My husband is a secular Jew and I’m agnostic, but music knits our holiday season together. I’m a musician and he’s a music aficionado. We light the Hanukkah candles and I give my husband little presents each night, bound to include music-related items whether a CD (we’re old) or The Rolling Stones Illustrated History of Rock and Roll. On Christmas morning my husband pours a mound of presents into my lap as I enjoy coffee in bed. Last year I received a piece of original art, “Vinnie’s Piano Fantasy” and a new keyboard. The old one found a new home at an elementary school.
Contrary to the popular notion, my husband and I do not go out for Chinese. We prepare a lovely feast and watch a recorded Dave Letterman Christmas Show. Since 1998 Jay Thomas has appeared to tell the same Lone Ranger anecdote and I have never tired of it. But the highlight of the show for us has been the appearance of Darlene Love for a full-scale production of her song Christmas (baby please come home).
In 2010, my husband and I spent December in Cuba, planning our trip to include the International Jazz Festival in Havana. For ten dollars a night, we saw top-billed performers like Chucho Valdés. In this communist country we saw few signs of Christmas—and heard fewer. Even though Little Drummer Boy tugs my heart every time, I gladly traded it for the live Latin beats on cobblestoned streets. Piping Oh Little Town of Bethlehem over tinny speakers into throngs pawing through merchandise made in China crushes the spirit, anyway, while a clave rhythm stirs a person to dance.
Which is not to say I dislike Christmas music. Music, in general, is one of the things I miss about church. Hymns like How Great Thou Art strike right into the center of my being. Because whatever creative force exists, it is awesome to behold.
Two years ago, the ukulele group for which I play keyboards, the All in Good Time Orchestra, performed Oh Holy Night at two holiday events. When that music swelled and our vocals rose in “Fall on your knees/Oh hear the angel voices,” the vibration filled me with ecstasy.
Since other groups also performed Oh Holy Night, the next year our director suggested we do a piece that no one else would do—a Paul McCartney song. I expected a familiar tune. Instead I was introduced to Junk, a short melancholy piece that stuck in my head like an earworm.
Junk is not a Christmas son per se. But after once again watching people on Black Friday punch each other to score a television set, the lyrics provide a poignant reminder. Buy, buy says the sign in the shop window/Why, why say the junk in the yard.
As the Christmas season approaches, it’s time to listen to the music. This year I’ll miss hearing Darlene Love. During this season, which songs lift your spirit?
Do you have mystery readers on your shopping list? I’m having a Goodreads giveaway for 5 copies of Death with Dessert, a new release from misterio press.
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