For your listening pleasure, here are some best ever performances of some best ever Christmas music.
I was introduced to Handel’s Messiah when I was in high school. It was a tradition for our premier chorus, the Tower Singers, to sing the Hallelujah Chorus, along with all chorus alumnae, at the annual winter holiday concert. I go to live performances of Messiah whenever I can. (But not this year. Maybe next year)
Another favorite for Christmas is The Nutcracker Ballet. We went as a family several times when our children were young.
When I attended Duquesne University, our Music School Chorus performed Daniel Pinkham’s Christmas Cantata. I still get chills when I hear it.
Benjamin Britten wrote this lovely Ceremony of Carols:
J.S. Bach Christmas Oratorio:
Here is just one small portion of Hector Berlioz’ L’Enfance du Christ:
British composer John Rutter has written many carols. You may want to visit this playlist from his Christmas Album.
Edward Elgar, best known for “Pomp and Circumstance,”played at graduations, also wrote this beautiful “A Christmas Greeting”:
Camille Saint-Saëns wrote this Oratorio de Noël:
One of the things I miss most during this pandemic is the opportunity to play in my church’s handbell choir, Ringing Praise. I love the camaraderie with my fellow ringers (they are the nicest people). The sound of bells lifts my heart, especially at Christmastime. I’ve put together a little virtual concert of Christmas music. (And if this is not enough for you, you can listen to a handbell post I put together previously.)
Joy to the World:
Solo: Angels We Have Heard on High:
All I Want For Christmas Is You:
Sing We Now of Christmas:
Fum, Fum, Fum:
A Midnight Clear: A Christmas Nocturne:
We Three Kings:
The Bell Daze of Christmas:
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer:
Christmas movies–what a great topic for a blog post! But as I started writing it, I realized I don’t like many of the traditional favorite Christmas flicks. I remember the old A Christmas Carol movie and its remakes; It’s a Wonderful Life; the old Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer of my childhood; Holiday Inn and White Christmas; and I’m bored with all of them. I never made it all the way through the old Miracle on 34th Street.
A Charlie Brown Christmas came out when I was in high school. For a long time, it was the best Christmas special available. It was super cool in 1965, kind of dated now. But the jazzy piano music of Vince Guaraldi is great.
Greg and I grew up listening to storyteller Jean Shepherd on WOR on the radio. When his A Christmas Story was made into a movie, it was our favorite for a few years. It’s still Greg’s favorite. I’m so over it.
When my kids were little, I loved the Home Alone movies. I’m tired of them now. We watched Gremlins millions of times, but I don’t think of it as a Christmas movie, even though it’s set at Christmastime. I like Die Hard and While You Were Sleeping, but I don’t consider them Christmas movies either, despite their time frames.
The Christmas movie I’ve most liked in recent years is Elf. Buddy grew up at the North Pole, but he’s different from the other elves. It turns out he’s adopted, and his birth father is a businessman in New York City. He goes to meet him, but his dad is less than thrilled to learn of his existence. I just love the goofy innocence of Will Farrell’s character. I love when he answers the phone, “Buddy Elf. What’s your favorite color?” and when he gets so excited that Santa is coming to the department store. And my favorite scene, which I have posted before, is this duet that he sings with Zooey Dechanel:
Anyhow, since I didn’t really have many Christmas movies that I felt I could recommend to others, I had to do some research.
I know many people love the Hallmark Christmas movies, but I just don’t have the patience for them. My fingers itch to change the channel after one minute.
I counted 84 Christmas movies on Netflix, and not one of them looked interesting to me.
So I consulted many online lists of favorite Christmas movies, and selected a bunch to watch. You might find these on demand on basic cable (some are also on YouTube):
There are a number of storylines running through this movie set in England. A man is missing his recently deceased wife, and his small stepson has a crush on a girl who will soon be moving to the United States. The boy decides girls love musicians, so devotes himself to learning how to play drums. A man is cheating on his wife, who knows, but wants to believe it’s not serious. A new Prime Minister starts his career, and his catering manager is his biggest fan. A young man decides he has no girlfriend because British girls are stuck up, so he moves to the United States. An aging rock star remakes one of his old hits into a Christmas song, which his long-time manager hopes will rise to number 1. A man secretly loves his friend’s bride. Another man falls in love with a Portuguese woman who is in England on vacation.
