As it’s the Season, this seems an appropriate time to address the subject of holiday music. And I’ll do so by providing a small insight into the mind of the musician: Most of us hate the stuff. This isn’t because we’re all devil worshipers or have hearts two sizes too small, but rather that we’re pretty much done with it.
I began my formal musical training at age 4. Part of the process of taking piano or violin or voice or, I suppose, didgeridoo lessons is that parents expect a Result in the form of little Chrissy painfully pecking out “Jingle Bells” or “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” in the days leading up to Christmas. And this Result is expected year after year (though hopefully with greater skill and more notes). Given that there are only 26 Christmas songs worth a damn, by the time the young musician attains puberty, he or she is ready to stuff these dreadful ditties into an appropriately adorned stocking and hurl it atop a blazing yule log.
Now imagine eventually becoming a minstrel for hire. Come late November/early December the same Result is expected. This can come in the form of group sing-a-longs, the occasional holiday tune thrown into a dance set performed for a company holiday party or, worst of all, the endless repetition of The Big 26 by the poor shmoe chained to the Nordstrom piano bench.
There are things you can do, of course, to make the experience less awful. For example, you might begin the season playing each tune in the key of C and then, with each subsequent performance, move it up a half step. Or choose a different time signature—play “O Come All Ye Faithful” as a waltz rather than in 4/4. Or grind out the godawful “The 12 Days of Christmas” so very very slowly that even those around you demand that it be forever stricken from the holiday repertoire. Or, as far too many of us do, just think about baseball instead.
For those musicians reading along who are currently mired in the Result, I can offer a ray of hope. It’s been several years since I’ve played this stuff solidly through the 12th month. Other than a single holiday party where I take on the roles of guest as well as pianist, I’m not compelled to play any holiday fare at all. And, after not touching it for five years, I find that I miss it just a little bit. In fact, I look forward to accompanying my friends as they heartfeltedly bellow “O Holy Night” and entirely rip the sensuality from “Santa Baby.”
Having stepped away I have gained perspective. I now grasp the joy that comes with uneven voices raised in common harmony. I have a greater sympathy for a holiday in which music is an integral part. I appreciate that “Silent Night” is actually a lovely tune.
In fact, listening to its soundtrack with fresh ears, I’ve learned something of the holiday spirit.