I’m trying to post my final Christmas carols before anyone gets here—I expect to be posting far less once the house gets full-up. I have the raw recordings from last night, but editing them will take some time. This always happens to me—I’m about to complete my big project of recording the entire Christmas songbook—and before I finish, I’m already feeling foolish for having bothered. After all, who wants to watch a long piano recital by a half-assed piano-player, no matter the theme of the concert?
But then I remember that family will watch. Poor piano-playing can actually add a homey touch to a video—and these videos are as much baby-albums of all little Seneca’s pictures and videos, as they are piano performances. I haven’t really created a Playlist—I’ve created a deluxe photo album of the first four months of my granddaughter’s existence (with holiday soundtrack included). And that is certainly worth a little effort on my part.
Just as few words about the completed playlist of: the Big Book of Christmas Music. There is one song missing from the book—“Joy To The World”, strangely enough—somehow the page came loose, and I couldn’t play just the first page, and stop in the middle. It’s not important—I’ll just include it in the next book’s recordings (“Joy To The World” is in every Xmas songbook).
Also, there are a few of these that I don’t play so well. Some pieces use figurations, especially in the left hand, that are difficult for me—I usually avoid them, but this was a clean sweep of the table of contents, from beginning to end, so I did the best I could with the ones I shouldn’t have been playing. The good news is that I won’t be posting these carols ever again, now that I’m sure I’ve done the whole book.
In doing this sight-reading every year, I’m always struck by the carols and songs that are of an earlier popularity—the ones that you can only barely remember hearing before—and then in childhood. There’s really an endless supply of Christmas and holiday music—I was just watching Bill Murray’s “A Very Murray Christmas” (2015) on Netflix yesterday—and that whole musical special was a list of songs I don’t have the music for—great stuff, too. I hadn’t realized there’s this very show-bizzy-type side to Christmas music as well—and Paul Shaffer is fantastic at that stuff. It was excellent fare—for a Christmas Special.
As for the words—this was a big project for me—and close-captioned lyrics would have made the whole thing take ten times the work. If you want to sing along, the lyrics to songs are easily searched online—so, I left it to you, if you want them, they’re out there. I did supply the title at the beginning of each song, so you’ll know what song to do a lyrics-search for.
Every year I post YouTube videos of myself playing Christmas Carols on the piano, occasionally singing along. I don’t do it because I play them so well—I just do it to celebrate the season. Also, singing Christmas Carols is one of my earliest childhood memories of a happy activity—sing-alongs, to me, are one of the greatest pleasures in life and, when it’s carols being sung, it just doesn’t get any better.
Caroling is one of the few times I can feel that great feeling from my youth—that God is in his heaven and all’s well with the world. The average carol only lasts a few minutes, but for that short span, I can almost believe—it’s very cozy. Usually, I don’t allow myself the indulgence—day-to-day life is only made more difficult by subscribing to wishful thinking—but Christmas only comes once a year, so what the hell. A little fantasy never hurt anyone.
This year I somehow decided to get very serious about the caroling videos—recording the songbooks from first song to last, so that I don’t have to wonder which ones I’ve done or which ones I’ve left out. I sometimes get serious about my YouTube videos—like with this one trio of Brahms Intermezzi I recorded last year, or the various Bach suites and partitas for keyboard. But my amateur-level piano technique doesn’t really stand up to serious scrutiny, so the projects usually fall apart before I’m finished recording the whole mess.
I’m getting more tenacious in my old age though, I guess—I’m closing in on the full Big Book of Christmas Songs—with today’s posting of twenty more carols, I’ve reached the ‘S’s—so, alphabetically, I’m almost to the finish line. And I am eager to finish this largest and most traditional of my Christmas Carol songbooks, because then I move on to the more popular-song Christmas music songbooks—and they’re a lot more fun/familiar and easier to play. Also, for all subsequent books, I plan to skip any carol already included from a previous book’s videos.
