“One thing I love about Christmas music is that it has a tradition of warmth.” – Zooey Deschanel
One of the things that I love most about Christmas is the music. This should really come as no surprise to anyone. I am asked quite often every year my favorite/least favorite Christmas songs. I am not going to dwell on my least favorite here (cough cough “Little Drummer Boy” cough cough). My list of favorite Christmas music is an ever-changing list. I want to share with you a few moments that fairly consistently resonates with me.
I tend to lean more toward the traditional religious carols and the sentimental tunes from the mid-20th century.
O Holy Night
“O Holy Night” has never been one of my very favorite Christmas tunes. I feel like it is overdone and never done especially well. This year, however, I had the opportunity to collaborate with a trio of sopranos on this song. The arrangement was interesting for me as the pianist and their arrangement was fantastic. When this song is done well, it is spectacular.
One of my very favorite moments that this song was used in pop culture was in the season 4 Christmas episode of West Wing, “Holy Night.” At the very end of this episode, there is a performance of this song and it overlaps seeing the characters as they are working and struggling with the consequences from the episode. There is no talking, just the music. At the moment when you hear, “fall on your knees,” you flash to President Bartlett looking out the window and I tear up EVERY SINGLE TIME. I watch this episode every Christmas and it never fails to move me. Watch this episode (or at least this clip)!
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
I love watching old movies. When I was a young teen or maybe younger, I first watched “Meet Me in St. Louis” starring Judy Garland. It’s a fantastic movie and one of my favorites. Judy Garland sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in this movie. As a child, I never really understood that this song was so sorrowful. The melody is simple with arpeggiations and scalar figures. It’s the addition of the words that make this song a powerhouse. Here is just a selection of the lyrics and part of my favorite:
“Through the years we all will be together if the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now”
I feel like this song is a great reminder that it is important to live in the now and enjoy the people that we have in our lives.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
I first started to enjoy this song only a few years ago. I heard a MercyMe version of this song and is stayed on my iPod year-round for a very long time. In fact, it may still be on there! I think one of my favorite things about this song is that it is in minor! I love my minor pieces of music! “Good tidings of comfort and joy!”
O Come O Come Emmanuel
I had not been too familiar with this tune until I was in grad school. I collaborated with a doctoral vocal student and a friend of his on this song. It was a good experience and the music has stuck in my head ever since. I have since found several piano solo arrangements that I love and make a point of playing an arrangement of this piece every year.
I’ll Be Home for Christmas
A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to work with this elderly lady. I believe that she was 99 at the time. She was mostly blind and had a hard time hearing at times. She was a faithful member of my music group at the nursing home. I called her my “human metronome” as she was always on the beat with the woodblock and always knew the words to all of the songs. Well, she asked me if I would help her make a CD for her daughter for Christmas. I readily agreed. She chose five songs that were special to her that she wanted to sing. One of these songs was “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” I recorded the piano part in advance, then put a pair of big headphones on her and she sang along to my previous recording as I recorded her. This particular song we had to do in one take. About halfway through she had tears running down her face. This song is one of those sentimental tunes that is so beautifully sad. “I’ll be home for Christmas you can plan on me….I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams.”
Christmas would never be the same without the music. These songs were just a sampling of some of my favorites. I left out a lot of pieces that I gravitate toward every Christmas. So, what are some of your favorite Christmas songs and why?