time to change the way we view music and the arts

The convenience shared by classical and Christmas

Instrumental carols: Gateway for full time classical listeners?
“Christmas-music picture”,
Online Image, A Jazz Time Christmas, PRX.org,
30 December 2014,
< http://believeinplace.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Christmas-music-Picture.jpg >

Sometimes, the way the general public, at least the majority of that within the bounds of U.S. borders, positions itself in relation to both classical repertoire and traditional Christmas repertoire, comes across almost uncomfortably similar. Yet how the two are viewed the rest of the year round creates a starkly different picture. Maybe it’s time we reevaluate now the majority of the holiday induced stress is behind us.

What similarities are at play here?

It would be fair to say that there are a sizable number of people out there who become quite tired of hearing the same Christmas and winter themed pop songs, traditional carols and traditional carols covered in various genre-specific fashions. When it comes to where these yearly soundscapes get placed among the other elements of one’s festive goings on, the answer could be anywhere from subtle background noise to temporary focal point (e.g. immediately following giving it to someone as a gift,) or downright prolonged center of attention. While there’s no telling any one person how and when to enjoy (or ignore as it were) their month long intake of carols, maybe there’s a beautifully convenient compromise here that would benefit not only the Christmas carol weary but be of use to another staple of music for the rest of the year altogether.


Instrumental carols.


Yes, yes, that very intense rendition of “Carol of the Bells” performed by the Trans-Siberian-Orchestra is practically the annual signature for modernized but traditional, instrumental Christmas music –and that’s a lot of qualifying adjectives to fill! Here’s the thing: Though determined through no data mining extravaganza, the emergence of albums devoted to a body of Christmas music as performed by groups or individuals who could very well be inserted into a nearby quartet, quintet or full symphony, appears to be on the rise. (YouTube sensations, “The Piano Guys” are a prime example of more recent years and even performance violinist Lindsey Stirling toned down the dubstep beats for her rendition of “What Child is This?” a couple years back in 2012.)

It could be said that interpretations such as these provide a pleasant balance between non-invasive and refreshingly unpredictable; enough so as to keep people’s ears engaged –whether those people be shoppers in a store or your relatives and friends mingling at the obligatory party. Still, even sans the mainstream or modernizing boost, there is clearly a stretching of the public’s reception happening here, with the more gracious opening of what can feel like a very impenetrable gate of preferred tastes, artist statuses or otherwise strict factors typically affecting determination of preference. While not referring to instrumental carols specifically, this loosening of regimental listener expectations shines through for sung Christmas repertoire as well, as is said by writer Corinne Ramey in a recent article by the Wall Street Journal,


Vocal music does well around the holidays, even without a known name. A Boston-based boy choir’s debut album, “Christmas in Harvard Square,” has sold about 10,000 copies this season.”


This exact sentiment and the fact that more instruments of the orchestral nature can make less scoffed appearances are precisely the perfect storm that should be taken advantage of more going forward. If people are looking for Christmas music that is:


Simultaneously familiar but renewed

Interesting but can be reserved and

Suddenly the usually less approachable becomes fair game


What or who is to say that this expansion of our collective aural palate needs to retreat back to its more constrained self once the carols die down for the year? The aspect of this observation that is probably the most amusing is the fact that looking at the three bullets above, in some regard, really encompasses how one could view classical repertoire on the whole, outside of taking a page from the Christmas playbook. Classical, instrumental repertoire would actually fit quite well into the set of qualifiers often sought during the Christmas music season and of all things to occur, it would be quite the feat if die heard symphony fans and the typically classical avert, found common ground in trying to ease their way toward 21st century, contemporary classical compositions. (because even those who have long enjoyed listening to classical standards have struggled to equally embrace the works of more modern composers.)


…There is clearly a stretching of the public’s reception happening here, with the more gracious opening of what can feel like a very impenetrable gate of preferred tastes…

Given all the genres, collaborations, mashups and permutations of combinations imaginable in the abyss of music stylization, orchestral/classical works are the perfect bridge to take after hearing the tenth version of “The First Noël” simply because of classical’s fundamentally preservative nature. When brick and mortar stores were still at their healthier stage, entire rooms could be devoted to classical albums and in one room it would not be unheard of to find a shop’s stock of Chopin’s “Heroic” Polonaise, Opus 53 in A-flat Major, for example, containing 15 different albums with that piece available for purchase, each performed by a different pianist. Nowadays, as was just mildly alluded to, classical composers are having to turn out more truly newer works, not solely performances of works long fallen into the public domain.


This venture has left some discomfort among classical purists but for someone who might be venturing into the classical catalogs unaffected by long time rote nostalgia for the genre, instead aligning with the similarities brought on via the functions of instrumental Christmas music, there might just be potential for a three way win here.


Newer listeners help break down the regiment of traditional purists

A struggling genre gets invigorated with new life via fresh ears

Classical composers of today start to get better and more audible interest in contemporary composition, thus propelling the genre forward with everyone, new and old fans alike, in tow.


The idea that one could put on a brass quartet cover of “O Tannenbaum” at Christmas Eve and end up exploring the streaming catalogs, their local library or maybe even the local brick and mortar for a similar sound might seem farfetched and a somewhat long shot but if there was ever a time to think the less (but yes still) plausible could happen, why not during Christmas? The bottom line to all of this seems to indicate that when it comes to carols, we take on the very direct (and helpfully very broad) listening philosophy of “If it sounds good/interesting, I’ll listen;” kicking many a self-imposed restriction with regard to artist fame, brand or music method out the door. Therefore, it might not actually be so unimaginable to think we could stand to jump from Christmas trees to Romantic polyphony…

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