Category Archives: Music

Of Ghosts And Flying Reindeer

The Christmas season certainly has a lot of traditions attached to it, doesn’t it?  From what we actually celebrate (namely Santa, Hanukkah and the birth of Jesus) to countless family practices within countless households, traditions hold a significant place within our society.  We’ve all got our favorite ones, too, don’t we?  But do you ever stop to think about where they came from?  “How did this tradition start?”, is a question that can produce some interesting answers.

Hanukkah and the birth of Jesus are both historically accurate occurrences (although tradition has put Jesus in a manger on Christmas, when he actually was at least a few months old by the time the wise men found him on December 25)*.  When it comes to Santa, though, the earliest accounts of this fable only date back to 1821 with a children’s poem (author unknown) titled “Old Santeclaus with Much Delight”.  At that point, the earliest drawings depict Santa being pulled by just one reindeer** (and you’d think that Rudolph would have been that reindeer, what with Santa needing his glowing nose and all).

As a result of these foundations for most of our holiday traditions, it has led to one of the biggest and most well-known traditions of them all:  Christmas carols!  Obviously, many are about the birth of Jesus and quite a few are about Santa as well.  But then we also have carols that are simply about our traditions:  sleigh rides, children playing in the snow, chestnuts roasting over a fire and the food we eat during the holidays.  One of these songs is called, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”.  Ever heard that one?  I didn’t hear it until I was working for an upscale hotel restaurant in my early twenties.  My first Christmas season there, I actually heard a few songs that I never even knew existed (and I was even one of those kids growing up who would listen to Christmas carols as soon as Thanksgiving was over)!  This one really threw me for a loop, though.  And let me tell you why…..

George Wyle (the vocal director for The Andy Williams Show), along with Edward Pola, actually wrote this song for Andy to sing on the show in 1963.***  It’s a song that’s all about traditions.  But when I heard the lyrics within a certain part of this song, it stopped me in my tracks and forced me to do a double-take on what I had just heard.  Here is that part of the song:

There’ll be parties for hosting

Marshmallows for toasting

And caroling out in the snow

There’ll be scary ghost stories

And tales of the glories of

Christmases long, long ago

Do you see it?  Who on God’s green earth associates scary ghost stories with Christmas??  What does that even look like?  Can you picture it?  You and your family are sitting in a comfy room in front of a cozy fire that crackles and hisses in the fireplace.  The smell of pine fills the air from the garland of real pine that lines the mantle above it.  Across the room is a beautiful Christmas tree, glowing warmly with the colors of red, blue, orange and green.  The gentle flames of candles scattered around the room cause firelight to dance on the walls around you.  You have just taken part in one of the best Christmas dinners you’ve ever had–every dish that every family member is known for making the best of was part of that meal.  Suddenly, as everyone is basking in the serene atmosphere that surrounds them, Uncle Joe blurts out, “Hey, just between you, me and the fence post, has anyone heard about the ghost of the truck driver that was killed in that horrible accident a few years back?  They say he still roams these parts, looking for the kids that ran out in front of his truck.  Anyone seen Billy lately?”

Apparently somebody thought this was a good idea, but why?!  Talk about a really weird and disturbing tradition!  After much contemplation, the only connection that I can make is that this could be referring to the ghosts in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”.  Then recently, I learned that it was actually a Victorian tradition to tell ghost stories at Christmas time (could explain why Dickens’ story was considered such a classic).

So, needless to say, not all traditions are worth carrying on!  Personally, I’m glad that that one has fallen by the wayside….

Enjoy your traditions, my friend.  And have a very blessed and Merry Christmas!!

 

* DVD entitled “The Star Of Bethlehem”.

**Wikipedia, “Santa Claus’s reindeer”.

***Wikipedia, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”.

A Christmas Carol

Christmas carols.  We all love them.  Usually.  When we don’t, it’s probably because we’re walking through Wal-Mart a week into November and already hearing Christmas music.  But barring those kind of episodes, most of us look forward to playing our favorite music and carols this time of year.

