Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

Nothing earth-shaking here musically–it’s just a collection of familiar Christmas tunes, arranged by Leroy Anderson (always a stalwart of light music)–but the ensemble might be unfamiliar. This is a British brass band, which is a grouping that arose in the United Kingdom before expanding around the world. It’s not a very commonly encountered ensemble, but there are places that take brass bands very seriously; in the UK there are regular brass band competitions that are really a going concern, as they say.

A proper British brass band might seem like just a brass quintet expanded to twenty or thirty players, but it’s more complex than that. There are no trumpets; the soprano voices are played by cornets and flugelhorns, and there are also no French horns! The inner voices are supplied by tenor horns, baritone horns, euphoniums, and tenor trombones. The basses come via several different kinds of tubas along with a bass trombone or two. The end result is a surprisingly complex kind of brass sound (with added percussion), without the stridency of a full trumpet section.

Here is the Whitburn Band playing A Christmas Festival. (This appears to be one of those performance videos made during COVID.)

 

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Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

In honor of Bob McGrath.

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Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

I was much more of a classical musician in my youth than a jazz musician, so as trumpet players go, I was more aligned to the Maurice Andre and Bud Herseth types than jazz luminaries like Miles Davis and Wynton Marsalis. One guy I liked, though, was Maynard Ferguson, who had an electric sound and who often played in the very high range of the instrument. If you want to really impress a young trumpet player, playing very high notes is the way to go. Every young player wants to play high notes!

I actually got to see Maynard Ferguson live when I was in high school. A friend of my parents, who was very interested in my musical upbringing and who knew some stuff about jazz himself, took me to hear Ferguson when he played in Bradford, PA. It was a thrilling concert, even though I really didn’t know much about jazz. The fellow who took me was a bit disappointed in the concert, because he wanted to hear Ferguson’s “big band” work, but by this time Ferguson was doing some experimenting with the kind of small-group “fusion” jazz that was popular at that time. Still, it was a great show and, as trumpet players will say of the greats, “Man, that guy can really blow.” (In trumpet world, “blows” is a compliment.)

Here’s Maynard Ferguson and his band, with a Christmas medley. If you’re wondering when Mr. Ferguson plays, well…you’ll know when he’s playing. He’s the guy who really blows.

 

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The Hunter rises!

Orion the Hunter makes his nightly appearance above my back yard.

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Your Daily Dose of Christmas

SiriusXM has some interesting temporary Holiday-oriented music channels right now, if you’re a subscriber…and what’s nice about these channels (I like the “classical” one, the “classics” one with songs from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, and the “Favorites” one which covers all the typical mainstream stuff) is that they don’t simply rely on the same small-ish playlist that seems to dominate most mainstream Christmas music selections you hear these days, whether on the Muzak someplace or on stations like Buffalo’s 102.5, which switches to an all-Christmas format in November.

Case in point: here is “Winter Wonderland” by Ray Charles! I know I’ve heard this before–it’s used in When Harry Met Sally, for instance–but I never hear this via “normal” channels for holiday music.

 

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Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

Today, a suite from an opera by Rimsky-Korsakov! The opera is called Christmas Eve, and its plot involves a scheme by the Devil to steal the moon. Rimsky-Korsakov’s operas have suffered an unusual curse: they are well-loved and highly regarded by those who know them, but because they’re in Russian, a language that most singers don’t learn (and because singing operas in translation is out of fashion), they remain shrouded in obscurity, only known if at all through orchestral suites and excerpts like this.

David Dubal writes, in The Essential Canon of Classical Music:

Some of the best of Rimsky-Korsakov is contained in his fifteen operas, with their supernatural, pan-Slavic, mythological, and pantheistic symbolism. Unfortunately these operas remain unfamiliar to the vast majority of music lovers. They form an encyclopedic source of a lost, legendary, wild, and exotic Russia. According to the writer V.V. Yastrebsev, Rimsky-Korsakov confided, “You would scarcely find anyone in the world who believes less in everything supernatural, fantastic, or lying beyond the boundaries of death than I do. Yet as an artist, I love this sort of thing above all else. And religious ceremony? What could be more intolerable? But with what love have I expressed such ceremonial customs in music! No, I am actually of the opinion that art is essentially the most enchanting, intoxicating lie.”

It does surprise me that Rimsky-Korsakov, with his often beguiling melodies, magnficient orchestrations (few composers have ever wielded the full palate of the modern orchestra like Rimsky-Korsakov), and enchanting subject matter in many of his compositions nevertheless does not command a stronger position in the classical canon. I always enjoy listening to him, whether it’s something less familiar to me or a return to Scheherazade, one of my favorite classical works of all time.

