Archive for the ‘Music’ Category
OK, I know it’s technically not a Christmas record, and definitely not something you’ll hear on radio stations, etc. But no carols sung under other circumstances have affected me, and millions of others, more deeply than the songs at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. It will always be one of my favorite films, and its message of connection, of mattering to one another no matter how materially successful we may or may not be, of each of us touching so many others for the good without even realizing it, will never cease to move me. And to help me when times are tough.
On this joyous day, I want to wish all of you the most blessed and wonderful Christmas. I want to thank everyone who read this blog, even once, for taking time from your busy lives to do so. If my writing has touched you positively, even in the slightest, I am happy to know that. It has been fun and cathartic to externalize feelings and share different songs and ideas I have associated with them for this holiday season, 2012.
And so I bring The Yule Blog to its close with a sincere hope that all of us will enjoy all and only good things in 2013.
“No one is a failure who has friends.”
“God bless us, everyone.”
My husband has always been a considerate giver of gifts. For special occasions, he tries to find things no one else would have imagined to give. Even during the course of “regular life,” I’ll sometimes come home from work to find a book he thought I might like, or a television show recorded that he thought I would want to watch, or a tee-shirt purchased because it reminded him of me. He does the same thing for our children. This aspect of his personality is not reserved just for family. I have seen him time and again go the extra mile to be thoughtful to friends, colleagues, and students. Living with him, I have tried to become more conscious of how important little outward demonstrations can mean to others. I don’t come close to approaching my husband’s natural ease and generosity. But he has made me aware of how much it can mean to know that another person is thinking of you, even for no reason at all.
Last Christmas, my husband gave me a little wooden box with a bird painted on the front. On top were the words “Believe in yourself.” And on the back he had written “I do.” At the time, I thought the gift was cute, but didn’t pay it a lot of attention. I put it on a shelf in my room. Over the course of the past year, I have found myself drawn to that little painting, and it has grown to become one of my most beloved articles. Every time I look at it, I think of my kind husband, my best friend, who has never failed to encourage me, especially during some of the hardest times I had in past years.
We have been together for more than 18 years, married now more than 12 of them. There have been times when it has seemed like we barely know who each other is. And then there have been other times when it has been glaringly obvious that we know each other all too well. But most of the time, our relationship rests on the foundation enjoyed by two people who understand each other with a unique closeness, respect each other with special esteem, love each other with integrity and honesty. Every day, I try to be thankful for that gift. Admittedly, sometimes I neglect to remember and appreciate. I like to think I make up for it other times by wondering why I have been so fortunate to meet and spend my life with him.
My husband has always proven he believes in me. He stood by me when I didn’t think I was smart enough to keep up with students in a graduate program. When my grandmother died and I felt like my heart would never heal. Both times we moved and I freaked out over finances and details. During the many anxious days of our wedding planning. The many times I doubted I could ever be a good stepmother. The long nights after 2001, when I was worried over his safety working in New York City. Throughout my pregnancy as I grew increasingly uncomfortable and exhausted. After our son was born and I struggled to regain a sense of stability and confidence. During long years of professional angst and anxiety. Over this entire summer, as I grappled with turning 40 and everything it implied, or at least everything from it I inferred. It was always Michael providing steady and unfailing support, being my rock, holding my hand, believing.
He is an easily embarrassed person, and I am not sure quite how he will react to such a public demonstration of appreciation and affection. But he deserves it. And not for having my back. Just because he is a great man, a devoted father and son, a dedicated teacher, a kind friend, and a better husband than I could have expected to deserve.
My post today, this Christmas Eve 2012, is to assure my husband that I do believe as well. But believing in myself is less important than it may have been at one time. I have come to better recognize in the past year how much I believe in our family, our children, our home, our life together. And how much I always will rely on and believe in him.
“You have everything you need if you just believe.”
I must have been about 11 or 12. I came downstairs one December morning before Christmas to find my mother sitting on the couch with tears in her eyes. She was watching PBS, which at that post-Sesame Street point in my life was usually enough to drive me from the room. But I had to look to see what was causing her reaction. On the screen was a large hirsute man singing in Italian, accompanied by a boy’s choir. I listened for a few minutes and then rolled my eyes and went into the kitchen.
The song followed me through Christmas, as my father also caught onto it. Soon they were playing it in the car as we drove around, in the house on the stereo, on the television every time PBS re-aired the holiday concert with Luciano Pavarotti and a boy’s choir singing “Gesu Bambino.”