I’ve got my favorites, but in thinking about one to convey my best Christmas wishes to you today, I found it hard to settle on just one.  I thought of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”.  Nice sentiment, but all the song is really about is singing until someone decides to hand out generous amounts of figgy pudding.  It’s an early English carol from the West Country of England about wealthy people giving “Christmas treats” to carolers.  Sure, that sounds like something worth singing for, except that these so-called “treats” were some form of figgy pudding, as previously mentioned.  This figgy pudding could have been made with figs, raisins or plums.  It really doesn’t matter, since my idea of a “Christmas treat” does not remotely involve these three…….(gag)…..things (something about fruit-cake-molasses-cookies comes to mind).

Then there was “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”.  Sounds like it would be a better choice, right?  This is a song that was written for Judy Garland to sing in a 1944 musical.  Her and her family were to be moving away and she is singing this to her younger sister.  The problem was that the original lyrics were so depressing that she asked the song writer to rewrite them.  Get the tune in your head and put these original lyrics to it:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,

It may be your last.

Next year we may all be living in the past.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,

Pop that champagne cork.

Next year we may all be living in New York.

I know!  Who knew??  Thankfully, when Frank Sinatra recorded this song and immortalized it in 1957, he finished the positive lyrical change by requesting that the line “Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow” be changed to something more positive.  And so the line we’ve all since heard many times was created:  “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough”.  Interestingly as well is the fact that the line ” If the fates allow” was originally “If the Lord allows”.

Since it looks like most of this country will be having a green Christmas this year, “White Christmas” came to mind.  Written in 1940, it was sung by Bing Crosby in 1942.  It is the best-selling single of all time and is #2 on the “Songs Of The Century” list–second only to Judy Garland’s “Over The Rainbow”.  This song also has the distinction of being broadcast on Armed Forces Radio as the pre-arranged signal for the U.S. evacuation of Saigon on April 30, 1975.  There have been over 500 recordings of this song, but only a handful of musical artists have included the original opening verse (my favorite being the rendition by Karen Carpenter):

The sun is shining, the grass is green,

The orange and palm trees sway.

There’s never been such a day,

In Beverly Hills, L.A.

But it’s December the twenty-fourth,

And I’m longing to be up North….

By the way, both of these last two songs I’ve mentioned were extremely important and became the mainstays that we know them to be because of WWII.

Let’s finish with this one:  “O Holy Night” is a French Christmas carol that began in the French town of Roquemaure at the end of 1843.  The local parish priest was wanting to celebrate the renovation of the church organ and asked a local native to write a Christmas poem.  Pretty remarkable, since the local native that he asked to do it was an atheist!  Music was put to it soon after and a singable version of the poem was created in 1855.  What will follow here is what amounts to the first verse and chorus of the original English translation of the poem, with the singable carol that we are all so familiar with following it.  Compare the two  and remember that an atheist wrote this remarkable piece of poetry:

English Translation

Midnight, Christians, is the solemn hour

When God as man descended unto us

To erase the stain of original sin

And to end the wrath of His Father.

The entire world thrills with hope

On this night that gives it a Saviour.

People, kneel down,

Await your deliverance.

Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer

Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer!

Christmas Carol

O holy night!

The stars are brightly shining.

It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,

Till He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees!

O hear the angel voices!

O night divine,

O night when Christ was born.

O night divine,

O night, O night divine.

Just an interesting thought about this that I heard someone share recently.  The night before this one was the last night Satan and sin and death would reign.  The night that Jesus was born (and it’s a fact that this night actually happened) was the first night that things would never be the same–ever!  As of that holy night, God sending His Son like He did forever changed life on this earth as we know it.  For all of mankind–past, present and future.

It is my prayer that you have a peaceful, relaxing and fulfilling Holiday season and that you are able to see the fullness of Jesus Christ and His love for you this Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

The Arts Of My Life

You could say that I have been in the “arts” in some form for most of my life.

In my grade-school days it was mostly music, with some actual art thrown in here and there since I was pretty good at drawing things.  At the end of my 5th grade year, I was tested somehow for musical talent and it was determined that I would be best at either playing the drums or the trombone.  (Why can’t I remember what they did to test me?  What diabolical scheme was construed at that moment in time that has this former 5th grader unable to remember this event?  Hang on, a distant flicker of a memory is presenting itself.  I think I remember…..an acronym, though what it stood for is beyond me:  A.G.E.)  My parents took one look at those test results and I suddenly became very aware and convinced that drums weren’t nearly as cool as the trombone was.

