Songs of the Season, Part I December 02 2013, 1 Comment
Last week I had the pleasure to see snow.
Ever since I moved to Nashville at the start of November, I was afraid that my migration south would lead to mild winters with nothing but cold rain and ice. Even though it didn’t stick, it gave me hope that one day I would wake up to a winter wonderland in my new home.
It also got me listening to Christmas music.
The music of the holiday season is a little strange if you think about it. I have trouble thinking of any other music that is only socially acceptable during a narrow window of time. And even though it only exists in the public eye for about two months of the year, it spans nearly all possible musical genres. Everyone from the United States Marine Band to Justin Bieber has released a holiday album, and while there are countless volumes of recordings, they all have roots to a few handfuls of original carols and songs. The bands of the U.S. military have recorded many holiday albums, and reflects the genre’s range of styles. During this holiday season, I want to explore the various types of holiday music that can be found on Altissimo!’s website, to demonstrate the wide variety of subgenres offered by military bands and their component organizations.
We’ll start at the more traditional end of the spectrum. While my own musical tastes are somewhat unusual, I consider myself a purist when it comes to holiday music. I’d much rather listen to a small choir sing Silent Night (preferably in its traditional German) than some other-worldly electro-punk pop version of the same song (which, for the record, doesn’t appear to exist anywhere… yet). A great example of the simple, four-part harmony version of traditional carols is the aptly named album Caroling.
Since the Eisenhower Administration, The United States Air Force Band Singing Sergeants have been caroling at the White House every December for the Washington D.C. community, and Caroling is their way of presenting their favorite carols in a recorded medium. The album does an excellent job of presenting traditional Christmas carols, and one Hanukkah song, in the simplest of forms. It transports you to a quiet city street on Christmas Eve, with a band of carolers roaming door-to-door. The disc features a few more popular songs, such as Jingle Bells, Deck the Hall, and Away in A Manger, but it focuses on more traditional tunes. Songs such as Fum, fum, fum and Somerset Wassail are traditional European carols (Spanish and English respectively), and are not songs you typically hear on all-Christmas radio stations, but are part of the larger Christmas caroling tradition. The group also performs Carol of the Bells, one of my personal favorite holiday songs as far as traditional carols is concerned.
But even though the Singing Sergeants are highlighting more traditional carols, they still offer a few more modernized renditions of some classics. Their version of The Holly and the Ivy uses tasteful jazz harmony and percussion, and still has that traditional caroling feel to it. The album’s rendition of Go Tell it on the Mountain, a song that I don’t usually associate with the holidays, is sung in its original spiritual style, and features a piano accompaniment. All of the small departures from the main caroling idiom help to spice up the album, separating it from other CD’s of Christmas carols. You can order Caroling at http://www.militarymusic.com. It’s really perfect if you’re a purist, or if you just enjoy a little choral music during this special time of year. Like I said, all holiday season I will be reviewing and discussing all corners of Altissimo!’s holiday music collection, touching upon whatever you need to celebrate this December. Thank you all so much for your support.
-Brian R. Denu
Label Manager, Altissimo! Recordings