By Dave Babbitt – Special to the Sydenham Current
Now that Remembrance Day and the Santa Claus Parade have passed, it’s full-on Christmas for me.
I’ve been watching homes this past week as they slowly turn on their outdoor lights.
I hope to have my home decorated inside and out by the time this reaches the press.
In case anyone is unaware, I LOVE the Christmas season, but nothing sets the mood for me better than Christmas music.
Yes, I’m going to talk about Christmas music again.
I can’t help myself.
If you’ve read my column at Christmas in the past, you’ll know that I collect Christmas recordings.
I used to work for the late Eric Nicholls who told me several times that he was a “hymnologist”, or an expert on hymns.
If that’s the case, I’ll refer to myself as a “Christmasmusicologist”, my own term, and all one word, because I made it up.
I love to read stories about how Christmas songs came to be, when they were recorded and any interesting facts to go along with them.
Perhaps I’ve developed a useless knowledgebase to most, but I value it.
I just popped open the drawer beside my computer desk here in my office, and a quick count showed there are 224 Christmas CDs currently in my collection.
If I head back to my storage room, there are likely a similar number of record albums.
I scour the internet every year to find special recordings from the past and several years ago, I stumbled on a site called Real Gone Music.
Each year they dig into record company archives and come up with some real gems and re-release them, usually in very limited quantities and each year I add several of these re-releases to my collection.
This year I’ve added two albums that I remember from the Grandfather’s Christmas music collection by the Robert Shaw Chorale, choral music considered by many to be amongst the finest ever recorded.
Before I go any further, I must admit that I’m a Christmas music snob.
I won’t listen to most of the pop Christmas garbage being released by modern day artists.
I make my point by asking anyone to name a Christmas recording since Mariah Carrey released “All I want For Christmas is You” (which I can’t stand, but it has no-doubt become a staple of the airwaves) that has entered the into the realm of Christmas classics?
I mentioned last year that record company executives say that it’s harder to create a Christmas classic than it is to have a number one record on the pop charts.
My dad once said to me, “Dave, I like to drink, but I’m fussy who I drink with”.
In a similar fashion, I say “I love Christmas music, but I’m fussy what I listen to”.
There is a radio station in Detroit that plays 24 hour a day Christmas starting the 1st of November.
I try to listen to it on occasion, but their song rotation is so incredibly narrow that I inevitably turn it off within two or three songs.
In the last few days, I’ve already caught Burl Ives’ “Holly Jolly Christmas” (which I like) four times, and I only tune-in on occasion!
Most radio stations only play a smattering of Christmas music once December rolls around and only provide a steady diet of a similar narrow rotation in the last few days before Christmas so… I collect my own, and listen to it constantly.
There is no other holiday or special occasion that has an entire genre of music built around it like Christmas does.
In doing everyone a favour, (my Christmas music snobbery emerging) I’m going to suggest just a few recording that everyone should have in their collection or should look into.
First of all (and understood) any Christmas recording by someone with the last name of Crosby, Sinatra, Martin, Williams, Cole, Mathis, Como, Goulet, Lawrence or Gorme.
Then there are choral groups such as the New Christy Minstrels, Ray Conniff, Mitch Miller, the Living Voices, the Anita Kerr Singers and the Johnny Mann Singers.
Don’t overlook jazz artists such as the Manhattan Transfer, Oscar Peterson, Vince Guraraldi, Tony Bennett, and Harry Connick Jr.
How about the orchestral music of Percy Faith, Andre Kostelanetz, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, the Living Strings, Mannheim Steamroller and be sure to find a copy of the Narada Christmas Collection.
Country music has had some great Christmas recordings by artists such as the Statler Brother, Gatlin Brothers, Oak Ridge Boys, Kenny Rogers, Alabama, Eddie Arnold, and of course Dolly. Everyone should own a copy of music from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” and Handel’s “Messiah”.
In the Christian market everything by Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant and the Gaither Vocal Band is top-shelf.
Being a trumpet player, I can’t help but recommend the many Christmas recordings by the Canadian Brass.
Then there are many recordings by great church choirs recorded in beautiful, ambient cathedrals such as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Westminster Abbey Choir, Vienna Boys Choir, Kings College Choir, Cambridge Choir and ANYTHING by John Rutter.
I could go on and on.
My point is that there is so much great Christmas other than Jingle Bell Rock, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, and Elvis’ Blue Christmas.
Those are great recordings, but again, there is so much more.
In every case of the recordings I’ve grown to love, it’s once again, the arrangements that catch my ear, far more than just the artist.
In turning this into another advertisement for our upcoming Wallaceburg Concert Band concerts, it’s also most important to me that whatever we play MUST be a great arrangement, and not just a popular song.
I can assure everyone that the arrangements we are performing this season are the finest we’ve ever presented.
The musicians themselves told me so.
When they love what they’ve been preparing, I know it’s going to be great.
Don’t miss this fine group of musicians that I have the pleasure of standing amongst every week.
Free concerts Saturday Dec 3rd , 7 p.m. at WDSS, and Sunday Dec 11th , 3 p.m. at the Chatham Capitol Theatre.