Saturday, December 23, 2006

Notes from the Bandstand

I know there are those songs that people just love. Songs that if they are absent, they diminish the emotion and enjoyment of the holiday for people.

Two things came from my stint of carols at the mall. I will share them with you now.

The first was a very fetching young thing who came up to me on a break and asked me if I knew her favorite Christmas song. It was "yadda yadda blah blah child" or some shit like that. I said "No." She asked me if I would like to hear it. She said it was a Contemporary Christian Christmas Carol. I'm glad that I had my hair in a ponytail so she couldn't see how the hair on the back of my neck began to curl at the syllabic emphasis she was using. But, as I said, she was fetching, and I'm old and don't get to talk to all that many cute young ones anymore, so I figure "What the hell, how bad can it be?"

I listen, and maintain my composure. She asks "What do you think of it? Isn't it just great? Do you think you could play it?" I say:

"The thing that gets me about most of these kind of songs is that along with being lyrically trite they are musically uninspired. Without the insipid lyrics the tune couldn't compete with such classics as Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Plus they have this whole thing that I simply hate this time of year (remember, I'm on the job right now so I'm trying to watch my langauge, otherwise I would have said fuck at least five or six times by now and thrown in a few shits and craps for good measure)

The song starts out all frilly and fluffy and sweet "Ohh, look at the baby! Sweet little baby in the manger" (Then I switch to my thrash metal System of a Down voice for a totally dissonant) "HE'S GONNA DIE! YOU EVIL BASTARDS ARE GOING TO KILL HIM DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD. What is about you people that you cannot stand a solid dose of peace and love? I would much rather play my Palestrina, Handel, Bach and Pretorius. Those songs have survived all these hundreds of years because they are good music. This new Christian garbage is not only bad theology, it is bad music."

Then I sat down to play my next set. Halfway through the first tune I looked up, she was gone.

Every set, every night, somebody wants to hear "Carol of the Bells." Being your servant, I cannot refuse. It wouldn't be right.

These are the lyrics running through my head while I play for you.

This song is long
Goes on and on
Three fucking notes
Learn them by rote
Repeat again
Three with no end
They will not stop
Until you drop

Now we get to play six more notes
Now we get to play six more notes
Back to the three
Oh, woe is me
This song is long
Goes on and on. . .



Blogger JackGoff said...

This song is long
Goes on and on. . .


I've been subjected to Andy Williams and Burl Ives for the past day or two at every single place we've gone. And people all around us still smile and bob their heads every single damn time the songs come on while mine feels like it may explode. I don't know how much more I can take! I'll manage though.

Hope you have a beautiful end to the year, S!

9:23 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

there is a dynamic that happens deep within us when we sing "community" songs. about the only ones left that run bone deep in our society anymore are the carols. the ones that get to me are the ones that i remember hearing my great grandparents sing, the same way they had heard their great grandparents singing them. the resonances and emotions that are produced by these songs are as old as humanity itself. the roots of a pretorius work like "lo, how a rose 'ere blooming" might very well have its own roots that take us back to the chalk and limestone caves of france. the simplicity and sparseness of the piece all work deep inside us. when i play "what child is this" i can feel my lineage all the way back to the harpers in the halls of the medieval times, sometimes even a little further than that. that experience, that deep memory of other human lives and human experiences that can be touched by those songs moves me. same to you jackie me lad. kishmesh jooni.

10:25 PM  
Blogger BlondeSense Liz said...

now you have me humming.

Ding, dingading
Ding, dingading
Ding, dingading

Ding, dingading
Ding, dingading
Ding, dingading

So I guess you didn't play Dominic the Donkey.
How about Feliz Navidad?

Ho Ho HO

8:17 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

no, but i've been known to launch into a rousing rendition of "la pinata" at the drop of a sombrero.

en la noche de posada
la pinata es la mejora
y los nino renegades. . .

i've also been known to put one of tennessee ernie ford's many christmas albums on and sit by the fire and grin.

9:29 AM  
Anonymous Marcus said...

I caught a segment on NPR yesterday while dropping my roomate off at Sky Harbor. Marion Alsop and her arrangement of Handels Messiah was featured, titled "Too Hot To Handel", giving the music a Jazz treatment. It is not for everyone, but it was (to my ears) a nice change to what we hear everytime this year.

9:54 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

i am all for exploration of genre and stuff. sometimes it can reopen a whole new perspective on something that had become tired and old. i've heard marion's version and i like it a lot. she remains very true to the spirit of the music. i've heard, and played, in some truly horrible performances of the messiah. but when it works, when the choir (usually the weakest link because we don't have a vast pool of dedicated professional singers) and the conductor (don't make every segment a dirge) are all in synch. it's one of the most glorious things ever written.

