Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Music

I know my friends. I know what kind of personality they have. I know what kind of music they like...except at Christmas.

This weird phenomenon occurs. Otherwise hip, cool and edgy personalities embrace holiday songs sung by the likes of: Neil Diamond. Perry Como. The Carpenters. Bing Crosby.

I actually heard a popular local D.J. say in earnest, "Wow, that Perry Como has some powerful Christmas music."

Although I am now laughing at what I just wrote, this post is not a slam of sappy Christmas music. Because we are all guilty of having a soft spot for at least a couple sappy Christmas tunes.

The music we heard as children has a lot to do with this. (Why else would a 30-something listen to Karen Carpenter?) The holiday music we like is attached to so much more than the artist. Those old tunes take us back to our days before we had adult sensibility and responsibility (and musical taste).

Those songs are mysteriously attached to everything that is warm and attractive about our childhood; the best parts of our parents, family and our home. It's not just about Bing, Elvis, Karen and Jose. They are just the musical tour guides to our own unique and prized past. We won't be visited by four spirits tonight; recording artists of yore will do just fine.

Music was such an integral part of our home growing up. My father was a pharmacist by trade, but a jazz musician and aficionado by passion. He played the upright bass and my mother played her baby grand piano that was in the living room.

So Vince Guaraldi and other jazz musicians were our Christmas music. My bohemian beatnik parents laughed aloud at the traditional white bread holiday tunes. (There was no Perry Como in our home.) And so that influence is the wiring pattern of my Christmas music gene.

Which means I like jazzy holiday music: Vince, Ray Brown Trio, Diana Krall, James Brown, to name a few. And I like whatever is off the beaten path: Barenaked Ladies, Jars of Clay, Sister Hazel and a favorite CD called "Maybe This Christmas."

These are not things I chose. This is the holiday music taste given to me by my parents; two hep-cats that liked to march to a different drummer.

But there is another type of Christmas music that was part of my childhood. I sang it during elementary school Christmas programs. I heard it in seasonal TV shows...

Christmas Carols.

I can remember singing and hearing songs like, Hark The Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World, Come All Ye Faithful, and The First Noel. For a young boy growing up in a family that never went to church, these were my first glimpses into something Holy and hopeful.

I can remember at times fighting back tears that trickled at the impulse of these lyrics--not knowing why or fully understanding it. Yet, moved by the truth of them.

To this day--the carols that celebrate Christ's birth are perhaps the most profound to me. They still make me want to weep. Certainly that's attributed to the truth of them. And then another part is perhaps attributed to my deep-down knowing--that the power of Christ started creeping into my unchurched godless home--through these songs.

It's so ironic. This non-conformist opinionated musician--the child of beatnik elitists--rocked by the oldest and most traditional of Christmas music. Indeed.

Here's to you and whatever old sappy Christmas music that moves your soul this holiday season. Merry Christmas!