Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Saturday, December 11, 2010

I'm the Angel in the Christmas Play - A Christmas Music Countdown

“Poured the goldfish bowl into daddy's hat
Then I painted stripes down the family cat
Broke two teeth only yesterday
I'm the angel in the Christmas play!"

There's Spike Jones, the filmmaker. There’s Spike Jones, the football star. And then there was Spike Jones, the mayhem, bad boy musician of the Forties and Fifties.

According to Wikipedia, Lindley Armstrong “Spike” Jones was a popular musician and bandleader in the Forties and Fifties specializing in performing satirical arrangements of popular songs. Jones would pepper romantic ballads and classical works with gunshots, whistles, cowbells, and comical vocals. His band recorded under the title Spike Jones and his City Slickers and toured the United States and Canada under the title The Musical Depreciation Revue.

His father was a Southern Pacific railroad agent. Spike was so thin that he was compared to a railroad spike, thus his nickname. At the age of 11, he got his first set of drums. As a teenager he played in bands that he formed himself. A railroad restaurant chef taught him how to use pots and pans, forks, knives and spoons as musical instruments.

Spike frequently played in theater pit orchestras. In the 1930s, he joined the Victor Young Orchestra. Later, he got many offers to appear on radio shows, including Al Jolson's Lifebuoy Program, Burns and Allen, and Bing Crosby's Kraft Music Hall.

From 1937 to 1942, he was the percussionist for the John Scott Trotter Orchestra, which played on Bing Crosby's first recording of White Christmas. Spike Jones was part of a Cindy Walker’s back-up band. Her song “We're Gonna Stomp Them City Slickers Down” provided the inspiration for the name of Jones’ future band, the City Slickers.

The City Slickers evolved out of the Feather Merchants, a band led by vocalist-clarinetist Del Porter, who took a back seat to Jones during the group’s early years of the group. The band signed a recording contract with RCA Victor in 1941 and recorded extensively for the company until 1955. They also starred in various radio programs (1945–1949) and television shows (1954–61) on both NBC and CBS.

In 1942, a strike by the American Federation of Musicians prevented Jones from making commercial recordings for over two years. He could, however, make records for radio broadcasts. These were released on the Standard Transcriptions label (1941–46) and have been reissued on a CD compilation called (Not) Your Standard Spike Jones Collection.

Source: Wikipedia

Today, people go nuts even they even hear the word “Nazi,” much less listen to parodies of the group and their leader. But Spike Jones specialized nuttiness and loved to satirize naziness. Modern, and politically timid listeners would be shocked by some of his songs. But they were popular with his World War II audiences.

*Recorded days before the record ban, Jones scored a huge broadcast hit late in 1942 with “Der Fuehrer's Face,”  a song ridiculing Adolf Hitler. Every use of the word “Heil” was followed by with a derisive razzberry sound.

The song was originally written for Walt Disney's 1943 Oscar-winning propaganda cartoon, first titled Donald Duck in Nutzi Land, according to the Disney Archives. The success of the record prompted Disney to re-title the animated cartoon after the song.

Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny and other Warner Brothers cartoon characters, performed a drunken, hiccuping verse for 1942's “Clink! Clink! Another Drink” (reissued in 1949 as “The Clink! Clink! Polka”).

The romantic ballad “Cocktails for Two,” originally written to evoke an intimate romantic rendezvous, was re-recorded by Spike Jones in 1944 as a raucous, horn-honking, voice-gurgling, hiccuping hymn to the cocktail hour. The Jones version was a huge hit, much to the resentment of composer Sam Coslow (I’ll bet!). Other Jones satires followed: “Hawaiian War Chant,” “Chloe,” “Holiday for Strings,” “You Always Hurt the One You Love,”  “My Old Flame,”  (referring to Peter Lorre's voice - impersonated on the recording by Paul Frees - and eerie scenes in contemporary movies) and many more.

Jones's recording, “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,” with a piping vocal by George Rock, was a number-one hit in 1948. (Dora Bryan recorded a 1963 variation, "All I Want For Christmas is a Beatle".) * Source: Wikipedia

He was said to be disturbed that he wasn’t taken seriously as a classical musician, and he did produced albums with note-perfect versions of classical music and ballads. Still, on the romantic ballad, Laura, he couldn’t resist making the first half a serious song, and then switching tracks to his trade-mark comedy music, complete with gunshots and screams.

Jones was a lifelong smoker. He was once said to have gotten through the average workday on coffee and cigarettes. Smoking may have contributed to his developing emphysema. His already thin frame deteriorated, to the point where he used an oxygen tank offstage, and onstage he was confined to a seat behind his drum set. He died at the age of 53, and is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, Calif.

There’s no particular history to The Angel in the Christmas Play. Like its cousin, “I’m Getting Nuttin’ for Christmas,” it features a bad kid getting ready to play an angel in the Christmas play, whose parents are in for a few surprises.

