Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.
This week we have one more musical Christmas card for you.
That’s over with, right?
Well, Christmas Day is, but the Christmas season is not as my wife can tell you.
So, tonight, selections that may not even mention Christmas, but are still perfect for Christmas and post-Christmas Day.
We’re going to start with my favorite Christmas piece. I’ve loved it since I was a child.
In 1946 Leroy Anderson and his wife were in Woodbury, Connecticut, spending the summer in a cottage. There was a heat wave and drought. Despite the surrounding atmosphere he started composing a Christmas classic.
Anderson completed “Sleigh Ride” in Brooklyn on February 10, 1948. “Sleigh Ride” received its premiere on May 4, 1948 with Arthur Fiedler conducting the Boston Pops Orchestra at Symphony Hall in Boston.
The word “Christmas” is never mentioned in the lyrics. Yet nearly 70 years after it was written, “Sleigh Ride” is one of the 10 most popular pieces of Christmas music worldwide, year after year.
From a 2001 CD sold exclusively in Hallmark stores when it was released, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Voices.
Of course in order to ride in a wonderland of snow you have to have some snow.
Shouldn’t be a problem this winter.
If this next album/CD isn’t in your collection it needs to be.
The Christmas Album by the Manhattan Transfer in 1992 was arranged by Johnny Mandel, and became one of the five best selling Christmas albums on Columbia – the label with the largest Christmas catalogue. It’s also an annual shopping mall favorite to this day.
Why? Because it’s just perfect.
The singers did their rendition of swing band leader Claude Thornhill’s theme song, “Snowfall” from 1941.
Listen to an amazing arrangement that adds even more beauty to a light, lovely, dropping of snow.
The following is incredible.
Peter Tchaikovsky’s ballet, “The Nutcracker” debuted on Dec. 18, 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia.
That’s 125 years ago this month.
Tchaikovsky, the famous Russian composer, was commissioned by mastermind choreographer Marius Petipa to compose the ballet, score based on Alexandre Dumas’s adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman’s tale “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.”
The first production of The Nutcracker in Russia bombed. Critics didn’t like it. Audiences weren’t thrilled, either.
Then the ballet moved to the United States for performances in 1944. By 1954, sudden popularity.
You know the wonderful story.
During a holiday party a young girl named Clara is presented with a beautiful toy nutcracker from her strange uncle. Clara is delighted with the unusual present until her brother becomes jealous and breaks it. Her uncle magically repairs the toy to Clara’s delight. After the party, she falls asleep clutching it. Her dream then begins. She awakens suddenly, stunned by the events she sees happening in her living room.
The Christmas tree has grown to an enormous size and life-size mice are scampering around the room. Fritz’s toy soldiers have come to life and are marching toward Clara’s nutcracker, which has also grown to life-size. A battle is soon underway between the mice and the soldiers, led by the giant Mouse King. The nutcracker and the Mouse King enter an intense battle. When Clara sees that her nutcracker is about to be defeated, she throws her shoe at him, stunning him long enough for the nutcracker to stab him with his sword. After the Mouse King falls, the nutcracker lifts the crown from his head and places it on Clara.
She is magically transformed into a beautiful princess, and the nutcracker turns into a handsome prince before her eyes. The prince bows before Clara, taking her hand in his. He leads her to the Land of Snow. The two dance together, surrounded by a flurry of snowflakes. He transports her to the Land of Sweets where they are entertained. They witness several dance performances including the Spanish Dance, the Arabian Dance, the Chinese Dance, and the Waltz of the Flowers. Clara and her Nutcracker Prince then dance together, in honor of their new friends. Clara awakens under the Christmas tree, still holding her beloved nutcracker.
It’s a marvelous spectacle about the magic of Christmas.
Again, if this isn’t in your collection it must be. From the Milwaukee-based Narada label, wonderful instrumentation, released in 1990.
Beginning with the Spanish Dance here are lush portions of the Nutcracker.
First lady Melania Trump watches as ballerinas perform a piece from “The Nutcracker,” as the White House Christmas decorations were unveiled on Nov. 27, 2017. Photo: Carolyn Kaster / AP
Claire Robertson from Scottish Ballet poses dressed as the Good Snow Flake inside a lifesize snow globe during a promotion for their production of The Nutcracker on November 20, 2012 in Glasgow. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
There are but only two famous songs about New Year’s.
One is obvious.
In 1788 Robert Burns sent the poem ‘Auld Lang Syne’ to the Scots Musical Museum, claiming that it was an ancient song but that he’d been the first to record it on paper. The phrase ‘auld lang syne’ roughly translates as ‘for old times’ sake’, and the song is all about preserving old friendships and looking back over the events of the year.
It has long been a much-loved Scottish tradition to sing the song just before midnight. Everyone stands in a circle holding hands, then at the beginning of the final verse (‘And there’s a hand my trusty friend’) they cross their arms across their bodies so that their left hand is holding the hand of the person on their right, and their right hand holds that of the person on their left. When the song ends, everyone rushes to the middle, still holding hands, and probably giggling.
The other New Year’s song has been recorded by numerous artists and I can attest to the nervousness implied.
What will she say?
This is one of the best versions in my view, by vocalist Bobby Caldwell and saxophonist Boney James.
That’s it for this week, and the year.
Have a great weekend.
Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!
On January 7, 2018, the Epiphany will be celebrated.
The great feast of Epiphany celebrates the adoration of Jesus by the wise men (magi) from the East. The magi’s coming to Jerusalem in order to pay homage to the king of the Jews shows that they seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the star of David, the one who will be king of the nations.
We close with contemporary jazz pianist Bob Baldwin and vocalist Corvina Nielsen.