Songs of the Season, Part II December 09 2013, 0 Comments
A recent article on NPR’s Deceptive Cadence talks about what makes a good Christmas album. It discusses how classical Christmas albums exist in our society, the economics of makings such recordings, and how things have changed over the years. The article also brings up how the holiday season is a huge time of the year for performing arts organization, often drawing the largest audiences of the year to hear the classics, such as Handel’s Messiah and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. Orchestras, choirs, bands, and ensembles of all shapes and sizes frequently put on some sort of holiday concert, often marking the musical end of the calendar year. The bands of the U.S. military are no different in this regard, and I recommend checking out our new events page, which is linked directly to the events pages for the bands of each military branch. Definitely make a point to see them live if you find yourself in the vicinity of one of their performances.
Of course, not all of us can see the best bands in the land perform this holiday season. Luckily Altissimo! carries all of the best recordings of the best holiday tunes for band. Now, most holiday band concerts are going to vary between arrangers and styles of certain songs. However, to me, there are a few standards that should be part of all holiday band concerts, if they do not already.
The music of Alfred Reed is a staple among wind bands everywhere, and two of his greatest works are of the holiday flavor. Reed’s transcription of Greensleeves is one such work. Now, while this is, an arrangement, it stands out against other holiday arrangements of its kind. Reed doesn’t attempt to cover or change the original characteristics of the song, but keeps the harmony clean and simple, with the occasional counter-melody weaving through the woodwinds. It has an older feel to it, unlike other arrangements, which often stride towards a modernized feeling of older works. Like I posted last week, I’m a purist when it comes to holiday music, and I feel like Alfred Reed is as well.
Reed’s other holiday-inspired work is his Russian Christmas Music. This piece is a personal favorite of mine, despite the fact that I myself have never performed it. Unlike in Greensleeves, this piece is much more original in nature. The opening section is based on a 16th century Russian Christmas carol, but the rest of work consists of Reed’s own melodies. Russian Christmas Music reflects both the solemn religious aspects of the Christmas season, as well as overwhelming joy throughout its length. Reed contrasts solos with loud, brassy, chords, and presents orchestration and harmony which is distinctly Russian.
You can find both of these Alfred Reed works, and many more, on the album One of Our Own: Alfred Reed, performed by the US Air Force Band of Mid-America. The CD also includes Armenian Dances, Part I, another one of my personal favorites.
The music of Alfred Reed is very well written, and reflects a more serious note when it comes to the music of the holiday season, which is why it contrasts well with other more popular Christmas tunes. But, nothings says “holiday band standard” like Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride.
Everyone loves Sleigh Ride. The familiar tune resonates in people of all musical persuasions. From a performer’s point of view, it’s just really fun to play, whether you play the horse whinny on trumpet, or the percussionist who gets to crack the whip. It’s one of those pieces that you can’t help but enjoy it, regardless of on which side of the stage you sit. You can find all three of the holiday pieces mentioned here at militarymusic.com. Thank you all so much for your support.
-Brian R. Denu
Label Manager, Altissimo! Recordings