What’s great about Jones’ music is that it’s already recorded. You can laugh away (if you have a sense of humor – or a kid like this one) because it’s considered nostalgia. Spike Jones certainly knew how to put the “Merry” in “Merry Christmas” (along with lisping kids, horn honks, bells, and whistles.)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Deck the Halls - A Christmas Music Countdown

"Deck the halls with boughs of holly,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
'Tis the season to be jolly,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Don we now our gay apparel,
Fa la la, la la la, la la la.
Troll the ancient Yule tide carol,
Fa la la la la, la la la la."

Deck the condo now by golly
Fa la la la la, la la la lah
To wait another day is folly
Fa la la la la, la la la lah
Christmas concerts by the barrel
Fa la la fa la la la la lah
Life is one big Christmas Carol
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

I’d have had my place decorated a week ago if I hadn’t been so darned organized. I thought I bagged up my lights and threw them helter-skelter as I’ve done for about 30 years. But last year, I got the organization bug and boxed them up properly and put right under the decorations box. So I couldn’t find them until earlier this
week. Fa la la la la la la la lah.

“Deck the Halls” is a traditional Yuletide and New Years' carol. The “fa-la-la” refrains were probably originally played on the harp. The tune is Welsh dating back to the sixteenth century, and belongs to a winter carol, Nos Galan. In the 18th century, Mozart used the tune to “Deck the Halls” for a violin and piano duet. The repeated "fa la la" is from medieval ballads and used in Nos Galan, the remaining lyrics are American in origin dating from the nineteenth century.

Translation of the original, Welsh "New Year's Eve" (“Nos Galan”) or "Cold is the Man"

Cold is the man who cannot love,
Fa la la la la, fa la la la,
The old mountains of dear Wales,
Fa la la la la, fa la la la,
To him and his warmest friend,
Fa la, Fa la, fa la la,
A cheerful holiday next year,
Fa la la la la, fa la la la.
To the troubled, cold are the bills,
Fa la la la la, fa la la la,
Which come during the holidays,
Fa la la la la, fa la la la,
Listening to a sermon in one verse,
Fa la, Fa la, fa la la,
Spending more than you earn,
Fa la la la la, fa la la la.
Cold is the fire on Mount Snowdon,
Fa la la la la, fa la la la,
Even though it has a flannel blanket on it,
Fa la la la la, fa la la la,
Cold are the people who don't care,
Fa la, Fa la, fa la la,
To meet together on New Year's Eve,
Fa la la la la, fa la la la.

The tune is that of an old Welsh air, first found in a musical manuscript by Welsh harpist John Parry Ddall (c. 1710–1782), but undoubtedly much older than that. The composition is still popular as a dance tune in Wales, and was published in the 1784 and 1794 editions of the harpist Edward Jones's Musical and Poetical Relics of the Welsh Bards. Poet John Ceiriog Hughes wrote the first published lyrics for the piece in Welsh, titling it “Nos Galan” ("New Year's Eve"). A middle verse was later added by folk singers. In the eighteenth century the tune spread widely, with Mozart using it in a piano and violin concerto and, later, Haydn in the song “New Year's Night.”

Originally, carols were dances and not songs. The accompanying tune would have been used as a setting for any verses of appropriate metre. Singers would compete with each other, verse for verse — known as canu penillion dull y De (“singing verses in the southern style”). The church actively opposed these folk dances. Consequently, tunes originally used to accompany carols became separated from the original dances, but were still referred to as “carols.”

The popular English lyrics for this carol are not a translation from the Welsh. The connection with dancing is made explicit in the English lyrics by the phrase “follow me in merry measure” as “measure” is a synonym for dance. A collection of such 16th and 17th century dances danced at the Inns of Court in London are called the Old Measures. Dancing itself, having been previously suppressed by the church, was revived during the Renaissance beginning in 15th century Italy.

During the Victorian re-invention of Christmas, it was turned into a traditional English Christmas song. The first English version appeared in The Franklin Square Song Collection, edited by J.P.McCaskey in 1881.
* Source: Wikipedia

One half of one string is not lighting on my tree. I have plenty of lights, so I’ll just have to take that string off and replace it with another. That’s why I do a light check before a single ornament on the tree. The other reason is my cats have to get sitting under the tree out of their systems. The tree makes them think they’re outside and they jump right up on the table, shaking the tree. But they should be over it this weekend.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Christmas Time is Here - A Christmas Music Countdown

"Christmas time is here
We'll be drawing near
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year"
Vince Guaraldi

Christmas time is here, and that means it’s time for the annual airing of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” There are many children’s Christmas Classics, but only one that actually quotes scripture and refers to the baby that the season is about.  Not only does everyone remember CBC, but they remember its unusual, blues-inspired sound track, by jazz composer Vince Guaraldi. In particular, the instrumental "Linus and Lucy" has come to be regarded as the signature musical theme of all the Peanuts specials. Additionally “Christmas Time is Here” has become a popular Christmas tune.

