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Okay, here's my quasi-annual list of Christmas music you could be listening to instead of the 18th cover of that terrible "Last Christmas" song, or the time Paul McCartney forgot he was a Beatle and should have some dignity and phoned in "simply having a wonderful xmas time."
Side note: hey, coffee shops and retail stores of America, look, I understand that the reason you are playing all this crap Christmas music when there's like 400 years of gorgeous carols is bc you don't want to play overtly religious music in your establishment.
But for the love of sweet baby Jesus, please, as someone who is very much Not Christian, I'm telling you, I would rather hear a nice version of Adeste Fidelis any day than fucking "Last Christmas." Plus, instrumental versions of carols with super-religious lyrics exist.
Anyway, on to the list.
Leonard Bernstein conducted this lovely version of the Carol of the Bells (which I love for being both beautiful and vaguely ominous sounding). You can do a lot worse than the New York Philharmonic conducted by a gay activist Jew.
If you like choral music, most of that album is with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Everyone who was in a school orchestra or band probably played Leroy Anderson's Christmas Festival, which is a great suite! BUT...
He also wrote a series of suites for chamber ensembles. The string one always puts me in mind of a very plummy British Christmas with wine-and-gold decorations and holly all over the place and briskly but not unpleasantly cold snow.
The suite for woodwinds is elegant and somewhat pensive, but includes this rendition of Pat-a-Pan which seems a bit sly in its barely contained paganism. Sort of like The Holly and the Ivy.
While we're on a somewhat somber note, the Cincinnati Pops album is a mixed bag, but this haunting rendition of Walking In The Air (from "The Snowman") is a standout.
Despite it being pretty overtly Jesus-y, I love Amy Grant's first Christmas album because I adore her voice. The whole thing's pretty good and most of the pieces aren't dated in their production.
Maybe ironically (although maybe not, for reasons I'll get to in the next tweet), one of my favorites is probably the most Jesus-y: Breath of Heaven/Mary's Song.
Maybe it's because sincere reverence moves me even when I don't share it, or maybe because it's an extraordinarily HUMAN song--a young pregnant woman, tremulous, uncertain, determined. I'll take this over the certainty of a Magnificat any day.
But the standout for me is this Celtic-inflected, exuberant fiddle rendition of Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring.
This is probably cheating a bit, since it's not Christmas music, but Thea Gilmore's "Sol Invictus" is gorgeous and celebrates the return of the light.
Nat King Cole's velvety "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" is a must, obviously.
I'm a sucker for big orchestra-and-chorus numbers (probably because I grew up with a lot of opera), and this is probably the most epic version of In Excelsis Deo ever.
Speaking of opera, I don't think this is technically a Christmas piece, but I performed it in a Christmas concert once--Itzhak Perlman and Kathleen Battle at the height of her silveryness doing Bach's Laudamus Te.
It doesn't appear to be available anywhere online, but one of my childhood music teachers, Barbara Semmann, put out a gorgeous album of harp music with a lot of obscure carols on it and it's great. amazon.com/Moon-Wintertim… If you ever see a copy, grab it.
Prokofiev's Troika is a must.
And there's this gorgeous, haunting setting of an e. e. cummings poem, "Little Tree," by Eric Whitacre.
And in the Leroy Anderson vein, Hely-Hutchinson's Symphony of Carols is gorgeous.
John Rutter's setting of the Wexford Carol is exquisite:
Gaudete is a surprisingly peppy, syncopated Latin carol that's super-fun:
And back to Bach: the Christmas Oratorio because OF COURSE:
And Corelli's Christmas Concerto, because OF COURSE:
And Anonymous 4's Star in the East, for its surprising hint of wildness.
Anyway, all of this is music I love and someday I'm going to hack Starbucks' sound system and play some of it. Quietly. At a volume that doesn't distract people who are working.
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