For a good 35 years, most of my life, the Christmas celebrations included a big, raucous Christmas Eve party. Everyone came - kids, neighbors, boyfriends, grandparents, friends from here, friends from there. We'd make lots of Christmas cookies, and buy lots of cheese. My mother would make chicken liver pate, the kind that's so not kosher because it's got two sticks of butter in it, and pack it into a small brown crock with a lid, a crock that wasn't ever used for anything else. [That crock now lives in my kitchen; I'd better lay in some chicken livers.]
Eddie, the Joyce scholar from down the street, banged out Christmas carols on the piano, never stopping even when he'd miss a note (a blessing, that ability to keep going, the sign of a good accompanist). And everyone sang, at least everyone who wasn't in the kitchen with the red wine and the pistachios. Jingle Bells, Angels We Have Heard On High, Adeste Fidelis, O Little Town of Bethlehem. Sometimes people would get fancy and sing harmony or descants; I've always been partial to a descant in the second verse of Stille Nacht, even though I'm really not a soprano by any stretch of the imagination. Eventually, Eddie would get around to playing O Holy Night, out of a book called "Sing For Christmas" where it was inexplicably in something like G flat major, or maybe it was C flat major. In any case, it had way too many flats in the key signature, but Eddie courageously soldiered on. We'd belt it out, and move on to The Holy City, not really a Christmas carol, but full of great thumping Jerusalems.
Christmas was also a time for iconic records: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Britten's Ceremony of Carols. The Messiah. Luciano Pavarotti. The Nutcracker. Jessye Norman. Kathleen Battle. A Music Box Christmas. The Robert Shaw Chorale.
Two of those iconic records included those two oft-belted carols from our Christmas Eves. Pavarotti does a thoroughly charming and idiosyncratic O Holy Night, sung in English, with a heavy Italian accent and prodigiously rolled Rs, it is the night of the dear Savior's bert. Jessye Norman sings The Holy City tenderly, not bombastically, a lovely rendition.
Funnily enough, I have but two copies of The Holy City in my full-to-bursting list of songs tagged "holiday" in iTunes: the afore-mentioned Jessye Norman, and Herbert L. Clarke (the cornet soloist of the Sousa band). But I have 29 versions of O Holy Night - ranging from Pavarotti and Anne Sofie Von Otter, to Dave McKenna, Aaron Neville, Ella Fitzgerald and Sufjan Stevens. Presumably that's because The Holy City isn't really a Christmas song at all; it's just a bit of religious Victoriana. But it feels like Christmas to me, because Jessye Norman's Sacred Songs had been absorbed into our family's Christmas music collection, and because Eddie almost always played it on Christmas Eve, the thundering triplets shaking the very floorboards of the house I grew up in.
This post is part of a blog chain about holiday music. You can read more about the chain here, or just check out all of these links:
- Harriet at spynotes
- Hugh at Permanent qui vive
- Jeanne at Necromancy never pays
- Cranky at It’s My Blog!
- Dr. Geek at Dr. Geek’s Laboratory
- Lemming at Lemming’s Progress
- Readersguide at Reader’s Guide to…
- Freshhell at Life in Scribbletown
- edj3 at kitties kitties kitties
- My Kids’ Mom at Pook and Bug
- joyhowie at The Crooked Line
- Dave at The Ideal Dave
- Harriet at spynotes (redux)