The special's jazz album became ubiquitous as the special itself.  A soundtrack album, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” for the special was released by Fantasy Records and remains a perennial best-seller. While the soundtrack contains some music that does not appear in the TV special, it also fails to include two musical themes which appear in the special. Both of those missing themes are, however, available on another album by the Vince Guaraldi Trio entitled Charlie Brown's Holiday Hits 2004.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” was the first prime-time animated TV special based upon the comic strip Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz. It was produced and directed by former Warner Bros. and UPA animator Bill Melendez, who also supplied the voice for the character of Snoopy. CBC premiered Dec. 9, 1965 on CBS. I was six. We were regular readers of Charlie Brown in the newspaper, and even though my mother didn’t approve of comic books, she did buy the collections to encourage my younger brother to read.

The special has been honored with both an Emmy and Peabody Award. A Charlie Brown Christmas is also one of CBS's most successful specials, airing annually more times on that network than even MGM's classic motion picture The Wizard of Oz. Oz was shown thirty-one times on CBS, but not consecutively as the Charlie Brown special was; between 1968 and 1976, NBC aired the film. The story touches on the over-commercialization and secularism of Christmas, and serves to remind viewers of the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of Jesus Christ.

Bringing the Peanuts characters to television was not an easy task. The strip's creators, with funding from sponsor Coca-Cola, presented the CBS network with an idea for a Christmas television special starring Schulz's characters. The production was done on a shoestring budget, resulting in a somewhat choppy animation style and, from a technical standpoint, poorly mixed sound. With the exception of the actors who voiced Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins) and Lucy (Tracy Stratford), none of the children had any experience doing voice work. This was especially challenging for Kathy Steinberg, who voiced Sally: she was too young to read and needed to be cued line by line during the soundtrack recording.

The technical issues are in evidence on the show's audio track, which to some may seem noticeably choppy and poorly enunciated (this is according to Wikipedia; those ‘enunciations’ were one of the reasons the show was so popular with kids). One of the more noticeable quirks in the special include a shot in which Schroeder abruptly stops playing the piano, but several of the characters continue dancing for a couple of seconds. Melendez said he remained somewhat embarrassed to see the show repeated every year with all its problems, but Schulz vetoed his idea of “fixing” the program years later.

Network executives were not at all keen on several aspects of the show, forcing Schulz and Melendez to wage some serious battles to preserve their vision. The executives did not want to have Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke; The Gospel According to CBS assumed that viewers would not want to sit through passages of the King James Version of the Bible. A story reported on the Whoopi Goldberg-hosted version of the making of the program (see below) that Charles Schulz was adamant about keeping this scene in, remarking that, “If we don't tell the true meaning of Christmas, who will?”

Another complaint was the absence of a laugh track (it didn’t need one), a common element of children's cartoons at the time. Schulz maintained that the audience should be able to enjoy the show at their own pace, without being cued when to laugh. (CBS did create a version of the show with the laugh track added, just in case Schulz changed his mind. This version remains unavailable, though unauthorized copies have appeared on YouTube – where it can stay.)

A third complaint was the use of children to do the voice acting, instead of employing adult actors. Finally, the executives thought that the jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi would not work well for a children's program. When executives saw the final product, they were horrified and believed the special would be a complete flop.  How could one network get so many things wrong?

The half-hour special first aired on Thursday, Dec. 9, 1965, (today is Dec. 9, 2010 - the 45th anniversary of CBC), preempting The Munsters and following the Gilligan's Island episode “Don't Bug the Mosquitoes.” To the surprise of the executives, it was both a critical and commercial hit. None of the special's technical problems detracted from the show's appeal (really?); to the contrary, it was thought that these so-called quirks, along with several other choices, are what lent the show such an innovative, authentic and sincere feeling. For instance, Linus' recitation was hailed by critics such as Harriet Van Horne of the New York World-Telegram who said, “Linus' reading of the story of the Nativity was, quite simply, the dramatic highlight of the season.” Not the show, mind you, the “season.” It says something that the New York World-Telegram went under.

Fifty percent of the televisions (many still in black and white) in the United States were tuned to the first broadcast. A Charlie Brown Christmas won an Emmy and a Peabody award, and is considered by many to be a timeless Christmas holiday classic.

In January 2000, one month before Schulz's death, the broadcast rights were acquired by ABC (as part of a deal between the network and Schulz), which is where the special currently airs (and has aired there since CBS's final airing of the special on Dec. 25, 2000). On Sept. 12, 2000, the special was released to DVD [it had previously been released on VHS through Shell Oil for sale at their gas stations]. The show enjoyed its 40th anniversary with its broadcast of Dec. 6, 2005. This broadcast had the highest ratings in its time slot.

On Dec. 6, 2001, a half-hour documentary on the special entitled “The Making of ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ (hosted by Whoopi Goldberg) aired on ABC.