Time, as always, is chivvying me on—less than two weeks until Christmas, and these videos seem to take more time and effort with every post. I always over-do the Carol-playing—so, as the holidays go on, I get more troubled by back-strain, hand-tremors, and weakening eyesight (some music publishers are criminal in their demands on sight-readers—such tiny print). I reach a point where I’m actually conserving my strength for the live Christmas caroling—when a roomful of people are expecting me to accompany actual singing.
In the final result, by New Year’s Eve, I am more than happy to put the carol books away for another year—a full-month’s immersion in any genre is usually enough for me. But I wouldn’t give up my Christmas carols for all the tea in China.
I have to write something nice to post. I’ve started to get some conflict between my gruesome, acidic rants and the videos (of baby-granddaughter and the Xmas-carols) that go with them. I don’t want cute photos of our little Seneca to be stuck beside my venomous diatribes and gloomy Eeyore-isms. So, if I don’t write something pleasant, I have no post to put the new videos in.
Monday, December 05, 2016 8:46 PM
Christmas Music sweeps a broad path—it isn’t a genre—it’s more of a filter applied to every genre. It has the sanctity of church music and the jollity of Santa Claus, the grandeur of Hallelujah and the intimacy of a newborn’s cradle, it has angels in heaven and Elvis in a Blue Hawaii—there are very few things that can’t be squooshed into a Christmas Song, when you get right down to it—including silver bells, one’s two front teeth, and Grandma’s vehicular demise.
I like to be chronological about my annual return to the Christmas-music pile. (When we were younger, I made a point of putting them back in the library bookshelf every January, but lately, they just sit in a dusty pile by the piano until December comes round again—it’s like: why make your bed, if you’re just going to sing it again next December?)
So I start with the carol books—songbooks that focus on the ancient and traditional standards. By the time I work my way up to Irving Berlin and Jose Feliciano, that stuff sounds downright snappy, compared to stuff that was written contemporaneously with Gregorian Chants—or hymns written by Martin Luther himself (does that guy have to do everything for you Protestants? Write a hymn, dammit.)
This year, I’m recording Christmas Carols for YouTube videos like it was my job or something. I guess I hear a skull chuckling at my elbow—and this is my way of setting myself up for absent Xmases. But it’s a good thing I started early this year, in November—here it is December 5th and I’m only half-way through the first book of songs.
I have about five different caroling books—and if I get that far, I have some George Winston sheet music, too. I feel like Winston’s “December” Album is the last modern-day addition to the Xmas-music repertoire. That, and Lennon’s “War Is Over”, and Joni Mitchell’s “River”, represent the furthest reaches of Xmas-music evolution for my generation—younger people could probably cite more recent ‘classics’, but such would be dross to these fuddy-duddy ears.
The rare instrumental Xmas-tunes are my favorites—but they are unanimously difficult on the piano—Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker excerpts, Handel’s Messiah excerpts, Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Bells”, March of the Wooden Soldiers—you name it: if it has no lyrics, it’s a bitch to play. But I get a little better every year. Come to think of it, if my other musical efforts were seasonal, I’d probably be making better progress with them as well. I should have an era a month, from Elizabethan to Swing—that would probably be fun. Hmmm.
But December is taken—and I am on a mission. In future years my carol-playing may become worse, but it’s highly unlikely that it will ever get better than it is now—so the video archive of all of it will make a repeat of the same thing unnecessary next year and in years to come. Maybe next year I can try for the whole Nutcracker, or the entire Messiah (which would be tricky without a full chorus, but there are arrangements…)
Someday, I’d also like to do a good recording of Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons, all twelve months—it’s not official Christmas music, but there’s something about the winter months that’s very seasonal—and it does end with December, after a November ‘sleigh-ride’. Plus the fact that it ‘circumnavigates’ the year makes it kind of New-Years-ey, too. It’s Xmas-ey to me, anyhow.
I’m reminded of my good fortune in being an amateur musician—while doing these books from front to back, I find some of the fun is fading and it’s becoming a bit of a chore. Music is all fun and games until you’re committed to doing a pre-determined set-list, one after the other, easy or hard, like it or not. It’s a whole different animal—and I’m not even performing.