So here’s a bit of Russian Christmas lore, depicted in the music of one of Russia’s great masters.

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Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

Hey, it’s morning and I’m getting the Daily Dose out! See, I told you I’d get on track with this.

In 1994, a remake of the 1947 classic movie Miracle on 34th Street came out. If I recall correctly, it did OK and then mostly disappeared. I’m sure it’s streaming someplace and is beloved by a few, but like most remakes it does not seem to have supplanted the original in any way. [ASIDE: Hmmm, it now occurs to me that I quite literally have not seen the original since a day in 2nd or 3rd grade when I walked in on my mother watching it on teevee and decided to stick around.] The remake stars Richard Attenborough as the is-he-or-isn’t-he department-store Santa, and Mara Wilson as the cute-as-a-button kid who makes wishes.

While I haven’t seen that movie, I have heard quite a bit of the movie’s score, written by Bruce Broughton. Broughton is a composer who wrote quite a few really really good filmscores in the 80s and 90s; film music fans tend to view his work on Silverado, Young Sherlock Holmes, The Rescuers Down Under, and Tombstone as particularly fine scores. Broughton’s work is often redolent of the scoring styles of older composers from film music’s so-called “Golden Age”, and it’s just really good stuff, a lot of the time. I’m not sure why Broughton never really “broke through”, but he has enjoyed a long and productive career and he has produced a lot of fine music…which includes his work on the Miracle on 34th Street remake.

Here is a suite of Broughton’s music from that film. Enjoy!

 

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Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

It’s Day 2! I generally try to not be this late in the day with this feature, but sometimes that’s just the way the ball bounces. Anyway:

“Carol of the Bells” isn’t really my favorite bit of Christmas music, though I do find myself warming to it more over the last few years. I think for a while it got overplayed when I was younger…I strongly remember it figuring in Christmas commercial after commercial after commercial, to the point of distraction.

But this year I learned something new: “Carol of the Bells” is of Ukrainian origin. The composer and lyricist–Mykola Leontovych and Peter J. Wilhousky–were both Ukrainian or of Ukrainian descent, and the melody is based on a Ukrainian folk chant. Since I am in full support of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in this time of war, I therefore share what might be one of the most famous pieces of Ukrainian music ever written.

 

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Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

It’s December! And as is my tradition, I will now spend the next twenty-five days featuring Christmas music. This is one of the most beloved traditions of this blog*, and I always look forward to doing it. I hope you all enjoy it as well!

I’m starting off a bit less cheerfully than usual, because…well, 2022 has been a slog much of the time for me. Nevertheless, I look to the Holiday Season for a return to good cheer, and a reminder that the world can be beautiful and that we humans can make it so. Too much of the crappiness of the world arises from our choices, so let’s just choose better, OK? Choose better.

Let’s get started….

* Mainly by me.

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Something for Thursday

We have Muzak at work, constantly piping music into The Store. I usually don’t pay a great deal of attention to it, though I do rather like our current “classic rock/hits of the 70s and 80s” mix that we have going on. I never thought that I’d hear “Come On Eileen”, the official pop anthem of overalls-wearers like myself, on a daily basis, but there it is.

Yesterday, though, I had to stop and listen, because it was a song I hadn’t heard in many years. I’m still stunned that this song turned up on our Muzak mix. It’s never, to my knowledge, been a hit. It comes from one of the goofiest musical movies ever made: Xanadu, which was supposed to be a big star vehicle for Olivia Newton John. Somehow, when they made this movie–about a roller-disco dance club called Xanadu–they managed to entice Gene Kelly to appear in it. I remember reading later that Kelly was disillusioned by the production and the filmmakers’ lack of knowledge of what went into making musicals; I suspect that Kelly, who was in his late 60s at the time, was hoping for a throwback to his beloved genre. Alas.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever watched Xanadu all the way through, but I suspect that nowadays it would inhabit the same kind of space as flicks like Battle Beyond the Stars: movies that aren’t really good, but are better than their reputations for being bad. I know that Xanadu has become a kind of cult classic, and that the soundtrack (which included ELO, one of my favorite bands and a major source of listening in recent years) produced some well-known songs that were huge hits on the European charts. But even so, I don’t recall the title song ever getting much by way of airplay at all…and yet, there it was, playing away in a retail grocery store in 2022. What a world.

Here’s the movie’s last number. The actual Olivia Newton John song starts about 3:30 in this video, but those first three minutes are worth watching just for the sheer goofiness of it all. Enjoy!

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