Monday, December 17, 2018

4.23- Tuning Slide: Why We Love and Hate Christmas Music

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Let us have music for Christmas… Sound the trumpet of joy and rebirth; Let each of us try, with a song in our hearts, To bring peace to men on earth.
~ Mildred L. Jarrell

It’s always fun to go digging and surfing on the Internet about music and musical subjects. For these few weeks I am moving away from the specifics of trumpet playing and going into the broader picture of music and life. Last week I started thinking about holiday music and focused on an old Hanukkah song by Peter, Paul, and Mary as well as a flash mob example for World Choral Music Day.

But it is Christmas that dominates the airways this time of year. Any attempt at deviation from the basics of Christmas music can bring the wrath of many. Who would have ever thought, before the Me Too Movement that a seemingly innocuous parlor song of a husband and wife over 74 years ago would be at the center of a controversy. A song that happens to also be an Academy Award-winning Best Song! Not to enter the controversy, but it does point out how music- and Christmas-related music- can be a hot button issue. Ignore the fact that the song, like a number of others that pass for popular this time of year have absolutely nothing to do with Christmas!

Anyway, music of the season is also a great tool to get you to buy, and then buy some more. Here is an article I found from a few years ago:
Scientists Prove Why Christmas Music Literally Drives You Crazy
That might be pleasant for a while, but soon you won't be able to escape it. Scientists have actually found out why it is that we love Christmas music in the beginning of season and despise it towards the end. It's called the "mere exposure effect," and it's coming for you this month. Because while it may be fun to hear once or twice, by the time you've heard "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" for the 13th time, you're liable to run someone over yourself.

According to NBC News, there's a statistically proven progression from love to hate during Christmas season. The chart looks like an upside-down U: Our familiarity with something across a couple of listens makes us think we love it, then it becomes oversaturated and we begin to hate it. It's like being tortured. The frustration and the boredom from hearing the same damn songs starts to become unbearable. Then the rage begins to boil, and all that cheery Christmas music playing endlessly on the radio starts to sound a lot more like the demonic carolers from the first Gremlins film.

It will play ceaselessly in stores and malls in attempts to encourage consumers to be more liberal in their spending. There's science to back that up, too. Shoppers spend significantly more time and money in stores playing slow-paced Christmas music.
Yes, but… why does this happen and why do we respond? From U S News and World Report in 2013:
Here's a riddle for you: When is a song not exactly a song? When it's a Christmas song.

Sure, holiday hits will take cues from tried-and-true music moves – feel-good chord progressions or dramatic blasts of choral crescendo. But just try to exercise your inner music critic next time you hear that Christmas tune you love to hate or hate to love or just love (chances are, you are not neutral on this subject).

Because there's nothing like the power of music to plumb – and elicit – the depths of human emotion. And there's nothing quite like the holidays to do the same thing, especially since the season comes with a playlist.

Indeed, the classics are classics for a reason, explains David Ludwig, dean of artistic programs at the Philadelphia-based Curtis Institute of Music.

"A lot of these songs have existed for hundreds and hundreds of years and have survived the test of time precisely because they're so singable, they're so accessible, they're so flexible," that they can work for a jazz ensemble or group of carolers, he says….

And music, he explains, is fundamental to celebration, be it Christmas or any happy occasion in any culture around the world. "Every celebration we have, I think people feel like it's not quite complete without music," Ludwig says. With Christmas in particular, "music has been really inextricably linked, hand in hand, with the holiday." …

Ludwig adds that the winter holidays are a particularly poignant time for music. "When it's most cold out and the bleakest, is sometimes the time when people want to celebrate the most," he says. "[That's when they] want the most warmth and sense of community with each other."
I agree. With both these articles. I love Christmas music for many of the reasons I like music in general. It can do so many things and express so many emotions. Kind of like Christmas itself. I started the season (in mid-November) listening to the “Holly” channel on Sirius XM satellite radio, but got very tired of it after about 10 days. Too many versions of Santa Claus is Coming to Town or My Favorite Things (incidentally, another of those this is not a Christmas song songs.) No, I don’t get homicidal with too many of those, I just go back to the Real Jazz channel!

On the other hand I don’t tend to get tired of the nearly 1,400 Christmas songs on my iTunes playlist. For one it is extremely diverse in almost every genre of music. Plus I can shuffle to the next one or pick an album that sets a mood that I am looking for. Beginning in 2011 I have produced my own Christmas video each year, missing only last year. I put them together as a way of expressing the many sides of Christmas as I am feeling it in any given year. (Here’s the playlist of my Christmas videos (LINK))

have done music slideshows and videos for over 45 years now. Music moves me to also put pictures to the songs. It is how I think and act. I never know what is going to move me in any given year for videos and for the Christmas video. This year as our quintet walked into the local Festival of Trees I was met with dozens of “Moravian Stars” and a big sign that said “Be the Light”. I knew where it was going.

So, to finish this week’s post, here is the 2018 video. I share it with the hope that something in the music and the words will move you. That is the power of all music. To move people, us, to be more than we have been and to move forward into whatever is coming next.

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