Since I have admitted that I have been placing Christmas books on our sale carts outside the A.C. (Approaching Christmas) McClurg Bookstore in the Newberry lobby, it will probably not surprise you that I am reviewing CDs of Christmas music as well.
Now, it is not really the purpose of this column to review music. I just thought you might be interested in knowing some of the things we get in around here…and never quite get around to selling.
I’ve mentioned this before. Some people LIKE Christmas music and some people hate it. But hardly anybody ever seems to buy it. The Christmas section of the Record Department has a procession every year of people saying useful things like, “Oh, my mother had that and played it every Christmas” or “Oh, I collect those records!” Then they walk on and go pick up something like Gayla Peevey’s Greatest Hits instead.
But I like to look at the Christmas albums as they come in, marveling at their apparently infinite variety and their frequent exhibition of an utter lack of judgement. (Garrison Keillor has pointed out that good taste is superfluous at Christmas, and I agree with him, but an hour of music box renditions of Christmas carols?) I am tolerant of what I see arriving because, as several people have pointed out to me, “If someone bought it once, somebody will buy it again.”
And I accept the fact that a bunch of companies over the years have mailed out free records or CDs of Christmas music to all and sundry, and that these will come eventually to me, from Catholic Digest’s annual record of Christmas hymns with brief lectures on their composers and history to Victoria’s Secrets CD for those who are naughty and nice.
Nonetheless, I have had a few Christmas CDs lately which make me a bit uneasy. Pretty things, each in its own way, and yet….
A Christmas tradition I have never heard of (I’m not from around these parts) was WGN’s annual presentation of Father Finn’s Sisters Choir, a broadcast of a choir of 100 nuns conducted by Father Finn. Somebody recorded these off the radio in 1943 and 1944 (their second and third annual appearances) and then, two generations later, had these home recording discs transferred to CD. And then passed them along to me.
Sound quality suffers a bit, and the 1943 concert is afflicted by a common complaint of home recorsing: somebody didn’t want to miss the program, so they started the recording too early, and got a few minutes of a preceding program. The programs themselves are an interesting mix: somehow they manage to take in instrumental numbers and a boy’s choir between performances by the sisters themselves. In all (if you can ignore a little warping of the original recording, rather suggestive of sitting in a small, warm living room in Chicago while winds blew snow through the dark, soggy streets outside.
A CD entitled “Merry Christmas, Grandma”, however, suffers a little from its lack of such primitive recording. I was really expecting some small child’s Christmas concert, but instead found a Christmas song mix. I will say that the lady who made the CD did show an interesting taste in making her choices: there are the expected numbers by Burl Ives, Thurl Ravenscroft, and Eartha Kitt, and Bing Crosby appears twice (but someone else’s White Christmas is chosen). But I wasn’t expecting so much Dolly Parton or Mickey Mouse, and I would like to know whose rendition of Joy to the World that is. Sounds a bit like Julie Andrews played at a slightly higher speed than required. I also wonder what was done to the CD so that when it reaches the last track it automatically starts over again at the first track. For this reason alone, I’m glad it WASN’T a small child’s concert.
Then there’s this disc which is nothing but church bells from around the world. Over an hour of clanging, most of it melodious, some merely mathematical. But I think I will say little about this. I have been asked, somewhat against my better judgement, to provide background music for a party this year and I THINK I have figured out how not to be asked to do it again next year.
Yes, it means sticks and coal in the stocking again this year, but maybe Father Finn and his Sisters will speak up for me.