Friday, December 02, 2016 9:21 AM
Living Today (2016Dec02)
If my health were a small child, I would give it my sternest look and say, “I’m very disappointed in you.” Our bodies are a miracle of moving parts, of chemical balance, of evolutionary design—I should be grateful that mine works at all. Bodies are fancy British sports-cars—genius engineering, incredible performance—but get some moisture in the fuel line, a little air in the brake line, a slight under-pressure in the tires—and, suddenly, it’s all hobbled, wobbly and life-threatening.
I’m feeling tremendously empowered today—for a rarity, my body is mobile and my mind relatively clear. That is a glaring contrast to the last few days, when I had so-many-more-than-usual pings and ratchets, I felt ready for the junkyard. But this is something healthy people (and I remember, once, being one) do not have the capacity to appreciate—to wake up in the morning with a clear mind and a body that does what you tell it to—such incredible power—such potential for this day.
I love to write. I bitch about ‘who cares?’; ‘is anyone listening?’; ‘do I have anything to say?’; and so forth, but the truth is I do this because it feels good. Sometimes I go off the rails—but I don’t post everything I type—I give myself liberty to write whatever-the-hell, and then I decide whether it’s fit for public exposure. Like most people, my privacy is important to me—and I try to respect the privacy of others—but that means I’ll never be good writer. Actually, the desire to keep myself to myself is just half of it—I’m also a lousy liar—and a good story-teller has to be comfortable telling stories.
But I don’t need to be good at something to enjoy the hell out of it—take my piano-playing for example—horrible stuff—but you can see that I’m very into it. And I write the same way. I’ll just be sitting around or watching TV and I’ll be struck, out of nowhere, by a notion that propels me to the keyboard—it’s almost inconvenient, except that there’s a thrill that comes with the compulsion.
I suppose it’s an obvious adaptation to the lack of people to talk to—or maybe it simply reveals that I prefer to do all the talking. You have to admit, I do have plenty to say—whether or not it’s worth saying, aside—I really crank it out—I can’t shut up. But there are people wandering the street-corners of New York City that could make the same claim—and they’re actually collecting change—maybe they’ve got more on the ball than I do.
The trouble is that writing is an industry, music is an industry. It is virtually impossible for me to enjoy my hobbies without the thought sneaking in, unwelcome, that other people make money this way—it’s like trying not to think of a purple elephant. I fucking hate money. I’m lucky my wife handles all of it—it makes my skin crawl. But whose head would not be turned by the thought of all the glittering prizes, the fabulous wealth, of the successful—rarer than power-ball winners though they may be?
Shows like American Idol or America’s Got Talent whisper to us that the point of enjoying the arts is to win. Better that more people enjoyed the arts as I do, for their own sake. The talented would still shine out, would still be plucked into the heavens—but the rest of us could just be comfortable with the immense pleasure that amateur artistic pursuits offer us.
To be of less-than-professional training and ability is a very modern concept—a few generations ago, gathering around the piano and singing was as natural as sitting down to watch TV together. And writing correspondence was as much a part of an evening as saying one’s bedtime prayers—volumes of such source material inform our historians. Maybe that’s why we bloggers are so legion—letter-writing is gone out of style—and we’ve all taken to writing letters to Ulysses’ ‘Noman’.
It’s an ironic concept—I’ve learned to use all these social-media apps, WordPress, Facebook, YouTube—and all these graphics and audio editing software suites—just so I can approximate the 19th century habit of playing piano in the living room and writing letters to distant friends.
Pete has Left the Building. Ladies and gentlemen, the legendary, the incomparable—Pete Cianflone!! The Buds-Up Symphony Hall-Space welcomes you to return to us soon and—have a safe drive home now.
What a day—Pete came by (as you may have surmised) and brought with him an old drawing of mine—Joanna Binkley wanting to return it for safekeeping—for which I thank her. It’s great to see an artifact from the steady-hand-and-sharp-eye days of yore. I was pretty good, while it lasted.