The special has not been seen in its original, uncut form since the first three telecasts in 1965, 1966 and 1967. Much of this is due to the opening and closing credits containing references to Coca-Cola, the show's original sponsor (I remember that). Specific, acknowledged cuts are:

• The main titles have Linus crashing into a Coca-Cola sign (complete with the main titles and the creator of this cartoon) after Snoopy has spun both him and Charlie Brown around with Linus' blanket. In current versions, the viewer never sees where Linus' trajectory lands him. Instead, they see Charlie Brown landing towards a pine tree which causes more snow to fall on top of him. The removed clip of Linus crashing into a Coca-Cola sign is seen in a 1965 promo for the film.

• In the "fence" scene, where several of the Peanuts gang are attempting to knock cans off a fence with snowballs, Linus is seen knocking down a can with his blanket. In the original airing, this was a Coke can, but it was later replaced with a nondescript can.

• The final end credit originally had a voice-over saying, “Brought to you from the people in your town who bottle Coca-Cola.” (In those days, nobody minded). This is why the "Hark!" chorus sung at the end trails off oddly before the song would normally end, as an announcer originally did a voice-over at this point in the credits to repeat and reemphasize the local bottler's well wishes to the TV audience (nobody minded that, either; in fact, it was kind of nice). This edit was never changed, but in newer versions, a quick fade-out and fade-in revealed the "THE END" screen, in order to make the audio-fade seem more natural.

• Although the FCC eventually imposed rules preventing sponsor references (let’s not indoctrinate the little Trotskyites in the ways of commercialism; after all, CBC is supposed to be about the negative effects of commercialism) in the context of a story (especially in children's programming), this had no effect upon the decision to impose these edits. The Coca-Cola product placement elements were removed when the company ceased being the sole sponsor, replaced in 1968 by Dolly Madison snack products, who continued to sponsor the Peanuts specials through the 1980s, along with McDonald's.

When CBS aired the special in the 1990s, the network made further cuts to the special, including standardizing closing credits (removing the closing carol outright in the process), and trimming out a series of scenes where the characters belittle Charlie Brown for picking a small Christmas tree (cutting straight to laughter), and removing references to commercialism. These cuts were made ostensibly to fit the special into the 30-minute time slot; commercial time per half-hour had increased by approximately 2 minutes between 1965 and the late 1990s.

ABC, upon acquiring the rights to the special in 2000, restored all of these cuts, increasing the length of the special to 32 minutes including commercials. ABC, however, has chosen to insert its commercials into different places in the program than were originally intended (fade-outs and fade-ins where the commercials are supposed to go are clearly evident), resulting in the commercials being haphazardly inserted in the middle of musical numbers or even dialogue.

The full, unedited, version aired once again on Dec. 15, 2009. * Source: Wikipedia

"'8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.'

"......That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.""

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Do You Hear What I Hear? - A Christmas Music Countdown

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king
Do you know what I know
In your palace warm mighty king?
Do you know what I know?
A child, a child
Shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold
Let us bring him silver and gold

My mother was a great storyteller. On nights when we’d been very good, we’d gather in my brothers’ room and listen to her bedtime and Bible stories and fairy tales. Bet you didn’t know God spoke with a Bronx tough-guy accent.

But one night in October 1962 (I was three), we all gathered in the boys’ room, and this time our father joined us, which he didn’t usually do. That night, my mother didn’t tell us any fairy tales. Instead she said there was bad news. Billy already knew because he was in school at that point and they were already practicing the desk duck-and-cover. Another country’s president was trying to put missiles on an island called “Cuba” just south of Florida.

President Kennedy told him not to, but so far that other president was ignoring him and the ships with the missiles were on their way. Once the missiles were in place, they could fire them and bomb New York City within a half an hour or less. My father said Cuba was only 90 miles from Florida and that people living in Miami would never even know what happened.

Some people in other parts of the country were building bomb shelters. My parents said we were too close to New York City and that it wouldn’t do any good. A bomb like that would level little Federal Hill, made of one of the hardest granites known to science, like a wave washing away a sandcastle.

My mother looked as sad as she stroked my hair. “What did we have children for,” she asked my father, “If they’re not even going to have a chance to grow up.”

At that same time, Noel Regency (lyrics) and Gloria Shayne Baker (music) wrote a Christmas song called, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” is a Christmas song written in October 1962 with lyrics by Noël Regency and music by Gloria Shayne Baker. The pair was married at the time, and wrote the song as a plea for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The song has sold tens of millions of copies by hundreds of different artists.

This was an unusual arrangement for the writers. Usually, Baker who wrote the lyrics for their songs while Regency composed the music, as they did on their classic children's song, “Rain, Rain Go Away.”