As you are already aware from an earlier visit, I picked up acoustic guitar somewhere around my 8th grade year.  In my junior year of high school, I was presented with the opportunity to learn bass guitar for Stage Band and still play to this day.  Amazingly, I wasn’t able to do much of anything with drums until six or seven years ago.  But I can now say that I have been a back-up drummer at some point for the Music Team at my church.  I guess you could say that my test results have come back…. positive.

In my late teens and early twenties, I was involved in a little acting through a college I attended and the youth group of my church at the time.  These roles were very minor, but needless to say, I rather excelled at the acting roles that brought out my dry sense of humor.    The college experience was for a madrigal dinner where I said a few very important lines and sang a whole lot of bass.  The youth group involvement was for skits that we did, and that’s where most of my dry sense of humor got to shine.  During this time, too, I was involved in some acapella singing through that same college (that Christmas madrigal dinner that I mentioned) and a male acapella group in my church that I sang bass in.  I miss those days!  The highlight of my days in Nu Creation (the male acapella group) was two events.  The first was singing the National Anthem at a Detroit Tigers game (hot and humid and dripping sweat, but what a rush it was standing in the center of the Detroit Tigers baseball field, belting out an acapella version of the National Anthem that really knocked the socks off of those who heard it).

The second event was no less memorable.  It was a televised event, occurring on the campus of Michigan State University.  The college’s basketball coach was retiring, so they were bringing in players from his first ten years of coaching to play against players from his second ten years of coaching.  What made this such a major event was the fact that Magic Johnson was there.  He went to MSU and had played on the team while there, so all of the local television stations were filming the whole thing live–especially him.  So we made our way out onto center court in front of 18,000+ people and sang the same version of the anthem.  Know what’s really cool about that event?  I got my hands on a copy of the television footage of us singing.  Granted, it’s still on a VHS tape, but I’ve still got footage!  Gotta get that old-school technology out of my house and transfer that onto something I can actually use (we haven’t had a VHS player for years).

Some things just can’t help but get relived–a lot.

Guitar Man

Our oldest son has been interested in learning to play guitar for quite some time.  We recently bought him a “starter” guitar and he couldn’t be more excited about it!  What makes it even better is his Dad knows how to play and he’s almost as excited to learn from me as he is to learn how to play the instrument.

I’ve played acoustic guitar since I was a wee lad of 13 or so.  I learned on my Mom’s guitar (couldn’t even begin to tell you the brand name, but it was a small one and served its purpose well).  She didn’t get it out much, but when she did, she’d sing John Denver songs or children’s songs that my brother and I would sing along with.

There were some college students at the church we attended who played acoustic guitar.  Well they put their heads together and decided to offer free lessons to anyone who wanted to learn.  There were probably around 12-14 other kids in there with me and 5 or 6 college students teaching us and we had a blast!  They taught us basics and then went into chord playing where we formed certain chords with one hand (which is placing certain fingers at certain places on the fretboard to produce certain tones from the strings) and strummed the strings with the other.  Once we got that down, we learned all kinds of praise songs and choruses together and eventually played for the Sunday morning youth services at our church.  I’m telling you, some of those songs sounded amazing with nothing but a piano and eight to ten guitars strumming along!  One of the college students went over to Japan for a few months and came back with a 12-string guitar that he bought over there for $80.  What was so amazing about that was back then, at least, that same guitar would sell over here in the U.S. for around $1000.  I’d say that was a good buy.

We would typically have the first part of our time together be practice and the last part be devotions of some sort (usually a few minutes learning something out of the Bible and then spending the rest of our time talking about it).  One night during this devotion time, one of the college students was reading a passage from the Old Testament and came across the word “circumcision”.  Then–still not sure why he did this–he asked us all if we knew what that was.  Well, that opened a can of worms!  It didn’t matter who did and who didn’t; between laughter and guffaws, we all agreed that he should expound on the subject at hand.  He pointedly refused and, with a very red face, told us to ask our parents about it (which, I’m sure, resulted in some very interesting conversations occurring in multiple households with some parents wondering afterwards what kind of Bible studying was being done in this “free” guitar class).