For awhile, I heard the English translation “When Blossoms Flowered Mid the Snows” sung at church during Christmas. As the years passed and I became a bit more mature and hopefully sophisticated, I came to like the song and recognize its beauty. This song never really caught on in a wide-scale way. It’s not something played on radio stations or associated with a continually aired holiday special or movie. Luckily, thanks to YouTube, I was able to find a clip and listen once again. And on hearing it, it moved me in a way similar to how it had my mother years ago. The difference being that much of my emotion about this song was directly related to my love for and appreciation of my parents.
Many songs I’ve previously discussed are family favorites. I can’t fail to mention several others that, when I hear them, I immediately and forever will think of my father. A few are “Mary’s Boy Child” by Harry Belafonte, “Merry Christmas, Darling” by The Carpenters, “Count Your Blessings” by Eddie Fisher, “Christmas Auld Lang Syne” by Bobby Darin, “Is Christmas Only a Tree?” by Bing Crosby, and “Home for the Holidays” by The Living Strings. When he first started reading this blog, my dad mentioned that he felt that maybe he had influenced my love of music over the years. Absolutely, he has, and many other more important things. I know that my impatience for the illogical, my desire for organization and common sense, my inability to hold a grudge, and my strong sense of responsibility come directly from my father. I strive every day to live with the same spirit of generosity, compassion for those in need, and deep love of family and tradition that he has always exemplified. Many people have called my father their favorite teacher and their friend over the years. I am one of only two people lucky enough to also call him father, and I could never have asked for better.
For as long as I can remember, my mother has worked tirelessly to make sure every Christmas, year in and year out, has been wonderful and special. I like to think that my borderline fanaticism over the holiday just carries on her legacy. I remember my mother teaching me all the words to “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” when I was about 5 or 6 years old, endlessly repeating the lyrics until I knew all the words. And I remember her drying my tears every time I heard Henry Mancini’s “Carol for Another Christmas” or Bobby Helms’ “The Bell That Couldn’t Jingle,” songs that as a child inexplicably made me cry. Even today, though I have children of my own, my mother still teaches me things with her same unending patience and comforts me when I am overwrought and anxious. Her sensitive and nurturing nature is what I attempt to emulate in raising my own children, although I will never be able to parent in the same seemingly effortless way she always has. She is why I understand how important it is as a parent to not forget what it feels like to be a child. My mother is the most beautiful person I know, inside and out, and the heart of our family.
I have learned through having my own children that I owe my parents unpayable debts. I don’t let them know often enough how much they mean to me, and my attempts will never really be enough.
Today, I dedicate my post and this song to my amazing and wonderful parents, with whom I am so glad to celebrate the holidays each year. Mom and Dad, Dad and Mom, I hope you will enjoy both the song and this essay and that they will inspire good memories for you as they did and do for me. Thank you for being not only great parents, but also awesome grandparents.
And know that I always and forever love you both so much.
I wish I could adequately explain all the associations “Pachelbel’s Canon in D” has for me. The song reminds me of my father, who loves the movie Ordinary People, and my mother and husband, who have put up with their spouses reciting lines from the film over many years. It reminds me of being in high school, where I read the book and watched the film twice, for two separate English classes, one of which was a class my father taught. By extension, it reminds me of the wonderful friends I spent so much time with in those high school years, some of whom were my friends outside of school, and others whom I met there. I am lucky enough that several of those people have continued to play a central role in my life.
For complicated reasons I’m not going to explain, December 22 is a day every year when I spend time thinking of these friends–crazy things we did, milestones and life events we’ve experienced, times of distance and closeness. I like to reflect on how much I’ve benefited from knowing several “extra-ordinary” people (pun deliberate) and how much they have meant to me.
“Christmas Canon” really just takes “Pachelbel’s Canon” and adds words focused on a message of expectation, sung by children. I’ve already explained my nostalgic affection for the base song. But the incorporation of youthful voices reminds me of who my friends and I were and all we have been through. It inspires me to believe we’ve continued to be and always will remain forever young, no matter what candles on the most recent cake might indicate.
Some of those friends now live far away, and I see them rarely. Others live close by, but we still don’t see each other enough. These are people, however, who are never far from my thoughts, and certainly always in my heart.
I dedicate my post today to these friends with a sincere thank you for being in my life and a hope that the New Year brings us all nothing but good things, including time with each other.
“Think where (wo)man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.” William Butler Yeats
Yesterday, I described what I think is the best Christmas recording and one that I definitely love.
Today I am focusing on my very favorite holiday song and why I hold it in special esteem.
I heard “Happy Holiday/Holiday Season” by Andy Williams plenty of times growing up. I remember liking it mildly but not paying all that much attention to it.