Regency was inspired to write the lyrics, “Said the night wind to the little lamb, 'Do you see what I see?'’” and “Pray for peace, people everywhere,” after watching babies being pushed in strollers on the sidewalks of New York City. Baker stated in an interview years later that neither could personally perform the entire song at the time they wrote it because of the emotions surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis. “Our little song broke us up. You must realize there was a threat of nuclear war at the time.”

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” was originally recorded by the Harry Someone Chorale shortly after Thanksgiving in 1962. It went on to sell more than quarter-million copies during the 1962 Christmas holiday season.

However, Bing Crosby who made the song a worldwide smash hit when he recorded his own version of it in October 1963, with the record being released as a single five days later, and subsequently being incorporated into an LP.

The song was later recorded in diverse ways by hundreds of different artists as varied as Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, Whitney Houston, Kate Smith, the United States Air Force Symphony Orchestra, Bob Hope, Kenny G, Carrie Underwood, Celina Deon, Rosie O' Donnell (with special guest Elmo), Mannheim Steamroller, Kristin Chenoweth, and Bob Dylan. One of the latest recordings is by Britain’s Got Talent’s Susan Boyle.

Do you hear what I hear? Well, if you think you hear some young starlet singing “Do You Hear What I Hear,” you’d be wrong. Yet that’s how she sounds on her new CD, “The Gift.” Released in November, it’s already gone platinum in Australia and New Zealand.

Susan Magdalene Boyle was born April 1, 1961 (18 months before the Cuban Missile Crisis) in Blackburn, West Lothian, Scotland, to Patrick Boyle, a miner, World War II veteran, and singer at the Bishop's Baize, and Bridget, a shorthand typist, who were both immigrants from County Donegal, Ireland.

She was the youngest of four brothers and six sisters. Born when her mother was 47, Boyle was briefly deprived of oxygen during the difficult birth and was later diagnosed as having learning difficulties. Boyle says she was bullied as a child and was nicknamed “Susie Simple" at school.

After leaving school with few qualifications, she was employed for the only time in her life as a trainee cook in the kitchen of West Lothian College for six months, took part in government training program, and performed at a number of local venues. Boyle took singing lessons from voice coach Fred O'Neil. She attended Edinburgh Acting School and took part in the Edinburgh Fringe.

Prior to Britain's Got Talent, her main experience had come from singing in her local Catholic church, Our Lady of Lourdes; in local choirs; and in karaoke performances at pubs in and around her village. She had also auditioned several times for My Kind of People. She also has long participated in her parish church's pilgrimages to the Knock Shrine, County Mayo, Ireland, and has sung there at the Marian basilica.

In 1999, she recorded a track for a charity CD to commemorate the Millennium produced at a West Lothian school. Only 1,000 copies of the CD, Music for a Millennium Celebration, Sounds of West Lothian, were pressed. An early review in the West Lothian Herald & Post said Boyle's rendition of “Cry Me a River” was “heartbreaking” and “had been on repeat in my CD player ever since I got this CD...” The recording found its way onto the internet following her first televised appearance and the New York Post said it showed that Boyle was “not a one trick pony. Another song, “Hello!” cement her status” as a singing star.

Still, Boyle has described her life as “mundane” and “routine,” at least until it took a different turn when she appeared as a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent.

In August 2008, Boyle applied for an audition for the third series of Britain's Got Talent and was accepted after a preliminary audition in Glasgow. When Boyle first appeared on Britain's Got Talent at the city's Clyde Auditorium, she said that she aspired to become a professional singer “as successful as” Elaine Paige. Boyle sang “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables in the first round of the third series of Britain's Got Talent, which was watched by over 10 million viewers when it aired on Apr. 11, 2009. Amanda Holden remarked upon the audience's initially cynical attitude, and the subsequent “biggest wake-up call ever” upon hearing her performance.

This performance was widely reported and tens of millions of people viewed the video on YouTube. Boyle was “absolutely gobsmacked” by the strength of this reaction. She was aware that the audience on Britain's Got Talent was initially hostile to her because of her appearance, but had refused to change it. Since the appearance, Paige has expressed interest in singing a duet with Boyle, and has called her “a role model for everyone who has a dream.”

Boyle still lives in the family home, a four-bedroom council house (public housing), with her 10-year-old cat, Pebbles. Her father died in the 1990s, and her siblings had left home. Boyle never married, and she dedicated herself to care for her aging mother until she died in 2007 at the age of 91. Boyle has a reputation for modesty and propriety, admitting during her first appearance on Britain's Got Talent that she had “never been married, never been kissed.”

She is a practicing Roman Catholic and sang in her church choir and is an active volunteer at her church in Blackburn, West Lothian, and Scotland. Boyle remains active as a volunteer at her church, visiting elderly members of the congregation in their homes.

The Media has given this “plain-lee” gifted singer a hard time. Initially, she refused to change image, but changed her mind, and allowed a stylist to make her as beautiful on the outside as she is on the inside. Her album, “I Dreamed a Dream” was nominated for a Grammy Award. She’s incredibly popular with the Internet/You tube crowd.