And I had something to show Pete—Bea Kruchkow forwarded an archival copy of Newsweek—from 1989—a ‘look back’ at 1969 (then, a ‘whole’ twenty years ago). Time sure is funny. Funny—ha-ha, not funny like fire.
So anyway, after girding our hairy-purple loins, we set forth to do battle upon the field of sound. First we did a selection of Spirituals that are traditionally connected with Christmastime—and for good measure, threw in two popular songs of Xmas as well.
We did two rounds, or maybe three, of improvisation—I can’t remember. One of them is very loosely based on the Swanky Modes tune, “Any Ordinary Man” (from “Tapeheads” (1988)). Movie-credits soundtracks often have something catchy about them that makes me go straight from the end of the movie to the piano, to try and find the melody of what I just heard. That was the case, yesterday, with Tapeheads—but I soon realized, after finding the notes, that this was one of those energetic songs that I’d have a hard time keeping up with. But Pete had never heard the song—and I’m not exactly a natural-born blues-player—so it’s a toss-up whether you want to call it a bad cover, or just a different piece of music.
Pete and I were happy with all of it, so that’s all that matters. Poor Bear has had an uncomfortable head-cold for three days now—why is it impossible for the holidays to pass without colds? Spence has been renovating the attic room and the cellar, preparing for our royal visitation later this month—all must be just so, ya know. It’s quite something to have an infant come into a house that hasn’t seen one in years—I’ve started noticing dust where I was hitherto dust-blind.
It’s a sign of just how busy life can be—the Buds-Up ensemble has nothing to show for last November. We try to gather once a month, but even that tiny schedule can be impossible to keep to, in this hurrying, rattling time-stream. Still, I’m pleased enough that we had such a good time, today—I think it makes up for the gap—and I hope people enjoy these as much as we enjoyed playing them.
It’s been a busy day—rarely on any December 7th do I fail to stop and think about the ‘day of infamy’. A Japanese Prime Minister visited Pearl Harbor last week—the first-ever Japanese State Visit to the site—and this is the 75th anniversary of the start of the War. There are many Pearl-Harbor-themed movies on TV today—I guess I’ll go watch some of my favorites.
My Dad was a war-movie fan—we used to watch John Wayne movies on TV in the living room—my Dad was a Marine in Korea. Watching war movies is the closest I’ve ever been to actual murder among men—I don’t mind, I tell you. I respect the hell out of veterans like my Dad—but I don’t feel bad about living an un-blooded life. I suspect I would have made a lousy soldier anyway.
December 7th is special though—there’s something awesome about an entire globe in conflict—it may have been evil and stupid and lots of other things—but it was ‘awesome’, in the literal sense of the word, without the implication of admiration young people give the word today. It fills one with awe.
I’d recommend Haydn—particularly the piano works. Tell your digital concierge, “Play Haydn keyboard sonatas.”—and you’re good for several hours of peaceful working- or reading- music.
If the raw sunlight gets in your eye-line, tape a piece of colored construction paper on your window—the room stays lit, but you don’t get that one headache-inducing reflection in your field of vision. And it looks cheery—like a child’s art project—but you have to replace it once a year because construction paper fades and becomes very dreary-looking, in the end.
As a smoker, I’ve taken to confining myself to two rooms of the house—here in the front room, where I work, and my bedroom, where I watch TV and read. If the doors are kept faithfully closed, the rest of the house doesn’t reek of smoking—but it must be noted that I often open the front door for front-room ventilation, and I have a window-fan on exhaust in the bedroom, year-round (yes, it does get a little chilly in winter).
I’ve also surrendered to the smokeless ashtray—it’s stupid and noisy and uses too many batteries and is a pain to empty every time it’s full—but if you use one, it will demonstrate that most of the smoke in a smoke-filled room comes from the cigarette smoldering in the ashtray, not from the smoker’s exhalations. And studies have shown that smoldering butts give off the dirtiest second-hand smoke—much more unhealthy than ‘smoked’ smoke, and more of it.