In a similar way, I always liked Christmas music, but never really was as appreciative of it then as I am now. My family and I listened to the songs often while I was a child. Over the years, as I grew older and then met my husband, we formed our own joint music collection and accumulated many Christmas CDs. But the music was always there more as a background, as a way to set a scene, as an adjunct to a festive atmosphere.
Without going into too many details or turning my blog into a keyboard confessional, about two and a half years ago, I went through a tough time. The preceding years had brought turmoil, separations, stress, and disappointment. Changes kept being foisted upon me; in response, I began making my own changes. By autumn 2010, my emotions were quite confused, and for many of those days, anxiety and depression fought for the central place in my life.
Things started to improve a bit as Thanksgiving approached. And, as I have shared in the past with some close to me, one thing that helped me to eclipse my difficulties was preparing for and enjoying the holidays. I tried to focus on other people instead of on my own problems. And I listened to Christmas music almost non-stop that year, to help both distract me from negative thoughts and also remind me of the beautiful concepts and ideas the holiday represents: birth, promise, hope, joy, family, fellowship, love.
For reasons I cannot explain, the song that always left me feeling the best when I heard it was “Happy Holiday.” Maybe I finally tuned into the positive upbeat lyrics. Or maybe it was Andy’s salesman-like delivery of the song. Probably it was both. My son loved this song, too, and seeing his eyes light up in response to my own as we heard those “merry bells” start ringing also had something to do with my great affection for this.
In the two years since, whenever I hear this song, I still enjoy it on its own merits. But I’ve also come to associate it with a certain self-assurance that comes only after experiencing and getting through hard times and, ultimately, being a better person for them. In a recent article (a link to it is posted below), Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote about the power that personal anthems can hold for us. I have had many of those “anthems” at and for different times in my life. “Happy Holiday” by Andy Williams will always be one of them.
Many people criticize the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays” as being areligious, taking Christ out of Christmas, emphasizing the secular. I understand the viewpoint.
But when I hear that phrase, I think of this song, and I feel more spiritual and redeemed. The year it began to hold meaning for me, it helped me regain strength and faith, even if the faith was mainly in myself.
So who’s to determine what makes for a sacred experience?
The other day a friend mentioned how, with the year almost over, we would soon be besieged with all sorts of “best of 2012” lists. I’m not sure why humans have the impulse to categorize and rank things, but we do it all the time. The 500 Greatest Albums. Top 100 Television Shows. Biggest One-Hit Wonders. Most Influential People of the Year. I admittedly enjoy these kinds of lists and sometimes make up my own.
I thought for a long time about what the best Christmas recording of all time is. I don’t mean my personal favorite, the most meaningful, the most spiritual, or the widest known. I mean the one record that I think just sounds the best year after year, and that will always represent Christmas for as long as I hear it.
And I decided it was Nat King Cole’s 1961 version of “The Christmas Song.”
First, the words really capture the whole mood of the holiday season, from Thanksgiving through Christmas: roasting chestnuts, Jack Frost, carolers, turkey, mistletoe. The part that talks about “tiny tots with their eyes all aglow” finding it hard to go to sleep always causes a little lump to form in my throat. And of course, who can deny the ultimate simple message of the song—the singer wishing a fond and earnest Merry Christmas to listeners of all ages? (Well, I guess you’re not included if you are 93 or older, but let’s not quibble.)
Then there is that beautiful and lush orchestration—immediately on hearing those first two notes and then the strings rising and falling, you are whisked into Christmas world. I love how the strings truly make you think of Dasher, Dancer, Rudolph, et al. racing through the sky right after Nat sings of children spying to see “if reindeer really know how to fly.” During the musical interlude, there is the gorgeous piano playing and the sonorous (vocabulary!) guitar. And of course the guitar coming back at the end to layer “Jingle Bells” over the conclusion. The sophisticated production of this classic never sounds dated, unlike many other well-known holiday records. For example, I really love “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby, but the whistling and the backup singers contribute to it being an artifact of its time and place, albeit still beautiful. “The Christmas Song” by Nat is timeless.
A lot of people sing this song—in fact, it’s the most performed Christmas song according to Wikipedia. Nobody sings it like Nat King Cole. I have never heard the words “fire,” “nose,” “Eskimos,” “knows,” and most especially “choir” phrased the way he phrased them. When I was small, I almost thought he was singing in a different language. His voice actually sounds like a fireplace to me. When I hear him sing this, I can feel myself calming down, my blood pressure decreasing, almost as if I am being lulled into listening.
It is not my personal favorite Christmas tune, although it is one of them. If I had to cast my vote, however, for the song that represents the best of holiday music, this would be it.
“And so I’m offering this simple phrase
To kids from one to ninety-two
Although it’s been said many times, many ways
Merry Christmas to you!”