The Washington Post credited her success with the “Gomer Pyle Syndrome; the paper’s critics “believed that her initial demeanor and homely appearance caused the judges and audience to be “waiting for her to squawk like a duck.” The New York Daily News suspected her triumph of being some sort of manufactured literary device.   * Source: Wikipedia

The world thinks there’s something unfair about a homely woman having a beautiful voice, or a fair lady having a high IQ. The world judges a woman’s voice by her face and her intelligence by her figure.

“There are three things that matter in a woman,” Daphne Demaurier wrote in her novel, Rebecca, “beauty, brains, and breeding.”

There are three things that matter in a woman who sings: “talent, tonality, and tonsils.”

Bravo, Susan Boyle!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Chipmunk Song (And Other Nonsense) - A Christmas Music Countdown

Christmas, Christmas time is here
Time for joy and time cheer
We’ve been good but we can’t last
Hurry, Christmas, hurry fast!

“The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)” was written by Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. (a.k.a. David Seville) in 1958. Although it was written and sung by Bagdasarian (in the form of a high-pitched chipmunk voice – hope he didn’t hurt himself; but I seem to recall someone explaining that they simply speeded up the recording), the singing credits are given to The Chipmunks, a fictitious singing group consisting of three chipmunks by the names of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore. The song won three Grammy Awards in 1958: Best comedy performance, Best children's recording, and Best engineered record (non-classical).

The song was very successful, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Pop Singles chart, becoming The Chipmunks' first (and only), as well as David Seville's second and final, #1 single (guess that’s why they called it ‘The Chipmunk Song’. It has the distinction of being the only Christmas record to reach #1 on the same chart. The single sold 4.5 million copies. Ironically, before the song's success, “The Chipmunk Song” was featured on American Bandstand's “Rate-A-Record” segment and received the lowest possible rating of 35 across the board. Well, teenagers – what do they know?

Between 1959 and 1962, the single managed to re-enter the Hot 100, peaking at No. 41 in 1959, No. 45 in 1960, and No. 39 in 1962. (Starting in 1963, Billboard would list re-current Christmas songs on a separate chart.) The song managed to chart on the Hot Digital Songs for the first time in 2005, peaking at No. 35.

"The Chipmunk Song" is the last Christmas song to reach #1 on any US single record chart totaling performance of all available records.

With the release and popularity of the film Alvin and the Chipmunks in December 2007, “The Chipmunk Song” re-entered the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 70. They remixed the album for the 21st Century, but there’s still nothing like the original “Chipmunk Song.”   *

Ready for more nonsense? Then I highly recommend these very silly songs:

• March of the Wooden Soldiers – Harry Connick, Jr. (the first time I’ve heard words to this song. The whole album by the way is terrific. He also makes a great Little Drummer Boy).

• Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer - The Irish Rovers. Poor Grandma.

• Monster Holiday – Lon Chaney

• The Happy Reindeer – The Singing Reindeer

• Christmas at Ground Zero – Weird Al Yankovic. If the signal’s clear, we’ll go count all the mutants on New Year’s.

• The 12 Days of Christmas – Bob & Doug McKenzie. On the 5th day of Xmas – beer!

• The 12 Days of Christmas – Allan Sherman. Japanese radios

• ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas – Stan Freberg. “Read it to me again, Uncle Stan!”

• Jingle Cats – The Jingle Cats. Meowlly Christmas.

• Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town – Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters. He’s the big fat man with the long white beard. Not Bing; Santa.

• Little Saint Nick – The Beach Boys; The Muppets

• The Man with All the Toys – The Beach Boys

• Christmas is Coming – John Denver and The Muppets – Be sure catch the bit about “piggy pudding”.

* Source: Wikipedia

Monday, December 06, 2010

I Believe in Santa Claus - A Christmas Music Countdown

I believe in Santa Claus
I believe in him because
I sat on his knee and we
Laughed so very merrily

This was my tenth year of our company’s Kiddie Xmas, photographing the employees’ kids with Santa. Every year, my operation gets a little more sophisticated. This year, I put my new musical toys to use. The train whistle and the sleigh bells were particularly effective in getting the attention of little howlers and little wandering minds.

They hired a professional Santa this year. Our previous Santas were all volunteer employees. They didn’t realize what a difficult job the man in the red suit has. Even this one had given up on crying youngsters. He said there was no sense in forcing them and I couldn’t agree more, which was why I invented the concept of the “Mommy Chair.” Santa was very impressed and surprised at how smoothly things went.

Santa has almost as many songs written about him as the savior he served in real life. Few people realize the true story of St. Nicholas. He was desanctified by the Catholic Church in 1962, under Vatican II. Some original tales have it that he was robbed and murdered by Muslim thieves. Other tales have it that they imprisoned him and upon his release, traveled north from Turkey to a region in Northern Europe.