Interesting the memories that stick with you.

The Breakdancer

Let’s talk some more about this.

I realize that Breakdancing has morphed into something truly spectacular with today’s dancers.  All we need to do to see that is watch the last few seasons of America’s Got Talent.  I say that it has morphed because, as amazing as it is to watch today, there’s something about it that’s different.  And then I find myself thinking back to what it was like when it really came on the scene in the early- to mid-80’s…..

I mentioned when we last caught up with each other that I was the Breakdance King of Bath Middle School.  That was 1984 in eighth grade. For me, it started a couple of years prior to that when we were up in northern Michigan at the family cabin on Paradise Lake.  We had made a trip to Cheboygan or Petoskey and on that trip I found a big instructional picture book on how to breakdance.  I absorbed that book for the next year, practicing behind closed doors and then making my talent known to my family as I got better.  (Although Mom wouldn’t let me practice any “helicopters” on the living room floor.  Of course, I really didn’t mind that, since I had no desire to get rug burns or smash into Dad’s stereo equipment.)

So I learned from a book!  Says a lot in today’s world of YouTube videos and such.  Some moves I never did–like The Helicopter–but most of them I mastered as best I could:  The Wave, The Centipede, The Crab and everything else the book had.  But oh, the music!  Remember the music?  There were a couple of songs that were just the best to breakdance to.  I have them both on my music list (for nostalgia’s sake, of course.  No other reason….)  The first one was “Jam On It” by Newcleus.  A good one, but not near as good as “Freakazoid” by Midnight Star!  What a beat this song has at the beginning!  Definitely the best by far.  In case you don’t remember it or haven’t heard it in years, here is the first 50 seconds of the song (you’ll see what I mean!):

Breakdancing came to an end for me when I entered high school as a Freshman in the Fall of ’85.  The high school had its own version of Friday night Fun Nights, but by then breakdancing’s popularity was beginning to wane.  That wouldn’t have stopped me–because breakdancing to me was a lot of fun–but the style of breakdancing the high schoolers used was aggressive and very suggestive.  It only took one visit to a high school Fun Night for me to know that this was no longer something I was going to be doing.  I could see egos on that dance floor, making it more about competition than having fun.  So when one of them repulsively taunted me to come out on the floor, I stood there with my arms crossed and refused to lower myself to that kind of breakdancing.  I figured everyone would think I was scared to dance in high school, but I didn’t care.  I knew the real reason…..

Well obviously that was years ago.  Many years ago.  But  four or five years back, my co-workers where I worked at the time got wind of my middle school fame (my telling them about it may have had something to do with it, but all that really did is just cement my fame in their eyes).  They bugged me and bugged me to dance for them.  I told them I might eventually possibly get around to doing something for them, but “we’ll see”.  I worked with quite a few other people in a fairly open room that was inside a big garage for trucks.  It was towards the end of a work day and we had a “lull in the action”, so-to-speak.  So I grabbed my phone, started the “Freakazoid” song and started playing it over the intercom.  I have to admit, it was cool!  I could hear it echoing in the garage:  “Freakazoids, robots, please report.  Freakazoids, robots, please report to the daaance flooooorrrr….” and then the drum beat and keys started:  “Bear/chick/bear-bear/chick/bear-bear-bear-bear/chick/bear….”

They came running!  And I could hear them hollering, “He’s dancing for us!  He’s gonna do it!  Hurry up!….”  And they gathered around in that inner sanctum and watched a 40-year old do something he hadn’t done since he was 14.  At one point, while doing The Centipede, I just about knocked the air out of me.  Maybe almost pulled a muscle or two.  It was all a big blur with the adrenaline coursing through my veins and all.  I was definitely rusty.  But the joints still worked sufficiently enough to warrant an autograph and a couple of pictures.  Actually, it got me on YouTube for a short while, but I never saw it (no, you can’t either.  I already looked for it.)

