We Need A Little Christmas
I sometimes struggle to determine what we should open our concerts with but this one is a no-brainer! After what the world has gone through over the past two years it’s safe to say that we don’t just need a little Christmas, We NEED a LOT of Christmas! This song was written by Jerry Herman and introduced in the 1966 Broadway musical Mame, and was originally sung by Angela Lansbury. Recorded by many artists, my personal favourite is by the New Christy Minstrels. This piece begs to be played at a brisk pace and I love this arrangement. The woodwinds in particular have some very quick, intricate playing to do. One thing our band does with ease is “play big”., and you’ll no-doubt sense the enthusiasm in this rousing opener!
I must admit, I’d never heard this song before I started perusing potential new Christmas scores last year, but it sure caught my ear! The song was originally performed by the group Celtic Woman, a group of 5 female singers created by the producers of the Irish stage show “Riverdance”. Celtic Woman has been described as “Riverdance for voice”. Much like a touring company for a Broadway musical, the group has evolved over time and with 14 albums to its credit, continues to tour. Written in 6/8 time, even without lyrics it’s easy to pick-up on the Christmas flavour of this score and the flutes in particular provide it’s unmistakable Celtic flavour. I found this score to be a bit challenging to whip into shape, mainly because of the busy figures found in the woodwind parts.
Mary’s Little Boy Child
I’ve always loved this Christmas selection, and came up with my own arrangement of it years ago that my friends and family have played in church several times. The song is most closely associated with Jamaican-American Harry Belafonte who popularized many songs with that unmistakable rhythmic, Caribbean flavour. I absolutely love this arrangement. It starts gently, builds, then ends just as simply as it began. There’s nothin’ like a little rhythm of da islands mon.
Still, Still, Still
Another personal favourite, this is an Austrian Christmas lullaby that first appeared in an 1865 folksong collection. While the lyrics have evolved over the years, it attempts to paint a picture of peace and serenity at the scene of Christs’ birth as mother Mary, sings Him to sleep. I feel that the song is often performed at a tempo that is too fast for the picture it attempts to create, so I tend to conduct it at a slower tempo. This arrangement begins very peacefully and builds before once again, ending peacefully. My personal favourite vocal version of this is by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir which sings it at a volume barely above a hushed whisper. This arrangement has moved me several times as our band worked it into shape. For those who have never played a wind instrument, playing very softly with control is immeasurably more difficult than playing loudly. I’m confident you’ll love this arrangement.
The tuba is heavy, huge, requires massive amounts of air to play, and are so ugly, they’re always made to sit in the back row of any band! People rarely even want to look at one. (I just said that to rile-up our tuba players) To quote the late Rodney Dangerfield, the Tuba “doesn’t get much respect” but in reality, it plays a foundational role in every band. The tuba rarely gets featured……until now. I like to look for music that will feature the less well-known instruments of the band who rarely get prominent parts. This is a medley of several well-known Christmas classics and by the way, the euphoniums (another rarely featured instrument that looks like a miniature tuba) play a major role in this score, but not in the title for some reason.
The beautiful hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” or in Latin, “ Veni, Veni Emmanuel” is a very, very old song that has its origin in monastic life around 1200 years ago. The hauntingly beautiful minor melody was of course originally sung in Latin and being plainsong, was sung unaccompanied. The English version of the hymn we know today was developed over centuries, with the words and music developed separately. What we sing today is truly an evolution of lyrics and music. Chip Davis, creator of the group Mannheim Steamroller is widely known for his innovative arrangements. This version, he’s titled “Veni, Veni” and is a most gorgeous setting of the hymn that widely varies in meter between 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 6/4, and 12/8 time, so don’t try to count! (It will get really frustrating very quickly) This score was a challenge to whip into shape, but worth every minute of effort. This is unquestionably a gorgeous setting of this song.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Theodor Geisel (Dr, Seuss) wrote his famous book in 1957 which was eventually brought to life in the classic 1966 animated TV special most of us grew up watching. Of course Jim Carrey starred in a live-action film version in 2000 but because of my age, my heart still lies with the 1966 animated version. The music was written by Albert Hague with the lyrics by Dr Seuss himself. No one needs to be told the story and the many lessons it teaches. A big part of the show has always been the music which includes Welcome Christmas (the lyrics for which I challenge you to sing) and the classic “You’re A Mean One Mr. Grinch”. The song featured the deep, resonant voice of Thurl Ravenscroft (also the voice of Tony the Tiger) but unfortunately, Thurl wasn’t credited in the titles, leaving most to believe that is was voice of the story narrator, Boris Karloff. This is a band favourite to play but once again, a lot of the most difficult figures are left to the woodwinds who have to play the “downhill instrumental” at breakneck speed. You’ll no doubt be able to visualize Max (the Grinch’s dog) as the Grinch attempts to “mush” him downhill, pulling the oversized empty sleigh into town to steal all of the children’s presents.