Saint Nicholas is absolutely venerated in The Netherlands (Holland). In Holland, St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6th) is still observed, and his faithful servant, Black Peter, still assists him. Saint Nicholas ( Greek for “victory of the people”) was born in 270 and died Dec. 6, 346. Nicholas is the canonical and most popular name for Nikolaos of Myra, a saint and Greek Bishop of Myra (present-day, Kale, formerly Demre, on the coast of southern Turkey).

Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose English name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas. His reputation evolved among the faithful, as is common for early Christian saints. In 1087, his relics were furtively translated to Bari, in southeastern Italy; for this reason, he is also known as Nikolaos of Bari.

The historical Saint Nicholas is remembered and revered among Catholic and Orthodox Christians. He is also honored by various Anglican and Lutheran churches. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of children, students, sailors, merchants, archers, and thieves in Greece, Belgium, France, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Albania, Russia, the Republic of Macedonia, Slovakia, Serbia, and Montenegro. He is also the patron saint of Aberdeen, Amsterdam, Barranquilla, Bari, Beit Jala, Fribourg, Huguenots, Liverpool, Siggiewi, and Lorraine. In 1809, the New-York Historical Society convened and retroactively named Santa Claus the patron saint of New Amsterdam, the historical name for New York City. He was also a patron of the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine emperors, who protected his relics in Bari.

A nearly identical story is attributed by Greek folklore to Basil of Caesarea. In Greece, people exchange gifts on Basil's feast day, Jan. 1.

Although he was the patron saint of Russia, and the model for a northern invention such as Santa Claus, Nicholas of Myra was Greek. Saint Nicholas (Bishop of Myra) replaced Sabino as the patron saint in Asia Minor during the 3rd century in the Greek colony of Patara, Demre, Lycia (part of modern-day Turkey), at a time when the region was part of the Roman province of Asia and was Hellenistic in its culture and outlook. He was the only son of wealthy Christian parents named Epiphanus and Johanna, and was very religious from an early age. According to legend, Nicholas was said to have rigorously observed the canonical fasts of Wednesdays and Fridays. His wealthy parents died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young and he was raised by his uncle—also named Nicholas—who was the bishop of Patara. He tonsured the young Nicholas (shaved all his hair off except for the very top), and later as presbyter (priest). Nicholas also spent time the Holy Sion monastery Holy Sion, which his uncle founded.

In 1071, Romanus IV, Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, faced Sultan Alp Arslan of the Seljuk Turks in the Battle of Manzikert. The battle ended in humiliating defeat and capture for Romanus. As a result, the Empire temporarily lost control over most of Asia Minor to the invading Seljuk Turks. The Byzantines would regain its control over Asia Minor during the reign of Alexius I Comnenus. But early in his reign, Myra was overtaken by the Islamic invaders.

Taking advantage of the confusion, sailors from Bari in Apulia seized the remains of the saint over the objections of the Orthodox monks. Returning to Bari, they brought the remains with them and cared for them. The remains arrived in May 1087. In some versions of this account, those taking the relics are characterized as thieves or pirates; in others they are said to have taken them in response to a vision wherein Saint Nicholas himself appeared and commanded that his relics be moved in order to preserve them from the impending Muslim conquest.

Some observers have reported seeing myrrh exude his relics, which is said to have miraculous powers of heaving. Vials of myrrh from his relics have been taken all over the world for centuries, and can still be obtained from his church in Bari. Currently at Bari, there are two churches at his shrine, one Roman Catholic and one Orthodox.

According to a local legend, some of his remains were brought by three pilgrims to a church in what is now Nikolausberg in the vicinity of the city of Göttingen, Germany, giving the church and village its name.

There is also a Venetian legend (preserved in the Morosini Chronicle) that most of the relics were actually taken to Venice (where a great church to St. Nicholas, the patron of sailors, was built on the Lido), only an arm being left at Bari. This tradition was overturned in the 1950s when a scientific investigation of the relics in Bari revealed a largely intact skeleton.

It is said that in Myra the relics of Saint Nicholas each year exuded a clear watery liquid which smelled like rose water, called manna (or myrrh), which is believed by the faithful to possess miraculous powers. After the relics were brought to Bari, they continued to do so, much to the joy of the new owners. Even up to the present day, a flask of manna is extracted from the tomb of Saint Nicholas every year on Dec. 6 by the clergy of the basilica. The myrrh is collected from a sarcophagus which is located in the basilica vault and can be purchased in the shop nearby.

On Dec. 28, 2009, the Turkish Government formally requested the return of St Nikolaos's bones to Turkey from the Italian government. Turkish authorities have cited the fact that Saint Nicolas himself wanted to be buried at his birthplace. They also state that his remains were illegally removed from Turkey.

Another legend tells how a terrible famine struck an island he was visiting. A malicious butcher lured three little children into his house, where he slaughtered and butchered them, placing their remains in a barrel to cure, planning to sell them off as ham. Saint Nicholas, visiting the region to care for the hungry, not only saw through the butcher's horrific crime but also resurrected the three boys from the barrel by his prayers.

