Fighting bad music with good

Many people just love Christmas music.

I am not one of them.

This is not to say that I do not love certain particular pieces of Christmas music. Let's just say that I take extra care to always have a fully charged, fully loaded (with audiobooks and podcasts) mp3 player with me whenever I leave the house during November and December.

There are several reasons for this.
  • First, I have a violent antipathy to one particular song that turns up with some regularity in the shopping-mall Christmas mix, and so I prefer to take what steps I can to limit my exposure to that song. The line "from now on our troubles will be out of sight" from the song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" has struck me as a cruel lie ever since I was ten or eleven years old, and the mere mention of it tends to leave me cross and cranky.

    I now understand, I think, that the counterfactualness of that line is the very point of the song -- it appeals to a nostalgic wistfulness, a sense of "gee, wouldn't it be nice if hanging a shining star upon the highest bough really would drive all our troubles away? Like it did when we were eight or nine, before we grew weary with the weight of the world?"

    Whatever. By this point, my aversion to that song is deeply engrained in my personality.

  • Second, so much Christmas music is so AWFUL. And it pains me to hear a good rendition of a good song sandwiched amid the dreck, because it gets sullied by association.

  • Third, there's my anxiety about music (especially recorded music) in general.
I tackled this last reason last year for Lent -- a practice that did me good, as far as it went. But I wasn't especially disciplined with my chosen discipline, and so it did not transform me such that I kept it up into Easter and Ordinary Time. Now that we're back to what some observe as "little Lent," and at a particularly music-saturated time of the year, it seems suitable to revisit it. This season, then, rather than drive out the Christmas muzak with non-music, I will be driving it away with good music. Not necessarily only Christmas and Advent music, but as 'tis the season, I might as well tackle that particular aural anxiety while I'm at it.

I have no objection, in principle, to playing Christmas music during Advent. (Or rather, I do object in principle, but since it's a completely lost cause, and since taking a posture of perpetual protest and resentment against the culture in which I find myself does little to enhance my observance of the season, it seems wiser to accomodate my practice to reality.) But as my temperment is more tilted to Advent than Christmas, I prefer my Christmas music with an Advent tinge to it.

As I am not the sort of person who loves Christmas music, my personal assortment of such is in short supply. Basically, it's Michael Card's The Promise and a very excellent mixed CD given me by a friend (thanks, Kristy!) a few years ago. So I figured it's time to supplement. The other day I downloaded:
  • Both Over the Rhine Christmas Albums. (How can you NOT love this cover art?)

  • Tidings by Allison Crowe. (True story: I went looking for a single track, her cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," thinking it would be the one non-Christmas piece in the mess of music I was fixing to download. Turns out, it was on her Christmas album. So I downloaded the whole thing. Love It. You can listen on the webpage linked.)

  • The Dawn of Grace by Sixpence None the Richer (Jury's still out: Leigh's voice is just SO sweet, which works for somethings, but Christmas music doesn't really need any additional sugar. This may be one Christmas album too far for me, but I had a free album coming to me, so I thought I'd give it a spin.)
Also listening:
I'll probably also buy Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God based on numerous recommendations. It wasn't available on eMusic, where I got the previously mentioned assortment.

6 comments:

Bad Alice said...

I have a deep aversion to the Christmas Shoes song. Otherwise I enjoy the traditonal songs, like God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, O Holy Night and Come, Oh Come Emmanuel.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is from Meet Me in St. Louis and is sung during a scene in which Judy Garland is expecting to have anything but a Merry Little Christmas and is desperately trying to convince herself otherwise. Just shows the importance of context. They’ve managed to lift a song that is very sad in the movie and turn it into an anthem of Christmas cheer.

toweringajax said...

Anxiety about music in general? I don't think I've heard that one before.

Rachel said...

I mused on my generalized music anxiety last spring here and here.

Basically, I have developed a mild phobia of recorded music, similar to my mild phobia of telephones (which is the reason I almost never call my friends -- not because I don't want to talk to you, but because I would have to use a telephone to do so).

Amanda L. Caldwell said...

Thanks for the recommendations! I've been enjoying the Over the Rhine albums this year, one of which I downloaded when Amazon had a great post-Thanksgiving coupon.

Have you tried Pandora? I created my own Christmas station starting from typing in "Over the Rhine Holiday," and it's been a good mix so far, including Sixpence. I added in a few more artists to give some variety, but it's stayed a very mellow Christmas station for me. None of the overly chipper tunes. There are some of the tired standbys, but in the right voice, I can stand them.

I'm not sure how Pandora fits into your phobia, so assuming it's too scary, a few additional artists from the list are Mindy Smith, Loreena McKennitt, Sarah McLachlan, Zee Avi, Rosie Thomas, James Taylor. Not all for this year, of course, but to tuck away! I've just added in Allison Crowe & am streaming Sufjan Stevens — thanks. I can email the station to you if you ever want.

Amanda L. Caldwell said...

P.S. I hate telephones and avoid them whenever possible. I wish I were better about emailing or writing letters (remember those??) so I could keep in touch with people. Steve's the same way, so we will actually tussle over who has to call someone or other, angling to be the one doing the driving so that the other person has to call to tell the person we're meeting that we're going to be late. (This happens a lot.)

We accidentally dropped our phone in a puddle, and it was such a happy few weeks till we got a replacement. Steve's phone-happy family was frantic.

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