Tag Archives: holiday music

Non-traditional Holiday Tunes

This time of year it’s hard to go out into the world without being bombarded by holiday music; whether you’re a fan or not, it can get tiring hearing the same tunes over and over again. As a balm for the holiday music assault, our music and film specialists at the Main Carnegie Library offer these suggestions for seasonally appropriate music that’s a little off the beaten path. Read their suggestions below!

Tara

james

Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” / James Brown

Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin” / Albert King

Back Door Santa” / Clarence Carter

Purple Snowflakes” / Marvin Gaye

A Five Pound Box of Money” / Pearl Bailey

Christmas in Jail” / The Youngsters

I’m actually a fan of holiday classics like Nat King Cole’s Christmas album. But when I need a change of pace, or want to put my dancing shoes on, nobody gets me in the holiday mood like James Brown. We also have a lot of soul holiday compilations, available on CD or through Freegal, with hidden gems like Pearl Bailey’s “A Five Pound Box of Money.”

 

Rebekah

duke

Hansel and Gretel / Engelbert Humperdinck

Three Suites / Duke Ellington

Though Hansel and Gretel does not have a Christmas theme, it is often staged by many opera companies, including the Metropolitan Opera, at this time of year.  It does have gingerbread cookies… well, ok, children turned into cookies.  The music is fantastic and instead of Santa you get a creepy witch.

If you think Tchaikovsky needs a little swing, then Duke Ellington’s “Nutcracker Suite” from his album Three Suites  is for you.  Ellington and Pittsburgh’s own Billy Strayhorn put their stamp on a holiday classic.  Try the “Sugar Rum Cherry” track for a sample.

 

Amy

rundmc  diehard

Christmas in Hollis / Run D.M.C.

“Christmas in Hollis” is a cheerful song about the benefits of not stealing Santa’s wallet – though now that I think about it, the song never does tell us how Santa got his driver’s license back (it must have been a Christmas Miracle). It also mentions macaroni and cheese, and is featured in my favorite Christmas movie of all time, Die Hard.

 

Tim

mercyfulfaith

I made my feelings known about the month of December in my Deathcember blog post a few years back, but I am still happy to help you find either the wholesome Christmas with Perry Como album or a blasphemous album by Mercyful Fate.

 

Kirby

xtina

My Kind of Christmas / Christina Aguilera

Whenever I need a break from traditional Christmas song fare, I listen to the fabulous remix version of Mel Torme’s “Christmas Song” (you know…”chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”) as conceived by Christina Aguilera on her My Kind of Christmas CD!  It’s a thrilling combination of driving rhythm track with a smooth, slow melodic line on top! How about combining a traditional Latin text with a non-traditional 20th century poly-tonality (different keys + major and minor all at the same time), sung by a choir?  Check out Daniel Pinkham’s joyous “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” from his Christmas Cantata with the Washington Chorus and National Capital Brass on CLP’s Naxos Music Library streaming site.  Listen for the tremendous high B in the tenor section on the last chord!  

 

Julie

americanfolk

Traditional Christmas Carols / Pete Seeger

American Folk Songs for Christmas / Mike, Peggy, and Penny Seeger

These CDs include seasonal folk songs collected and arranged by Ruth Crawford Seeger which were first published in a songbook called American Folk Songs for Christmas in 1953. Ruth’s children, Mike, Peggy, and Penny Seeger recorded a double CD of these carols (released in 1989). Ruth Crawford Seeger’s step-son Pete chose three songs from her collection for his 1967 recording of folk carols. 61 years since the songbook was published, the selections and arrangements remain fresh and uplifting.

 

David

pogues

Fairytale of New York / The Pogues

This story of a man spending Christmas Eve in the drunk tank, thinking about a relationship torn apart by alcoholism and addiction, is one of the most popular Christmas songs in the UK. Performed in the style of an Irish folk song, the duet is sung by the Pogues’ lead singer, Shane MacGowan, and Kirsty MacColl, daughter of legendary English folksinger Ewan MacColl.

~ Happy holidays from the Music, Film & Audio Department

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A Nutcracker Tribute

When I was four years old, my mother enrolled me in ballet school. It was one of those things she had always wanted to try but, as a working class child growing up in Detroit, it was a luxury her family could not afford. As a result, I was exposed to not only the classical world of ballet and the rigors of training, but also to the most beautiful music in the world. I danced parts in both  Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake (music by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky) and, of course, every December, The Nutcracker. While I have grown to love and appreciate all of Tchaikovsky’s music, The Nutcracker holds a very special place in my heart.

I know it is ubiquitous during the holidays and it is tirelessly performed by both large –to my deep dismay, there is no live orchestra during this performance!–and small dance companies, but I take my holiday music very seriously; it’s one of my personal holiday traditions.

Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky

The Nutcracker ballet premiered in Russia in 1892, to disappointing reviews however, in America, the music was highly praised and with good reason. With its clever nuances, dramatic melodies, building tension sequences, and ornamental highlights of different instruments (the flute being my particular favorite), my own dream is to see a major symphony orchestra perform this entire masterpiece–not highlights!–without the ballet (how about it, Pittsburgh Symphony?). It has as much drama and excitement as watching the actual ballet performance, sometimes even more. I’m not a music critic or even a professional musician, but the music of this ballet entrances me. It can be quiet and relaxing and it can be exciting and loud.

The library has many ways for you to enjoy The Nutcracker on compact disc or streaming, book, or DVD. My personal favorites are the recording with Anton Dorati and the London Symphony Orchestra and the 1977 made-for-television ballet starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland, but there are more versions than you can count of both the recording and the ballet. If you’re a musician, there is also the score and, if you want to read the story, we have that too.

~Maria,

who, from Thanksgiving until Epiphany, blissfully listens to The Nutcracker on repeat

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