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December 9, 2010

Follow Me in Merry Measure

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It’s Christmas time in Bartell Drugs, the only non-grocery store I will set foot in after Thanksgiving.  I know this because all the Russell Stover chocolates have been re-packaged in green and red colors and the motion sensor Santas accost me when I walk by them.

In addition, someone is whining a Christmas song through one of her nostrils.  If you read my blog, you know that I think whining –as an exercise—can help improve over-all tone; also I believe singing is a birthright.  I think everyone should sing.  But we all shouldn’t be making CDs and Bartells shouldn’t be playing them. Or failing that, at least not so loud.

Christmas brings out the wretched and the sublime when it comes to music.  In classical music I am particularly partial to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and Handel’s Messiah.  Two songs I look forward to singing every year are Norman Della Joio’s “The Christ Child’s Lullaby,” and Brahms’ “Geistliches Wiegenleid.”

I like all the carols in the church hymnbook, minus the inclusive language, thank you very much, and most of the traditional secular songs like White Christmas and Winter Wonderland.  I have never gotten into the (apparently) funny but (obviously) tacky ones about Grandmas and reindeers but it’s fine with me if they are available for people who live in Ballard.

I have been a song collector for as long as I can remember.  I know hundreds of songs.  Maybe thousands, I’m not that great with numbers. Of all those songs, there are actually only three songs in the world that I actively despise, and two of them rear their heads at Christmas.

“The Christmas Song” sounds like a string of banalities a bunch of drunken guys strung together in a 1940’s Las Vegas lounge while they were in a sentimental phase of inebriation.  Seriously, how does a turkey and some mistletoe help to make a season bright?

They thought of the brilliant last line just before they passed out:  “Although it’s been said many times, many ways, merry Christmas to you.” That ranks right up there with “Well, it’s that time of year again.”  The English language would be richer if those two lackluster lines were never repeated again.  They need to make it into the congressional record because Congress is where language goes to die.

Anyway these same mothers’ children with their eyes aglow met again the next night in the same lounge.  This time they went into a stupid –as opposed to sentimental–drunk and started looking at each others’ red noses.  Then one of them said, “Reindeer. That’s a funny word.”  And through some soggy trail of associations they came up with the whole Rudolph concept.  And then unfortunately, they remembered it the next morning.

I don’t understand why these songs are so popular but then I don’t understand the attractions of Disneyland either.   On the other hand, I like “Santa Baby,” and it’s not exactly packed with redeeming sentiments.  But at least there’s no contrived sentimentality.

I loved “Angels We Have Heard on High” when I was a kid.  I loved the cascading Glorias.  Like so many things in my life, even the cascading Glorias improved when I got older.  (In case you are new to my blog, I love being middle-aged; even though my friend Nina, who has known me for 30 years and understands why I am the way I am, tells me that if I am middle-aged, I am currently planning to live to 112)  There’s a song called “Ding Dong Merrily on High” that has five cascading Glorias and it starts even higher than “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

As a kid, I loved “The First Noel,” too.  I loved the rising and dipping “Noels.”  I was rapturous when I heard the sopranos rise while the rest of the voices dipped.  Now as a (middle-aged) adult, I am orgasmic when I hear the tenors do their stealth climb inside the other parts.

I’ve always liked the reliably pagan “Deck the Hall.” Once a student and I found all the “Deck the Halls” in my collections—about sixteen of them in different books.  We did a tally of how many were called “Deck the Hall” and how many “Deck the Halls.”  More often than not, it’s the singular.  It’s an English carol.  They have those big houses, each with its Great Hall.  We Americans have apartment buildings with lots of halls, I guess, so there’s the confusion.  I find this quite interesting and I don’t drink.  Actually tallying up the titles was a lighthearted thing to do with a student who hadn’t practiced that week and was afraid I would be mad at him.

I do love it that Christmas-time gets people singing even if they occasionally whine my hated songs through one nostril. But you can’t go wrong with the Noels, Glorias and Fa la las, drunk or sober.

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