10:51 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

remember the punk group "veruca salt" who had a kick ass a cappella "hallelujah chorus?" i loved that shit too.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Missouri Mule said...

Merry Christmas, Music Man!

I driving my poor family crazy with my Dean Martin Christmas CD.

Dang, I wish I had me some Tennessee Ernie Ford!

11:03 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

christmas without tennessee ernie? not at my ranch. never happen.

oh, carry her safe to bethleham
little grey donkey tonight
a miracle rests on your small feet
little grey donkey tonight

all heaven is watching your mission divine
and over a stable a star waits to shine
while shepherds and wise men all look for the sign
little grey donkey
blessed little donkey
god's little donkey tonight

my rescue burro "chico" always gets extra goodies this night. he doesn't know why. he doesn't care either. but he's getting half a bucket of carrot tops and that's just fine with him.

11:12 AM  
Anonymous horsedooty said...

Feliz Navidad y Feliz Ano Nuevo mi amigo de Arizona. Con mucho gusto para su blog

yo soy Horsedooty!

11:22 AM  
Blogger litbrit said...

While I was wrapping presents in the wee hours (1-4 am!) last night, I watched Handel's Messiah on PBS.

I've never mentioned this before, but I used to sing in high school. I have a nice but not spectacularly beautiful voice--it's quite low and gravelly most of the time, so I think the honors chorus recruited me mainly to have a girl in their ranks who could hit B-flat below low C. But anyway, we performed The Messiah every Christmas.

The last time I sang that was 1976.

But when the opening strains of Glory to God came on, I started singing again--no audience, just cats and wrapping paper--and to my stunned amazement, I remembered every bloody note. Even And He Shall Purify (damn, but I must have had serious breath control in those days! Why didn't I appreciate myself?) And of course, the Hallelujah Chorus.

That music is a body of work that will last through eternity. And somehow, it bored through layers of depression, distraction, and years and years of Life Stuff to come roaring out of somewhere in my brain and through my vocal cords, virtually intact.

Music is indeed powerful. Powerful in ways most people cannot imagine.

2:45 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

A work like the Messiah, once learned is learned forever. It's there deep inside muscle memory. One of my favorite things to do with a woman that can hit the low ones well is to move her to tenor. The vocal timbre that a woman in the middle of her range is far superior to that of a man at the top of his. Tenor chicks have always worked for me. Yes, indeed there is some serious breath control required, but that's also a big thing about being in the chorus. You learn to stagger your breaths. That way there will always be somebody somewhere with a fresh breath to finish or pick up a phrase. It's also where that old thing that directors of choruses always talk about "support." If you're working from the abdomen and the diaphragm, it takes far less air to move the vocal chords. It's like a transmission in low gear. More torque for the energy expended. The Messiah is a true physical workout though. One year in Lake Tahoe some friends and I went to bolster up the community choir and orchestra. I ended up playing cello while singing bass. It was fun.

6:08 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

oh, and once, just for a giggle, while I was working fisherman's wharf in San Francisco. I twisted a whole passel of balloon animals, spread them out at my feet, and played "He Shall Feed His Flock" on the guitar and harmonica. I could tell everyone in the crowd who knew anything about music and the Messiah because they would realize what I was doing and crack up.

6:10 PM  
Blogger maurinsky said...

All those melismas....

We sang For Unto Us, Glory to God (with the preceding recits) and Hallelujah this past Sunday morning.

I've never sung the full Messiah. My favorite of all the sections I have sung (aside from the Hallelujah Chorus) is Worthy Is the Lamb.

12:57 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

every valley, shall be exhalted

that recitative followed by the chorus and tenor lead always give me chills. coming at the beginning of the work it's a glimpse of things yet to come. as an instrumentalist though, the "pastoral symphony" in the middle section is also both pleasing and interesting. one of the things i love most about the baroque period is that they took pains to make their music "pretty." yes, it was interesting and technically well structured, but it was also pretty. they cared about beauty.

1:06 PM  
Blogger Wild Clover said...

I'll admit to having my own words for "Carol of the Bells", invented when my first child was an infant...

Eat sleep and poop
Eat sleep and poop
That's what a little baby does, it just eats and sleeps, eats and sleeps and poops

Eat and sleep, eat and sleep and poop
Eat and sleep, eat and sleep and poop...

Repeat until diaper is changed..

12:42 PM  
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11:17 PM  

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