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
The story of Rudolph the Red Nosed reindeer was written by Robert May and first published in a booklet for the Montgomery Ward company in 1939. Years later his brother-in-law Johnny Marks wrote the song that we are all familiar with. The classic recording of this song was by the Singing Cowboy, Gene Autry in 1949 and then in 1964, the Rankin-Bass stop motion animated TV special hit the airwaves with Burl Ives singing the title song. This has of course become a classic TV special and was the groundbreaker in the whole genre of kids Christmas specials. The song has become a sing-a-long favourite of children everywhere. While both Gene Autry and Burl Ives versions of the song are great, the Canadian Brass recorded their own take on the song back in 1985. “A Canadian Brass Christmas” was an entire album that featured the arranging of Luther Henderson that I highly recommend. This is a concert band adaptation of the Canadian Brass arrangement and may very well be my favourite version.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
My favourite TV program ever. The first broadcast of this Christmas special was on December 9, 1965 and has a fascinating story behind it. The Coca-Cola company was looking for a Christmas program to sponsor and TV producer, Lee Mendelson (being a fan of Charles Schultz and his Peanuts comic strip) had a idea that he first brought to Schultz, then Coca-Cola. The entire show from concept, to the writing of the script, creation and recording of both music soundtrack and voices, and the time-consuming task of traditional animation all took place within an unheard of 6 month window! The dialogue was by a cast of kids, one as young as 6 years old and was all recorded on one chaotic day, with some of the children being fed their lines phrase by phrase resulting in the sometimes staccato delivery of the dialogue. The producers wanted to insert a laugh track but Charles Schultz refused to allow it. Upon its completion, everyone from TV executives, to the Producers and advertisers predicted a massive failure because of two extremely unorthodox elements. Firstly, it mentioned religion (a no no on the public airwaves);and secondly, it utilized a jazz soundtrack. (an acquired taste for most people). Of course, the special was an instant HUGE hit and is still anticipated and watched annually by millions of viewers. The soundtrack Composed by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi is as loved as the story itself. This arrangement includes the songs, Linus and Lucy, O Tannenbaum, Skating, and Christmastime Is Here.
On An Olde English Carol
We think of Christmas carols as being sweet, warm, and conjuring-up peaceful images at the scene of the nativity, but the haunting Coventry Carol is anything but. After Christ’s birth, King Herod was of course very jealous of the intense interest in the Christ child and wanted to find Him, and have Him killed. Since he couldn’t be found, his solution was to have every male child in Bethlehem aged 2 and under killed. The very sad Coventry Carol dates back to the 16th century and was traditionally performed in Coventry England as part of a mystery play called the Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors and refers to the Massacre of the Innocents found in the bibles’ Matthew Chapter 2. The song takes the form of a lullaby sung by the mothers of the doomed children. This is a particularly moving arrangement by Randall D. Standridge and the band actually gets to sing a little bit.
This well-known Christmas song was originally banned in areas of the southern US, I suppose because Eartha Kitt was just too sultry for its delivery. It’s a song about an entitled, greedy woman and her extravagant Christmas present wish list addressed to Santa. Originally released in 1953, the list could surely be updated to the 2000’s and today would likely include things like a Tesla and iPhone, and she’d undoubtedly be forced to ditch the sable.
Merry Christmas Darling
This song was sung by perhaps the finest, purest female pop voice ever, Karen Carpenter. Her super clear, sweet delivery, and her brother Richard’s superb writing and arranging skills, all combined to make this a staple of the airwaves at Christmas. I love the beauty of this very easy to play arrangement, complete with the original cascading harmonies at the end.
O Holy Night
When we used to present our Community Christmas Shows at WDSS, more often than not I’d end the evening by playing this piece as a trumpet solo. I can’t say that it was anything special but this arrangement is. I’ve always loved this song and how it builds in intensity to “O night…..divine! “ then ends as softly as it began. As a youngster, in my church this song was quite simply owned by the late Harold Frost. It could only be sung by Harold. As I’ve listened to this stunningly beautiful instrumental arrangement take shape over the past 3 months, I believe I can say that the torch has now been passed to this great bunch of musicians. You will be moved by this beautiful arrangement.
I can’t think of a meaner and more difficult way to end a concert than to ask these musicians who now have chops like raw meat to play the most challenging score of the entire night, but they’ll give it their best shot. Merry Christmas everyone and as our parting gift, this is Leroy Anderson’s masterful classic “ Sleigh Ride”, complete with horse whinny by Meighan Lung.
Thank you so much for joining us this evening and hopefully, we’ll see you again next Sunday at 3 pm at the Capitol Theatre. We look forward to playing in a real theatre, with great acoustics, comfortable seating for our audience, and a stage large enough to accommodate us. There will be some overlap of material but will include some different material as well, and will include the Brass Factory Big Band to open the concert.
THANK YOU – GOOD NIGHT – MERRY CHRISTMAS!