Actually, after an hour and a half of this movie, I was bored with the storylines, because they seemed so shallow. But, soon after, the stories merged in surprising ways, and the last 40 minutes were mostly a delight (although not all the threads resolved satisfyingly). I can see, ultimately, the appeal of the movie.
I’d never seen more than maybe 30 minutes in the middle of this movie, so I had no idea that it’s considered a Christmas movie. Now that I’ve seen it, I disagree with the classification. This could have been set at any time of the year with little or no impact on the story.
It’s a bit of a Frankenstein movie. An inventor put together a young man, but died before he finished. Edward has scissors and blades where his fingers should be, which makes it hard to do simple tasks like dressing and eating, but he learns how to create master topiary. He lives in the inventor’s mansion on the hill. An Avon lady calls and discovers him, and tries to integrate him into her family.
It’s an engaging story, though very sad, and although its message is acceptance of those who are unlike ourselves, it’s really not a Christmas story.
An awkward little girl whose mother has died hangs on to her belief in Santa Claus. When she sees a reindeer in the woods, she decides it’s Prancer, one of Santa’s team. And when the reindeer is shot, she hides it in the shed of her family’s farm, gets a vet to remove the bullet, and nurses it back to health while keeping it a secret from her father, who has no patience with her.
Parts of the story are very sad, but it ends on a positive note. I have not seen the sequel.
The Preacher’s Wife
This movie has Whitney Houston going for it. She plays the wife of the nearly-burnt-out pastor of St Matt’s, who is struggling for the survival of his congregation. She’s also the choir director. Houston grew up singing in church, and if you love gospel music, this is your movie.
Denzel Washington plays an angel, Dudley, sent to help the pastor. Houston’s character loves her husband, but he is so focused on his work that he doesn’t notice how lonely and neglected she is. Dudley is kind and attentive to her.
Of the four movies that I watched this week, The Preacher’s Wife is the one that most appealed to me.
Now it’s your turn. Help me out here. What are some of your favorite Christmas movies? Share in the comments below.
In the 1970s when I was a young woman hearing Philip Glass’ music for the first time, I didn’t like it. The repetitiveness of it bored me, then bothered me.
That all changed on June 4, 2016, when a friend and I went to a Phoenix Symphony concert where Glass’ The Secret Agent was performed. I didn’t expect to like it. Instead, it was my favorite piece on the program, one that I frequently now seek out.
In researching today’s post, I read a fascinating and detailed article on Wikipedia. Rather than try to paraphrase it, I have pulled out a few interesting segments; if you want more information on Philip Glass, I direct you to that link above.
Philip Glass was born January 31, 1937. He is an accomplished pianist and one of the most influential American composers of the late 20th century through today. Glass’s work has been described as minimalism, being built up from repetitive phrases and shifting layers.
Glass founded the Philip Glass Ensemble, with which he still performs on keyboards.
You may just want this music playing in the background as you work today:
He was the son of Lithuanian-Jewish emigrants. His father owned a record store and his mother was a librarian. At the end of World War II his mother aided Jewish Holocaust survivors, inviting recent arrivals to America to stay at their home until they could find a job and a place to live. She developed a plan to help them learn English and acquire skills they would need for work.
Glass inherited his appreciation of music from his father, who often received promotional copies of new recordings at his music store. He spent many hours listening to them, developing his knowledge and taste in music. This openness to modern sounds affected Glass at an early age. He wrote in his memoir, “My father was self-taught, but he ended up having a very refined and rich knowledge of classical, chamber, and contemporary music. Typically he would come home and have dinner, and then sit in his armchair and listen to music until almost midnight. I caught on to this very early, and I would go and listen with him.”
Glass built a sizable record collection from the unsold records in his father’s store, including modern classical music such as Hindemith, Bartók, Schoenberg, Shostakovich and Western classical music including Beethoven’s string quartets and Schubert’s B♭ Piano Trio. Glass cites Schubert as a “big influence” growing up, his favorite composer, and by coincidence, shares his birthday with him.
At the age of 15, he entered an accelerated college program at the University of Chicago where he studied mathematics and philosophy. In Chicago he discovered the serialism of Anton Webern and composed a twelve-tone string trio. In 1954 Glass traveled to Paris, where he encountered the films of Jean Cocteau, which made a lasting impression on him. He visited artists’ studios and saw their work; he said, “the bohemian life you see in [Cocteau’s] Orphée was the life I … was attracted to, and those were the people I hung out with.”