Grapes, celery sticks, and baby carrots make the best working snacks—you can eat all you want and it won’t do the kind of damage that chips, crackers, or candy can do. Also, for smokers, hot tea provides a bit of steam-cleaning for the lungs—and drinking tea all day won’t fry your nervous system like coffee. There is something about tannic acid that makes tea bother my digestion more than coffee—but only if I’m really chugging it down, cup after cup. Moderation in all things, as they say.
Don’t multitask. Do what you’re doing and leave the rest for later—it may seem slower, but in truth, when each task is focused on, it gets done better and quicker—and if you go from one to the next without pause, the overall time-use is less than if you hop from one thing to another all day long—the hopping around makes you feel busy, but you’re actually wasting time interrupting yourself. And focusing on a task reduces the number of errors.
Enjoy your work—it is a choice. Even the most menial tasks can become a game in your mind. Indeed, the more menial jobs lend themselves to mind-games better than complicated ones. Insisting to yourself that you hate what you’re doing is counterproductive—and a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Stop when you’re tired. This is certainly something you don’t always have a choice about, but when the choice is available, take it. Nobody ever did great work while running on fumes. I often found that tasks that take an hour in overtime can be done in five minutes when approached fresh the next morning. Answers that play hide-and-seek in the darkness of fatigue will stand out clear as day in the clarity of morning.
Even in the middle of the day, pausing to refresh can do wonders for your productivity—much more so than dutifully slogging on. Short breaks are like remembering to breathe—something else you should try to do. But here is where ‘multitasking’ can actually be useful—if you get stuck on one project, and you have something else to work on that will take your mind off it, that can be as good as a break.
Get a comfortable chair—if your workplace won’t give you one, steal one. I remember one workplace where the office manager was a real stickler about furniture—I would steal a good chair from another room. Every night she had the janitor put the chair back where it came from—and every morning I stole it again. Improvise, adapt, and overcome, as the Corps likes to say.
Don’t get ahead of yourself—whenever I do that, I always skip a step. People used to ask me why I always walked with my eyes on the ground—and I would answer that I didn’t like to step in dog-poo. Ah the good old days, when picking up after our pets was considered beneath us. Still, there are things to trip on, slide on, and stumble over—watch where you’re going.
Well—who knew I had so much free advice to give. And you know what they say—free advice is worth every penny you paid for it.
Spencer has made bread. Claire has come home from the gym. I’ve had a full day, for me, but I’m not going to embarrass myself by telling you what I did—little victories are my stock in trade these days. Real little. Okay—I moved two very-light pieces of furniture. That’s a full day for me—okay? You happy now?
It’s getting dark way earlier all of a sudden. Winter is here. I’m still working on video-ing the Big Book of Christmas Carols, front to back. It’s slow going—most of them are very familiar, but some of them need many ‘takes’ before I play it through with some semblance of accuracy. Sometimes, like just now, a few minutes ago, I’m too tired to get a good take. I have to wait for tomorrow’s supply of energy and alertness.
I have my mind set on it. Indeed, I’ve considered keeping the idea, and only posting videos of entire books from now on. I have a large manuscript library, but only a few of them are easy-to-play enough for me to play the whole book. So, I guess I’ll try it with a few books, after the carols are all recorded, and then forget about it and go back to my random recordings.
That’s the thing—I start every new day with a fresh head—any long-term plans I might have do not survive the pleasant distractions of waking up each morning. There’s usually a thread or a hint lying around somewhere, but if I don’t look for it, I miss it. Fresh head—every damn morning. I’m considering tattoos….
Monday, November 28, 2016 5:45 PM
I freely admit that I binged the new Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life, on Netflix—which is as good as admitting I watched the whole series, back when (which I did, of course). But it’s not just because I like that kind of show—you go ahead and check—Kelly Bishop, Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel—they’re all great actors who have done lots of great stuff, outside of fictional Connecticut.
