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The old chestnuts

This is a post from the weareoca.com archive. Information contained within it may now be out of date.
Music is a very significant part of the Christmas season, even for those who do not categorize themselves as major musical enthusiasts, and there is always a considerable number of people filing into churches, chapels and village halls all over the country to join in the singing than are ever to be seen in those buildings throughout the year.

Photograph by Phil Champion, of the York Railway Institute Golden Rail Band playing Christmas carols

I have already been warned that, despite a regular congregation of about a dozen in the small church in our village, the carol service on Christmas Eve will be ‘standing room only’ – and only that if we all arrive at least half an hour early.
Radio stations are blazing with Christmas music of all kinds throughout December, and concert halls attract their largest audiences for orchestral interpretations of everything from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (two of the three London performances happen simultaneously this year!) to ‘White Christmas’ (still going strong since it arrived in a 1942 film), Leroy Anderson’s ever popular ‘Sleigh Ride’, the Skaters’ Waltz, ‘Winter Wonderland’ and the ubiquitous Halleluiah Chorus – a seasonal musical autograph even if not directly about Christmas!   Carols are sung during the festive days by an extraordinary array of people who rarely sing anything else at any other time, and the jingling of bells seems to be added to almost every musical noise broadcast in shopping centres and market halls.
It’s all even more evident when darkness falls and the sounds mingle in an almost hysterical competition with their visual equivalent, electrical colours flying in all directions above, around and behind everyone trying desperately to concentrate on something different like shopping or meeting an appointment.  These are scenes that may have delighted Dickens, if only to allow him the opportunity of describing its unique aural and optical chaos.
Adding to the wealth of Christmas music is usually something to which most of us musicians must admit, whether playing, composing or organizing the events.  The challenge for us all – if we wish to be involved in any challenge – is to think of something fresh for this time of year, and composing new carols or devising original arrangements of old ones, inventing innovative seasonal events or differently star-studded programmes is part of the process for the sort of creative people that become students of the OCA!   We must not simply go on repeating performances, however much we recognize the greatness of Bach or the persistent pleasures of Winter Wonderlands.  ‘Tradition’ is a rather stealthy, imperceptible form of slovenliness.
Believe in it or not, Christmas words and music, visual images, toys, cards and decorations, are all challenges to giving the party a thorough overhaul for next time.  It matters very little whether old favourites persist (and I have good reason to be pleased that my small musical contributions reappear on radio programmes each December!) but all these will become jaded in time, and all our emerging artists must think creatively ahead, like good foresters who can only plant for the distant future.
One day, dare I suggest it, John Rutter’s name will have retreated into that inexplicably dark past that is the destiny of most of us (unless called Bach!) and his place taken by one who is at this moment bound in nappies and sleeping, completely unaware that we are celebrating anything at all!

Posted by author: Patric
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2 thoughts on “The old chestnuts

  • I think that’s part of the fun of it for me, coming up with something new for each season yet managing to not completely destroy something existing if I play or arrange it.
    In other words, I like a healthy mix of new and old, tradition is merely fleeting and difficult to pin down. It’s also a reason I dislike New Year’s Eve as, wherever I go, it always appears to be the same old routine, and for no good reason either. A shake up is good for the soul.
    I have no particular axe to grind with Rutter, but then I like sentimentality immensely as I suspect do you at heart! I only know that if I can be afforded only the smallest portion of his ability to connect with people, I’ll be a happy happy man.
    Again though, a simple sentimentalist me! 😉

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