The older I get, the more of an Ebeneezer Scrooge I become about Christmas, in at least one important respect – I Just. Can’t. Take. The. Music.
Don’t get me wrong, I love music. There is so much of it that is good, and with civilization’s long history of writing and recording the stuff, there is plenty of great music for everyone. So why don’t we hear more of it at Christmas?
There is certainly no shortage of (what is called) Christmas Music. Beginning on Thanksgiving, if not sooner, radio stations begin Christmas programming that consists of all Christmas music all the time. Let us not dwell on the point that this Christmas Music actually only plays during Advent and goes silent once the Christmas season actually begins. This point was made last year and I don’t want to nag.
I used to look forward to Christmas programming on the radio. I am not sure when my attitude changed, but I still remember listening one day and wondering where all of this truly awful Christmas music came from. OK, maybe not actually awful. But generic and completely disposable. Which is at least in the same Zip Code as awful.
My gripe comes from a couple of angles. First, has there really been any good Christmas music written since the onset of the rock era? I realize that Jingle Bell Rock and Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree have a following, but I find myself grinding my teeth just a little every time they are played. I also realize that [wild understatement alert] not everyone’s tastes align with mine, so the mixture of rock and Christmas is perfectly acceptable to most. But really, has there been a single enduring Christmas song recorded since maybe 1965?
My second realization was that even in a world where Christmas music was put out by Bing, Nat and Ol’ Blue Eyes, there was precious little of it that had to do with – you know – Christmas. There was a lot about roasting chestnuts, snow, parties, gifts and (of course) love. But wise men, angels and baby Jesus? Not so much.
As you know, my tastes run more towards the traditional and this year I want to share the new Christmas tunes that I am trying out. The Dominican House of Studies for the Eastern Province has released a collection of Christmas music just recently, called Christ Was Born To Save: Christmas With The Domincan Friars. I stumbled upon it via a video they released on social media.
Even though these aren’t “our” Dominicans (my son is a student brother in the smaller Central Province), I bought the music and have been mixing it into my Advent listening.
Beauty is a concept that seems quite underexposed these days, at least the kind of beauty that cannot be sold by the makers of cosmetics and skin care products being constantly pitched to the ladies in our lives. It seems to me that beauty, whether expressed in art, architecture or music has a way of orienting us to something that is more transcendent than that with which most of us are surrounded.
The more traditional kinds of Christmas music as brought to us by these young Dominican brothers gives beauty some needed exposure. The older I get, the harder it is to get into the spirit of Christmas with food, drink and festivity. It is beauty that gets me into the spirit of Christmas. Thanks to one Dominican schola cantorum, I am now getting beyond “humbug”.
For anyone interested in exploring this album further, the link just above the video provides more information.