Started in our department by a bibliophilic music fan with excellent taste, each year around this time a holiday exchange of musical culture takes place among about half our staff. Last year, we made the jump to the cloud, where still reside, I suppose, our collective Dropbox of songs. But I did not return to Dropbox on a summer’s day, as I have in years past to a tangible holiday CD, when I sought new tunes for the iTunes. So this year I was glad when folks put out physical media for the exchange.
In this annual co-curation exercise, I love learning of new tunes and artists, and a bit more about my co-workers. I love getting this entire set of quality tunes, but it’s sort of like getting a container of unmarked gifts–it says, “Here, enjoy,” but doesn’t offer directions.
Because I value an annotated bibliography, I have always annotated my holiday musical offerings as an assist to recipients. In fact, I think making playlists corresponding to text is an excellent English class composition activity, although hardly a traditional one. It’s increasingly doable in this great digital future, too, and will be something I propose for the digital composition class I am conceiving for 2012.
If my songlist this year had a theme, it might be something related to women, since there is a preponderance of female vocalists, and an emphasis on symmetrical arrangements. Most of the songs are upbeat, if only in a blue sort of way. Perhaps it’s excess estrogen afloat in our society, or my life-long appreciation of the ladies, but are the songs that rose to the top of my list for winter solstice 2011 are gyno-centric tunes to grade papers by and to enjoy the long darknesses with. And yet like John Gorka’s song below, there’s a yang to all the yin, so find your own implicit theme.
Enjoy, and peace and good will to all!
- Veni Emmauel, by Turtle Island String Quartet. No video available. This tune establishes an appropriately reverential mood and quiet tone for this spiritual time of year, when darkness is illuminated, and despair quelled, if only temporarily.
- “Christmas Bells” by John Gorka. There is jubilation in later songs; this “counter-carol” reminds the listener of our serious world, very much in need of “peace” and “good will to men.”
- “Save the Country” by Laura Nyro. All Laura Nyro’s important recordings were done by age 24. Her passionate, very female, and somewhat crazy style is something that still charms. Her idealism is a bit raw for some, but I love her honest, spontaneous energy, and am not bothered by her repetitious, incantatory lines. The message is certainly something English teachers can get behind, right? — “Save the children. Save the country.”
- “Sitting Still” by REM. It only sounds like there are chiming bells on this happy song–that’s all jangly electric guitar arpeggio and snare drums. The propulsive tempo carries nonsensical words mostly, but the refrain, for folks in the communication business, is something we relate to: “I can hear you. Can you hear me ?”
- “Winter Winds” by Mumford & Sons. Triumphal, acoustic, and rousing. Tis the season to be ‘roused acoustically and triumphantly. Let your heart tell your head, “this time, no.”
- “50 Words for Snow” by Kate Bush. Another wonderful iconoclast, Kate Bush has fun exploring the sound of winter and snow. Her music evokes all manner of (or perhaps 50 different) snowy landscapes in the mind.
- “Blue Christmas” by She & Him. I like the sadness in She’s (her) voice, since it allows one to infer prior experience on She’s (her) part. Thus She highly engages this listener in what is otherwise an old Elvis song.
- “I’ve got my love to keep me warm,” by Billie Holiday. Talk about an engaging voice! Billie’s speaks of all kinds of joyful and blue experience and that’s why this song swings for me.
- “Winter Wonderland” by Nat King Cole & Dean Martin. An oldie and a goodie, evoking brisk winter walks in the snow and warm, inebriating beverages by the fire.
- “Last Christmas” by Florence and the Machine. Yet another intriguing female–I apologize for the poor audio, but despite it, Florence Welsh’s voice makes this song sadder and more beautiful than I’ve ever heard it sung before.
- “The Minstrel’s Adieu,” by Paul Winter. Post-festivity listening for those quiet nights, part 1.
- “Earth Abides,” by Phillip Aaberg. Post-festivity listening for those quiet nights, part 2.
- “It may be winter outside (but inside, it’s spring),” by Love Unlimited Orchestra. Groovy Christmas , 1974. Girl groups. How much pleasure can one song bring? About 4:08’s worth. And that’s about two minutes too long.
- “Do you hear what I hear,” by Bob Dylan. Do you hear what I hear in this recording? An ancient voice, old as the glaciers and craggy like the winter tundra, a rasp as big as the sea. And also mercifully short.