So my “Breakdance King of Bath Middle School” days will now live on in infamy–at least in the minds of a privileged handful of co-workers who witnessed something that will probably never happen again.

Bagpipes

Since it’s summer and I have been on the topic here and there about Paradise Lake, here’s another story from my childhood up there:

Let’s talk about bagpipes for a minute.  Now, I realize that some people turn up their nose at even the thought of them, let alone listening to even the sound of them.  If you’re one of those types of people, you have probably already envisioned some red-faced guy with chipmunk cheeks blowing fiercely into a hollow tube for all he’s worth who’s wearing a dress and making an ear-splitting racket with that contraption he’s hugging so closely to his person.

While most of us probably picture Great Highland bagpipes from the country of Scotland when we hear them, there is a close cousin to the Great Highland bagpipes and it’s found in Ireland.  Called the Uilleann pipe, it is a “softer” version of the bagpipes we so easily attribute to Scotland, meaning that it has a more mellow tone to it and can tend to not sound so shrill (the beauty of that sound being in the ear of the beholder).

I, myself, have always enjoyed the sound of bagpipes being played.  One summer, upon arriving at the family cabin on Paradise Lake, I was very pleased to discover that someone a few cabins down from our beachfront had a set of bagpipes–and actually knew how to play them!  Now remember, this is a lake in northern Michigan where the early morning hours can be spent just sitting by the lake and listening to nature:  the gentle sound of water lapping against the beach; the distant cry of a seagull as it floats across the lake’s surface;  the hauntingly beautiful call of loons out on the lake somewhere; and even the possibility of seeing a bald eagle soar overhead!

So this individual apparently liked to play the bagpipes in the morning hours, which was much to my appeal.  I can remember getting up early enough to get down to the boathouse to get the oars to the rowboat and a life vest.  There was no rowing quietly with these oars.  They were metal ones, so every time they were moved in the eyelets of the rowboat, they would squeak…badly.  So picture the above-described scene laid out in front of you and suddenly hearing  the slow but determined sound of “screeee……..screeee………screeee……..screeee” as a guy in a rowboat slowly makes his way out onto the lake.  So, nonetheless, I made it out about a hundred yards and dropped anchor, waiting for the bagpipe player to show up.

I’m telling you….to be out there on the waters of Paradise Lake early enough to watch the sun peak over the treetops and listen to those sounds of nature that were all around me was an amazing experience!  But then, to have the hauntingly beautiful sounds of a set of Highlander bagpipes floating across the surface of the water was just….just breathtaking.  I didn’t want it to stop.  And I would even say that if you are one who doesn’t like the sound of bagpipes, even you would have tolerated what I heard that morning and thought it actually sounded pleasant.

I believe the day will come when the waters of Paradise Lake will once again echo with the sounds of a bagpipe.  But this time, since I’m Irish and love the sound of Uilleann Pipes….

The Play of ’79

It was Spring of my third grade year.

There I was, a shy kid in the second year of being in my new school.  And suddenly I find myself elected to be a cloud on a stage with three other kids (another boy and two girls–even scarier for a 9-year-old boy who finds girls to be intimidating).

I think the play was about Spring–maybe the different seasons–I don’t remember exactly, because all I cared about was the fact that the four of us had to carry a cloud (painted cardboard or something along those lines with a handle on the back of it) and do some sort of choreography to The Beatles’ song, “Here Comes The Sun”.

Remember that song?  A rather pleasant one, as far as I know.  I haven’t paid attention to the lyrics to know for sure what it’s about.  Could be nothing more than the sun coming out after a good rain.  I don’t know and I don’t care.  I haven’t liked that song since this, “The Play of ’79”.

You’re probably asking yourself, “Why the animosity towards such a nice song as ‘Here Comes The Sun’?”  I caution you:  if you like this song, don’t read any further.  It may cause you to never hear it the same way again.

I’m sure that every kid has at some point in their early grade school years been subject to other kids using bad language around them.  I was no different.  I never used bad language and I didn’t grow up in a household where it was regularly used either.  So where exactly this came from, I don’t know, but I can only assume that I have fellow classmates to thank for it.  (Just a disclaimer:  You aren’t going to actually see any bad language in this post, although you will be able to put two-and-two together….)