That’s the trouble with bingeing TV, isn’t it? It’s over now—nothing to wait ‘til next week for. That’s why I like to stay busy—as I get older, I’m becoming really picky about my viewing. At this point, if it isn’t as pleasant as listening to myself play the piano, while I look at pictures of my granddaughter, then I don’t need to watch it. I’m building a library of granddaughter/piano YouTube videos—I’m stockpiling this stuff. If the TV won’t give me what I want, I can make it myself. And, with my new Wi-Fi-enabled TV—I’m just another channel.
I’m working on two projects at once. Longer-term, I’m working on the next installment of Xmas Carols—the Series. And today I’m also processing a treasure trove of pictures and videos from my favorite movie stars—Jessy and Sen. The two will go together nicely—but eleven-Xmas-carols is always a lengthy video—so I’m here waiting for the music-video pre-edit to finish saving-to-disk. I’ve prepped the pictures into video, and the raw videos from Jessy—so now I just have to put all of that into one video….
I played a Chopin Mazurka on the e-piano, with the Harpsichord setting—nice result. I don’t mean I played all-that-well—but Chopin sounds just swell on a harpsichord. That’s a trick I noticed about good music—you can play that stuff on anything. There’s a guy who’s famous for playing Bach on Harmonica—I used to own the LP, hand to God—and it wasn’t half bad.
I can only use the first half of all my Carols recordings—I stay pretty cheery and spritely for a few songs—but then it becomes a Bataan Death March of sight-reading, turning every song into a dirge. You’d think I’d know all this stuff by now—I can feel my fingers remembering as I play them—why can’t my head do that?
Tuesday, November 29, 2016 3:28 PM
Okay, I must be in a post-Thanksgiving metabolic ‘trough’ these last few days—my energy levels are nil. My aches and spasms are small but many. My mental focus is a joke—I’m not even sure if I’m entirely awake. Partly, I stressed myself out—I finally finished the five videos and doing five videos at once makes my head swim—it’s hard to keep everything straight.
But I’ve got them all done now, just waiting for the last two to finish uploading to YouTube. I’m going to try to process my videos one-at-a-time from here on, if I can—it’s a tricky little maneuver that I’ve gotten very comfortable with—but doing more than one at a time makes it ridiculously complex.
I watch TCM today—they showed “Act One” (1963) based on Moss Hart’s autobiography, specifically the part when Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman first meet and collaborate on a play called “Once In A Lifetime”. “Once In A Lifetime” was Hart’s actual first play (well, second, technically—he flopped in Chicago with “The Hold-Up Man”, but the movie leaves that out)—and was made into its own eponymous movie in 1932. I found that out from IMDb, which also cleared up a great mystery: Even as a little kid watching TV game-shows, I was always at a loss as to why Kitty Carlyle was considered a great celebrity. Well now I know—she was Moss Hart’s wife—celebrity.
Then I went with KT to grab some Chinese at Imperial Wok—he had the chicken and broccoli—I had the Taiwanese rice noodles—you can always count on Imperial Wok. It was great to see KT—it’s been nigh on twenty years since last we met. He takes guff from the locals for being a rich guy, so I guess he’s doing pretty well—I certainly don’t get hassled that way, but I doubt I would mind. His daughter graduates in a week or so and already has a job lined up—things are going great.
Then Dee called. I’d seen on Facebook earlier that Malcolm’s multiple surgeries had been successful—only to find, yesterday, that all three of them got sick—Dee a sinus infection, Bossy bronchitis, and Malcolm developed a post-op infection. But they are all feeling a little better—it sounded like Dee had to get off the phone because she had children crawling all over her—I don’t know—it was weird.
So now I’m looking at Sen videos, emailed from Jessy. I’m almost too tired—it’s been a long day. I have a new shirt—very fancy and comfortable—it has green stripes and I think it’s made of a silk blend—it’s shiny. More later.
[10 minutes later:] Oh, those are sweet videos!
Tuesday, November 22, 2016 8:16 PM
Very tired now—I played some more piano, and now I’m back at the videos. I had something—but it’s gone now.