This has always been one of my favorite traditional Christmas songs. And probably among the most challenging to sing.
For the last several days, even before last Friday, I was starting to lose my spirit. There’s so much left to get done before Christmas, both holiday-related and not. Along with the stress of my little life, the loud clamor of the world’s unpleasantness threatened to drown out all positive messages that I could hope to hear. When I woke up this morning, I even felt anxious about what I would write today. My thoughts somehow landed on this carol.
If we consider this song not literally, but figuratively, maybe the voices of angels are singing to us all the time. When major catastrophes strike, it’s not surprising we can’t hear them. Even when things are relatively calm, however, those voices have to compete with all of life’s distractions: technology, reality television, shopping, bills, groceries, doctor’s appointments, meetings, etc., etc.
So I tried to consider if maybe I’ve been deaf to any angels calling to me lately. And it dawned on me that, yes, I had.
There was my co-worker yesterday who invited me to a party for a department I haven’t been part of for more than two years, who makes me laugh and listens every day to my silliness.
There are the many friends and relatives over the past month who have been reading my project and sending me little notes of encouragement. Some I see all the time, and others I haven’t seen in years. Some live very close, and others are in different parts of the country and world, but they all have extended attention and kindness that matters so much to me.
There’s my stepdaughter, who called yesterday to tell us of her solid academic success this semester, which was a wonderful sound to hear, as has been her more frequent and consistent voice in our home as she’s attended college close to it this semester.
There are my parents, whom I’ve often underestimated and failed to appreciate, both as a child and as an adult. They have been super enthusiastic about my writing in the last few weeks, but that’s really nothing new. They have always encouraged me in all the aspects of my life, this blog being the least among them.
And there are the two guys, my husband and my son, who help me navigate through this chaotic, noisy world. Their voices try to find me and help me every day, with the sweetest message of all: “I love you.”
We all have angels in our lives. I promise you if you listen close, you will hear yours, too.
Some days you’re just not feeling it.
And today, for me, is one of those days.
I’m a lot more like The Grinch than like Buddy the Elf on this Tuesday, one week before Christmas 2012. A combination of angst over the state of the world and a series of minor frustrations have accumulated to knock the star off my tree. I feel like I’ve bitten into a rancid candy cane, every other light in the strand needs replaced, and someone gave me a gingerbread man missing a head.
I have nothing real or substantive to complain about. And that makes me feel worse for feeling bad at all.
I can never be anything but honest. And I’ve always been a person who feels better after venting.
So, readers, I hope you will bear with me and not give up on my blog. But my holiday spirit has gone into hiding. I expect it will re-emerge tomorrow. I am sorry if you came here looking for comfort and joy. I’ll try to make it up to you in the days to come. Maybe I should have just skipped today entirely. But then I would have been in even more of a funk for not finishing what I started . . .
Sometimes, to turn your frown upside down, you listen to cheerful music. I tried that, but it didn’t work. So the next best thing I could think to do was to pick a song to help me wallow. Just for a few minutes.
I think this might be the saddest Christmas song ever. As a major and noted fan of the sad song genre, I guess it’s fitting that I’ve included one song that is more melancholy than festive. And one post that is more dreary than cheery.
Oh well. Better that my blue Christmas arrived today than next week! And as Clarice the Reindeer reminds us, “There’s Always Tomorrow.”
Today I don’t have any attempted “words of wisdom” (to use an appropriate phrase), introspective reflections, views on events, or song analyses to offer. Since the day several weeks ago when I read that Martin Short and Paul McCartney would be hosting Saturday Night Live’s final 2012/holiday episode, I was super excited to watch. And even though I seriously doubted it would actually happen, I hoped that I would get to hear one of my favorite musicians sing one of my absolute favorite Christmas songs.
I was very tired last night, and a combination of fatigue and ongoing gloom had definitely dampened my enthusiasm for the program. But I pushed myself to stay awake, figuring that distraction would help a little. And it did.
The show made me laugh, and last night I needed laughs. Even as 1:00 AM approached, Paul had already sung two non-holiday numbers, and things seemed to be wrapping up, I didn’t mind. As the final skit started, a more aware and astute person could easily have predicted where things were headed. But I think I was too distracted by the outlandish absurdity of the whole scenario (which is still cracking me up) to really have noticed.
Usually, as my friends and family can attest, I do not like to be surprised. I really was caught totally off guard when I heard those first few notes of “Wonderful Christmastime.”
And last night, it was a perfect and wonderful surprise, and I did not mind one little bit.
(I posted the video for the original song at the top, but I’ve also included below the link to the skit and live version done last night for anyone who needs some smiles and laughs as well!)