So get the song in your head.  If you haven’t heard it, go find it off YouTube or somewhere and pay special attention to the chorus.  Got it?  Ok….The words to the chorus….

Here comes the sun

Here comes the sun, and I say it’s alright

(….Sigh….) After that first line of the chorus, there’s a little musical ditty that has a “Da Da Da Da” pattern to it (the emphasis being on the first and third beats of it, as you can see and hear).  In my little sweet innocent 3rd grade mind, every time that I heard this song and it got to that point in the chorus, I heard:

Hear comes the sun (mother  _ _ _ _ _ _ )

I know, I know!!  Awful, but nonetheless true.  (As I said, I would love to find the classmate responsible for this.)  Every rehearsal.  Every performance.  Every day in-between.  And every time I would hear it on the radio.  To this day, I cannot hear it without that memory!

This little bit of personal history came out in a gathering of close friends five or six years ago.  Shortly after they had all stopped laughing hysterically, my wife–caring and sensitive woman that she is–got on her smart phone and found the song.  She made a ringtone out of it and sent it to all of our close friends that had been there that night.  So all of those close friends–caring and sensitive friends that they are–promptly downloaded that ringtone onto their phones for when I call them (a couple of them still have it activated).

And thus ends a sordid memory of my past….

A Rabbit Trail

It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?  We’ve gotten some snow since we last walked.  Take a look over there to the right.  See those prints in the snow?  They’re rabbit tracks and they look pretty fresh!  I’m sure this rabbit trail will come back out onto the main trail on up ahead of us.  C’mon…..

Because it’s just that time of year, and this is the Sunday before Christmas, I thought we’d talk about a certain Christmas song:  “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas”.

Most everyone knows this song by the voice that we’ve all heard sing it–Mr. Burl Ives.  He wasn’t the first to sing it, however.  He sang it in 1965, but the Quinto Sisters (I know, me too–who??) sang it first in 1964, the same year that it was heard in Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer–yes, sung by Burl Ives, but an official holiday recording by him wasn’t made until the following year.  The song was actually written by a man named Johnny Marks, along with the Rudolph song, for the Rudolph show itself.

So where am I going with this?  Well, there are two lines of lyrics in this song that have always seemed to jump out at me–like when something makes you do a double-take and causes you to ask yourself, “Did I hear that right?”.   Check this out:

Ho ho the mistletoe
Hung where you can see
Somebody waits for you
Kiss her once for me

“Kiss her once for me???  Ok, Johnny, why are you wanting to kiss my wife?  First, if a woman is actually waiting for me at the mistletoe, do you really think I’m going to kiss her for you?  And second, the only woman that would be waiting for me at any mistletoe would be my wife.  So, Johnny, why are you wanting to kiss my wife?  Hmmm??  You know what that makes me think?  “Them thar’s faghtin’ wards, ain’t dey?”  How many men have you ticked off with those two lines, Johnny?  I’ll bet quite a few and they’re probably thinking, “Hold it, bud.  You want me to do what for who?  That’s my woman, dude.  Oh, I’m about to go off on you!  You want summa ‘dis?  Game on!  Here Comes The Boom, Baby!  Jingle BAM!!  Didja feel that one?  Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!  I’ll deck your halls….”

Hmmm.  Ok, that’s a bit over-the-edge.  But what if….anyway, one thing is for sure, Johnny.  You have accomplished something that, to the best of my knowledge, no one else has done:  You have forever immortalized flirting with another man’s woman….in a Christmas song.  But, in the big scheme of things, I guess that’s ok.  I suppose there’s no harm done (as far as we know).  Just find your own mistletoe, Johnny, and steer clear of my wife.

That’s really an amazing feat, isn’t it?  Want to know something equally as amazing?  I’ll bet you won’t ever be able to hear this song again without reflecting back on what you’ve just read….and finding a smile has crept across your face at the memory of it.

So, hey–HAVE A HOLLY JOLLY CHRISTMAS!!!