December 2015 Music: It’s Beginning to Sound a Lot Like Christmas

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Ok, so it’s really not… at least not for this boy from the North who is now living in the South. But to be honest, I really do not miss the snow, and I am acclimating to the vision of Christmas lights coexisting with palm trees. I cannot lie: walking around the campus of Florida State University for an evening concert on December 1 with temperatures in the low 70s is marvelous. This is why I moved to Florida… well, it’s one of the reasons.

It’s beginning to SOUND a lot like Christmas!

That’s true.

I’ve “broken out” my Christmas-time iTunes play lists.

So those who know me well know I am a rather eclectic music listener, and my Christmas play lists are no different. Yes, there are some very tasteful choral arrangements of traditional carols, but when I am working in December and want some fun Christmas music in the background, here are some of my favorite go-to-pieces from across several genres:

Selections from Michael W. Smith’s “The Ultimate Christmas Collection.”

Duke Ellington’s suite on selections from The Nutcracker.

Dan Gibson’s “Christmas in the Country” (Don’t judge! I have had a soft spot in my heart for New Age music since I bought my first stereo system in the mid 1980s!)

And favorite selections from a collection of Christmas songs and carols performed by popular artists from the 1940s and 1950s, including a fun version of “Ding Dong Merrily on High” by the Mantovani Orchestra, and Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters on “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

If it is December, it means it is also time for the ever-popular PRISM concert at the College of Music at Florida State University. Tonight’s opening evening performance was outstanding. As you see and hear the sound of a mass of trombones or saxophones or even bassoons in the aisles and balconies of Ruby Diamond Concert Hall, you are made fully aware of the incredible musical benefit of being in a university town with such a large music unit and with such a “deep bench” of players in every studio. That, friends, is another reason I moved to Florida. The musical resources of Florida State University are simply second to none.

I particular loved the Percussion Ensemble’s “Marimba Spiritual” (Miki), the Clarinet Studio’s delightful “Molly on the Shore” (Grainger), and the Bassoon Studio’s “She Loves Me.” The University Concert Band’s “Festivo” (Gregson) was also one of my favorites.

And of course, with the next Star Wars movie set to open in just a few weeks, there have been numerous renditions of Star War cues on various band programs at FSU over the past few weeks. Tonight, the University Wind Orchestra offered “Princess Leia” and “Parade of Ewoks” (both very well played!), the University Symphonic Band reprised its stellar performance of “Star Wars / Main Title” that was also showcased last week on the Band’s final fall concert, and the Marching Chiefs themselves gave a rousing, full-force rendition of “Cantina Band” before concluding tonight’s PRISM concert with “Hymn to the Garnet and the Gold.”

December always reminds me of the emotional power of traditions and rituals and of their therapeutic potential for our mental well-being. I have always loved Christmas trees blazing in a darkened living room. There is something very peaceful about such an experience. I am sure that today, nostalgia for my childhood layers even more meaning on such Christmas-tree moments. After all, as a child, I’d try to squeeze myself under our Christmas tree to look at the lights from below or to snooze in the peaceful down pouring of colored light or to read in the warmth of the hazy reds and blues.

At tonight’s PRISM concert, I was also reminded of the deep value of the traditions and rituals that accumulate around collective music making, such as those that adhere to a marching band program or to an instrumental studio at a vibrant school of music. I appreciated the joy of being part of those rituals tonight, even if only as an outsider invited to look in, or better yet, as an outsider invited to become enmeshed—physically—by the powerful presence of musicians and their music surrounding us on all sides.

These experiences are just like opening up those Christmas-time-only play lists. It’s not that my Christmas play lists are filled with particularly great music (“as music”). It’s that the play lists are filled with familiar pieces that help me to refocus and reground myself each December. And I’ve needed such a recurring role of seasonal music in my life ever since I was five or six and first listened to an LP recording of Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” that my father owned. I would listen and re-listen to that LP, in no small part because as I child I fell in love with a choral rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” that was featured on that LP. For years afterwards, I had to listen and listen again to that LP every Christmas season. It is not surprising, then, that “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” remains my favorite carol to this day, and I will look forward to playing my favorite arrangement of it on the piano sometime this month.

“And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!”

My hope, dear readers, is that your December is filled with the life-giving joy of music and the life-rewarding experience of friends and loved ones drawn near to you by the holidays.