Tuesday, November 22, 2016 9:31 PM
Wednesday, November 23, 2016 12:03 PM
That’s better—it’s funny how people (or at least I) get run down at the end of a day, like drained batteries, and then wake up feeling fresh the next morning. I didn’t notice as much—when I was younger. Sleep then was more like a switch turned on and off. But now I notice the steady decline in energy and focus as the day wears on—and the fatigue at the end of the day is so much greater now. But, as balance, I’m very appreciative of the freshness and acuity of the morning hours.
I’ve created two new videos using Jessy’s new videos of Seneca—for the first one, “Water Babies”, I lowered the volume of the piano-playing, so you can hear the baby. For the second video, “On ‘Xmas Comes Anew’”, I muted the volume of the baby-video, so you can hear the piano. “Water Babies” is older—I recorded it a few days ago and waited for baby pix—that’s why the dates are different.
Claire signed us up for Spotify—it’s nice to have every classical music recording I can think of, available for my listening pleasure, while I work away here. It has popular music, too—I just don’t listen to that stuff while I’m working. A lot of my work is my own music videos, though. It’s always been difficult for me to go from my own paltry music to the professionals and back again—I suffer from the comparison—but less now than I used to, so that’s something.
It’s tomorrow now, but back when it was still today, Jessy sent me new photos of the Princess enjoying her first meal of ‘solid food’ (baby food, really—she’ll need to wait for teeth for anything solider). But she appears entranced by the process—and I’ve always suspected that babies look upon their high-chairs as thrones—so all is as it should be. I never get tired of that adorable mug.
But those new pictures only cover the first four minutes of today’s very long video—18 minutes of Christmas carols—thirteen of them in all. I have it in my mind, in these days before Christmas, to simply record the entire book of carols, first song to last song—and then move on to the next carol book—just to see if I can record the entirety of the Christmas piano experience, here in our living room, this year.
Because of that, you will notice that all these songs start with ‘A’, except the Bell Carol (one of my favorites). The next videos will move further along the alphabet, as you might expect.
I would have liked to sing as I played, especially with carols—I’ve known the words to most of them since early childhood. But, it’s harder for me to get a clean recording if I’m trying to play the notes and sing—so, maybe next year I’ll go for the vocals on all of them, too. I’d like to get a microphone set up before doing that—the other reason for not singing is that my voice doesn’t carry, over the piano, without some help. So much to do, so little time.
Anyhow, all these carols have certainly got me leaning towards the holiday spirit—and just in time to go over the river and through the woods to Nana’s house on Thursday (supposed to be quite a crowd this year—16 people or so). I love the season—until the pressure starts to build. If I could spend the whole time playing piano carols and making cookies, I’d be okay—but it’s never quite that simple, is it? Still, fun will be had—or my name isn’t Bozo de Clowne.
It’s a long way from sheet music to video—I started this holiday season with the idea that I could video myself performing an entire book of Christmas songs and carols. I play them cover-to-cover every December, and most of the songs in the different songbooks are the same—there’s only so many traditional holiday songs that remain popular over the years. Carols and such have to be good songs, but they also have to be accessible to the untrained voice, and catchy, without being too challenging for the average kid to sing.
It’s its own genre of music—but don’t be fooled—some of these babies are just as demanding to play on the piano as your average piece of classical music—it may be for the kids, but it’s not kid-stuff to play. There are pared-down versions, of course—but it took me some years to be able to play the intermediate versions—and I don’t like to backslide.
Also, I pretty much have to sing along. It’s more difficult to sing while I play, but I know most of the words—and what’s a Christmas song without the words, after all? Anyway, the thing is—I start to record the songs—and I find that the recordings are not as good as they felt like, while I played them. So then I try again—and by playing the songs more than once, I hope to get a useable recording of each—but then the camera’s battery died just as I was getting warmed up—and an hour of playing goes unrecorded. The next day, I try again, but now my back hurts and my fingers are stumble-y.