Glass studied at the Juilliard School of Music where the keyboard was his main instrument. One of his fellow students was another favorite composer of mine, musical satirist Peter Schickele (aka PDQ Bach).
In 1964, Glass received a Fulbright Scholarship; his studies in Paris with the eminent composition teacher Nadia Boulanger, from autumn of 1964 to summer of 1966, influenced his work throughout his life, as the composer admitted in 1979: “The composers I studied with Boulanger are the people I still think about most—Bach and Mozart.”
His distinctive style arose in part from Ravi Shankar’s perception of rhythm in Indian music as being entirely additive. Glass renounced all his compositions in a moderately modern style resembling Milhaud’s, Aaron Copland’s, and Samuel Barber’s, and began writing pieces based on repetitive structures of Indian music and a sense of time influenced by Samuel Beckett.
Despite being an accomplished musician and composer, in the early years he did not completely support himself from his art. In addition to his music career, Glass had a moving company with his cousin, the sculptor Jene Highstein, and also worked as a plumber and cab driver (during 1973 to 1978). He remembers installing a dishwasher and looking up from his work to see an astonished Robert Hughes, Time magazine’s art critic, staring at him.
Though he finds the term minimalist inaccurate to describe his later work, Glass does accept this term for pieces up to and including Music in 12 Parts, excepting this last part which “was the end of minimalism” for Glass. As he pointed out: “I had worked for eight or nine years inventing a system, and now I’d written through it and come out the other end.” He now prefers to describe himself as a composer of “music with repetitive structures”.
Here is more music to run in the background as you work:
Glass composed his first violin concerto with his father in mind: “His favorite form was the violin concerto, and so I grew up listening to the Mendelssohn, the Paganini, the Brahms concertos. … So when I decided to write a violin concerto, I wanted to write one that my father would have liked.”
Philip Glass’ body of work includes numerous operas and musical theatre works, twelve symphonies, eleven concertos, eight string quartets and various other chamber music, and film scores. Three of his film scores, Kundun (1997), The Hours (2002), and Notes on a Scandal (2006), were nominated for Academy Awards; in 1998 he won the Golden Globe for best original score for The Truman Show.
Fun fact: Glass is the first cousin once removed of Ira Glass, host of the radio show This American Life.
I know you don’t mind wasting 21 minutes. You will be so glad you watched this.
I’m sharing some photos I took in September 2020 at the Hummingbird Habitat in Desert Breeze Park just a few miles south of my house.
I love parks. Desert Breeze has a lot of nice features. There’s a lake for urban fishing. There’s a little train. (One evening around Christmas many years ago we took the kids for a train ride around the holiday-lit park and then drank hot cocoa.) There’s a playground with a splash pad where kids can cool off from the heat.
The park is four acres, and I didn’t know exactly where the hummingbird garden is. The first parking lot I pulled into was next to the lake. I didn’t see anything that could be a hummingbird garden.
The next lot I visited was next to the train station. I could see tennis courts and the playground. I parked the car and looked for a directory to show me the way to the hummingbird habitat. I found none, so I started walking. How far could it be?
Besides the kids in the playground, I saw groundskeepers striding around and people jogging, but instead of flagging them down, I kept my social distance. With no idea where to go, I took out my phone and looked for a map of the park. Why didn’t I do that when I first got to the park? Well, I tried, and I asked Siri for help, but I was new to smart phones and I didn’t know what I was doing. I managed to find a map, and tried to enlarge it. An annoying little dialog box kept popping up saying “Chandler Parks wants to know your location” and I clicked “Don’t Allow” several times while trying to get my bearings. Finally, I clicked “Allow,” and a dot appeared on the map. As I took a couple of steps trying to determine where I was on the map, the dot moved. The dot was me! Who knew?
Then it was a snap to walk to the Hummingbird Habitat. Too bad I’d walked in all the wrong directions. I would never have found it without GPS. But my efforts were so worth it.
There’s an archway with a giant hummingbird at the entrance to the habitat. And just inside is a pond complete with waterlilies and a little waterfall.
A giant tree sculpture with a circular bench offers a place to sit.
There are lots of live trees, too.
And other plants.
Unfortunately, I didn’t see a single hummingbird. It was already nearly noon (this is Arizona, where September temperatures often reach 100+ degrees), so I suspect the birds were resting wherever they could find shade.
Next time I’ll go earlier. Or later.