If you are looking for relief from this tense and often overwrought week of impeachment, let me make an easy and obvious suggestion: Christmas carols. They're everywhere just now, from radio and TV to shopping malls. That not only makes them convenient, but also something of a problem.
If you spend much time at the malls or local stores, you may find the total sound immersion more irritating than inspiring. Pity the poor sales clerk, who, by now, may be ready to cut Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’s throat before he takes off on Christmas Eve.
That’s the way it goes at this time of year. Music is persuasive. It has an easy passage into your psyche. Tie it to decorations and sales promotions, and it not only promotes feelings of good will, but also — it is hoped — a willingness to choose that more expensive gift.
The first Christmas music dates back to the 4th century, just after the feast of Christmas was established. For the next 800 years, hymns were it. Then, somewhere around the 12th or 13th century, vernacular songs began to be created by ordinary folks and the carol was on its way.
Carols take their name from the Greek "choraulein," a combination of words for dance and playing the flute. Such dances date from very ancient days and were normally done in a circle. The music, if not the dances themselves, traveled easily from the Mediterranean to northern Europe and thence to the New World.
You can see the distinction: Hymns are part of church services, carols are sung at parties. Of course, language changes, and by now everyone understands all music of the season to be carols, and carols confined solely to Christmas.
Yesterday, I used my morning hour on WVIK conversing with the station’s staff, asking for each person's favorite Christmas music. It was quite a range, from Bing Crosby’s "Jingle Bells" to "O Holy Night." The Crosby tune reminded station manager Jay Pearce of his first radio job as a disc jockey 45 years ago: a long way from home, working alone on Christmas at $2.00 an hour, and wondering if he had made the right career choice.
Over in the underwriting department, Amber Nowak declared her love for Adolph Adam’s "O Holy Night," which dated back to her youth. She now sings along with the music as she plays it for her children. Jared Johnson picked "Angels We Have Heard On High" for the challenge of singing the long "Glo-o-o-oria in excelsis Deo" in one breath.
Colleen Sibthorp, who is in charge of finance and membership, was firm in her choice of "Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming." It has to be the version by Michael Praetorius, sung in English, and by a small group rather than a full choir.
WVIK’s award-winning news team of Herb Trix and Michelle O’Neill reached a consensus on the traditional "Silent Night," while Pete Peterson, who heads up APRIS, the station’s reading service for the visually impaired, opted for "The Holly and the Ivy."
Operations Manager David Garner, who is also the morning classical music programmer, quickly cited Morton Lauridsen’s hymn "O Magnum Mysterium." When pushed for a carol, he came up with a surprise: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" as sung by Judy Garland in "Meet Me In St. Louis."
Dave’s reasoning is interesting. In the original, there is a mixture of sadness and hope, especially in the line "to muddle through somehow", which was changed by Frank Sinatra to "hang a star upon the highest bough." He’s right: Garland’s heartfelt version is more real.
Afternoon music maven Mindy Heusel cited two Scandanavian tunes I had never heard: "Jag Er Saa Glad" and "Det Kimer Nu Til Julefest." She cured my ignorance at once. handing me recordings of both, which I played on the air. The tunes are ones her mother sang to her and which Mindy, in turn, sang to hers. A sentimental choice, wholly appropriate for the season.
To close out, I’ll add my favorites, two French carols: "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella" and "Tomorrow Shall be My Dancing Day." For something more substantial, you can’t beat Ralph Vaughan Williams’ "Hodie", an hour-long outpouring of glorious song.
So, what’s your favorite? No matter how often you hear it and others at the mall, you’ll find more pleasure in hearing them again and again than in following the televised antics of our wayward president.
Enjoy the season: Fill it with music.
Don Wooten of Rock Island is a former state senator and veteran broadcaster. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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