I consider backing off, taking a day or two off from playing piano—but then I realize that if I don’t keep going, I’ll forget what I was doing (this is a common problem for me). So I keep pushing when I should be resting—suffice to say I won’t be publishing ‘recordings of entire songbooks’ on YouTube anytime soon. But I got a few done.
Sunday, November 29, 2015 9:55 AM
Okay, Christmas carols—Now, I’ve made no secret of my atheism so someone might reasonably ask why I’m so crazy about the holiday music. Well, firstly, I love music—and the holidays provide the only real opportunity to suggest a sing-along, outside of a boy-scout campfire, without hearing a chorus of moans in reply. Besides that, there’s also the matter of childhood memories—when I was a kid, we not only sang Christmas carols around the piano, we still went to midnight mass.
The carols are fun to sing and play, but they lose a bit of luster when you no longer ‘feel’ the lyrics the way a young, Catholic-indoctrinated boy does. Nowadays, I am comfortable enough in my atheism to allow some nostalgia for faith—to allow myself to pretend to still believe while I’m singing—and the thrill is back, to a certain small degree. For me, there’s no smidgen of cognitive dislocation involved at Christmastime—what with the irony of Santa Claus being a belief we grow out of, and Christ being a belief we’re supposed to maintain. But it is just that irony that now allows me to pretend that Christmas is what it once was—at least while I’m singing.
I would, if I could figure out how, prefer to make videos of a crowd of carolers—a video of just me, singing and playing carols, lacks something in the holiday-cheer department—but I have to work with what I have available.
Saturday, November 28, 2015 11:25 AM
Treacly Ever After (2015Nov28)
Have a holly-jolly…. Oh, hello there! And welcome to the dreamy snowflake happy kids express—yes, it’s that time of year again—and if you share my sickness, you’re once again binge-watching the Hallmark Channel’s offerings of Christmas-themed TV movies—partly because it’s crack for the romantics and partly because it’s a fascinating infinite loop of wishes coming true and impossible dreams coming true and fantasy—and while that may not be, as Hallmark claims, ‘the heart of Christmas’, it is certainly the heart of good TV.
Last night was an especially rich vein of fantasy—two movies which both combined Christmas miracles with becoming a princess: “A Crown For Christmas” and “A Princess For Christmas”. It got me thinking about how royalty is an old-fashioned type of myth that no one believes in anymore—and how Santa Claus is an old-fashioned type of myth that no one believes in after grade school—and how Christianity is an old-fashioned type of myth that many people still believe in. I think it’s odd how these Hallmark Channel movies focus so much on fantasies and miracles and dreams coming true—it’s as if theism has a market value, and this holiday-centric company is willing to intermingle Christianity with other, admittedly-pretend ideas—just for the entertainment value—in spite of how it lumps Faith in with childhood imagination and wishful thinking.
It’s like they’re admitting that Christianity is more of a ‘feel-good’ idea than a fact—something we keep as a tradition more for the sake of innocents and children rather than as a core belief—it’s quite undermining, if you think about it. There are so many of their Santa-based plot-lines that end with the kids being right all along—there is a Santa Claus—and that seems a dangerous concept to mix in with Christianity, which expects followers to keep believing into adulthood. Are they trying to say that real Christians believe in Santa Claus, too—even though the grown-ups are buying their kids the presents, and know full well that if they don’t, there’ll be nothing under the tree?
Or are they saying that Christianity is just an idea—and you have to do all the work yourself? Because, I’m sorry, but that’s Humanism—atheism with a smiley face. Now, if Christianity is just a thing for the kids, like Santa Claus, and all us grown-ups are supposed to play along, both for the kids’ sake and because it’s just a nice thing—that’s cool—I can get on board with that. It’s just when some very serious grown-up, like a politician, starts talking about how we should sprinkle magic-dust on public policy—that’s what I can’t deal with. If we could keep religion at the Santa Claus level, where we only talk seriously about it when we talk to kids, but laugh about it amongst ourselves, that would be fine with me. Maybe that’s why I like the Hallmark Channel.