in your dreams – boohoo. Get over it. I spent a lot of unconventional Christmases out of the country and I've found my own way past the sentimentality.

17. Let it Snow – This is nothing but a seductive (you’ll excuse the expression) invitation to use bad weather as an excuse for someone to stay over at his sweetie’s house, a one-of-a-kind gift that can only be given once. It's deceptively cute, but if you listen to the lyrics, it makes no sense.

16. Have A Holly Jolly Christmas – Actually, this sounds like the worst kind of Christmas to have, completely unrelated to the real meaning of the holiday. This song hits another set of cliches the others have missed.

15. Jingle Bell Rock – Social events at holiday time are nice, but this lyric is unencumbered by logic or a description of an appropriate observance of a sacred day, and it's musically boring.

14. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree – See #15 and #16.

13. Frosty the Snowman – Christmas is not mentioned in this ludicrous winter legend and after you’ve heard it once, subsequent hearings are migraine-inducing torture.

12. The Christmas Song (you know… chestnuts roasting… yada, yada, yada) – Nothing is more offensive than clichés, and this one is loaded with them. In fact, Santa has loaded his sleigh with toys and goodies. Isn’t that what’s wrong with Christmas in the first place? We don’t need more things.

11. White Christmas – Another string of clichés. What’s the big deal about snow? What about Christmas in Australia that takes place in the summer? Huh? Did you ever think of that?

10. Silver Bells – Not much wrong with this one if you like a boring melody and totally mindless lyrics. Can you say platitude?

9. It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Really? You love spending too much money, eating too much rich food, going to parties you don’t want to go to with people you don’t really like? What’s wonderful about that?

8. Twelve Days of Christmas – Repetition is the last refuge of the unimaginative. Again, we’re stuck on using things to express love, a pitiful substitute for the genuine article.

7. Deck the Halls – Nonsense lyrics are Exhibit A in the case against this song. I don’t drink, but I should think that drunk would be the best way to find meaning in it. Far more appealing, rewarding and cogent was the Mad Magazine version of this I read in my youth, which began, “Deck us all with Boston Charlie, Walla Walla Wash and Kalamazoo…”

6. (all songs referring to reindeer with or without red noses) – completely idiotic, without redeeming value or even a modicum of charm. Lord of the Flies teaches kids to play nice together, too.

5. (all songs referring to Santa Claus) – He sees you when you’re sleeping? Really? He knows when you’re awake? Really? Isn’t that what God does, and didn’t He do it first? How can kids NOT get confused!

4. Jingle Bells – Here’s another mediocre winter tale with no connection to the holiday. Translation: people with the IQ of pinecones ride around in the snow apparently unwilling to take refuge from the weather and protect themselves against frostbite.

3. We Wish You a Merry Christmas – Nobody even knows what figgy pudding is anyway, and simply repeating the sentiment ad infinitum doesn’t make it more intelligible.

2. Feliz Navidad – If a guy sang this to me, I’d poison his eggnog. I do not want this derivative, dreary rubbish stuck in my head for the month of December.

1. Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time – No, we’re not. We’re paralyzed by the tedium of this inferior music and pointless lyric written by Paul McCartney in a fit of acute uninspired tastelessness. The last chorus repeats ad nauseum until you think you’ve entered a new rung of Purgatory Dante must have created just for shoppers, as if another were necessary. If Christmas shopping doesn’t trigger insanity, you haven’t spent enough time in the Walmart listening to this on the PA system.

And while I’m on a roll, here’s a bonus: I never want to hear another roomful of third graders shouting I’m Gettin’ Nuttin’ for Christmas, or Up On the Housetop, or I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, or All I Want For Christmas is my Two Front Teeth. It’s only cute once.

It’s true of music no matter what time of year it is, but especially at Christmas you’ll have a deeper, richer spiritual experience when you’re more careful with what you choose to think and sing about during the holidays. When your spirit is fed with spiritually nourishing music, you grow closer to the reason for the season.

And by the way, Merry Christmas. Celebrate it with GOOD music that lifts and inspires


jwise said...

I personally think you should listen to more Weird Al. "You can torture me with Donny and Marie... You can clear the room by playin' Debbie Boone..." (from "Achy Breaky Song")

I mean, that's classic stuff.

Anonymous said...

I just take the time to change the lyrics myself in an effort to show my discontent.

Last Christmas I gave you my heart, but the very next day, George Michael was shot in the face.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost getting arrested for money laundering.

...brown paper packages tied up with string these are a few of my favorite things that the K-9 unit found in my trunk.

Christmas time is near, time for toys and time for the Chipmunks to also get shot in the face.

So you see, it's a spectrum of discontent.

Pam Williams said...

Yes, I know, Weird Al fills a need in our musical world. I should get tuned in.

Here's something I wouldn't have believed if I hadn't heard it myself: a string quartet version of the Chipmunks' Christmas Song