Music is important to me and I enjoy the themes that arise in Christmas music especially. That being said, I can’t say I’m terribly adventurous and my festive music tends to stay with old favorites. Here’s what I’m listening to this season:
Meredith Ball and La Nef released an interesting disc a few years back that’s remained a favorite. The music relies on La Nef’s ancient instruments and Ball’s lovely soprano and touches on many carols that would be familiar to North Americans. However, there’s a nice mixture including one from Brittany, some Irish reels and instrumentals, as well as songs like Please to See the King.
Christmas Away from Home
One track I pull out each Christmas, although it’s on a Mystic Seaport sea shanty CD, is Tom Lewis singing Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem, Christmas at Sea. It’s an aching song of homesickness at the holidays, brilliantly done.
John McCutcheon’s Christmas in the Trenches, a song of a soccer game between the soldiers facing off in World War I is another favorite. It’s part of his Winter Solstice disc, which has some other nice tunes, particularly if you like hammered dulcimer.
I always think of the Huron Carol as the ultimate Canadian Christmas song. It’s one of my favorite examples of how Christian traditions are wrapped around pre-existing concepts or traditions in order to assimilate non-Christians. Soon after coming to Canada, I learned about the Canada-huge band Great Big Sea. I’m a fan of their more traditional Atlantic songs and I was delighted when I came across their version of The Twelve Apostles (Come and I Will Sing You). I’d known it as Green Grow the Rushes O, and the words are quite different.
Nowell Sing We Clear
John Roberts and Tony Barrand are two of my all time favorite singers, folk or otherwise. To be fair, I was practically raised on their music, having seen them as morris dancers when I was 6 and seeing them perform for decades after. They put on Christmas concerts and recorded them each year as Nowell Sing We Clear. These discs became part of our family’s Christmas traditions as well as providing fodder for singing to our own kids both during Christmas and other parts of the year. They’re an excellent collection of traditional English carols and songs, although occasionally made current with funny tweaks to the lyrics.
They teamed up with Fred Breunig and Andy Davis to put on these regular concerts in Vermont. Here’s a sample, with a typical Tony lead-in (about 4 minutes) explaining the song, among other things, and then the Rag Dance. Here’s a full concert video hosted by the Kennedy Center.
Listening to these sorts of songs are a nice change from the more commercial, modern songs that seem to have made up the very narrow canon of acceptable Christmas tunes.