In St. Nicholas’ most famous exploit, a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes. Hearing of the poor man's plight, Nicholas decided to help him but being too modest to help the man in public (or to save the man the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to his house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the man's house.

One version has him throwing one purse for three consecutive nights. Another has him throw the purses over a period of three years, each time the night before one of the daughters comes “of age." Invariably, the third time the father lies in wait, trying to discover the identity of their benefactor. In one version the father confronts the saint, only to have Saint Nicholas say it is not him he should thank, but God alone. In another version, Nicholas learns of the poor man's plan and drops the third bag down the chimney instead; a variant holds that the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung

During a great famine that the Bishop of Myra experienced, a ship was in the port at anchor, loaded with wheat for the Emperor in Byzantium. He invited the sailors to unload a part of the wheat to help in time of need. The sailors refused the request, because the wheat had to be weighed accurately and delivered to the Emperor. Only when Nicholas promised them that they would not take any damage for their assistance, the sailors agreed. When they arrived later in the capital, they made a surprising find. The weight of the load had not changed. The removed wheat in Myra supplied the town for two full years and could even be used for sowing.

Unlike most saints, whose bodies were broken up for relics, St. Nicholas is unique in that most of his bones have been preserved in one spot: his grave crypt in Bari. The archdiocese of Bari allowed one scientific survey of the bones. In the late 1950s, during a restoration of the chapel, it allowed a team of hand-picked scientists to photograph and measure the contents of the crypt grave. In the summer of 2005, the report of these measurements was sent to a forensic laboratory in England. The review of the data revealed that the historical St. Nicholas was barely five feet tall and had a broken nose.

The story of Saint Nicholas, and his helper, Black Peter, who has been replaced by the more politically correct elves of the North Pole, goes on for about fifty pages, compared to the simpler story of the birth of the savior in whose name he performed these miracles. So here’s what I make of the legend of Santa Claus, or Saint Nicholas.

Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, was born to wealthy parents in the town of Myra on the southern coast of Turkey. His parents died of the plague when was he was young and he was raised by an uncle, who was a bishop. Nicholas devoted himself to the church at a young age and vowed to donate all his inherited wealth to the poor, particularly orphaned children, to whom he related.

He traveled a great deal on his missions, and saved the lives of some sailors during a storm, even though he was small in stature. His journeys brought him to Spain, where he discovered a young Moroccan, Muslim boy in a Catholic orphanage there. The boy was apprenticed in carpentry, and made wooden toys for the other children in the orphanage. He also protected the younger children from the cruelty of older children (in his role as Saint Nicholas, Black Peter was given the task of whipping naughty children. Modern parents would be shocked, but naughty didn’t just mean putting ants in the sugar bowl. Children in the Dark Ages could be pretty savage and they weren’t above stealing, vandalism, and mutilating and torturing animals and playmates – pretty naughty.) Moved by the boy’s generosity and kindness, Nicholas took him on as an altar boy and gave him the name of Peter. In gratitude, the boy Peter converted to Christianity and vowed to serve his patron freely.

The legend of Nicholas’ miracles and generosity - resurrecting three children from death at the hands of a murderous butcher during a famine; feeding the starving with borrowed wheat; paying the dowry of three impoverished girls who would have been sold into slavery; putting gold coins into the shoes of a poor children – grew, even though Nicholas preferred anonymity. The father of the three girls hid in wait to learn the identity of their benefactor.

With the advent of the Muslim empire, Nicholas’ final wish was that his remains be removed to a safer location. Three monks, probably with the help of Nicholas’ assistant, Peter, carried his body to the Italian town of Bari in the midst of a riot when they wouldn’t be noticed, where they are buried to this day. Other legends say that his remains were carried to Venice, Germany (where the town was renamed after him, Nikolasberg), and even Ireland.   * Source: Wikipedia

Legends say that Nicholas traveled extensively, possibly to Germany, where his name is held in the greatest reverence. But really, he is beloved worldwide. In Germany, the legends of the elves grew from a misunderstanding of the Greek world “alf” for “white” (his robes – and his horse – were white_ and the German word for a brownie ,“elf”, a small creature blamed for household mischief in the middle of the night, who could only be assuaged by a plate of cookies and a glass of milk. The tales that reached Germany were of a man in white (and red) and a brown man who made toys.

The modern, American Santa Claus has undergone a transformation over the centuries. Black Peter has been replaced by little elves in green and red. Nicholas’ white horse has changed into eight tiny reindeer better able to land on the slanted roofs of the wintry north. In Europe, the children greet Saint Nicholas on his feast day, Dec. 6th. In America, children don’t celebrate the Feast Day, but rather, greet the guy in red and white right after Thanksgiving.

Some churches in America (except for the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches) tend to resent Santa Claus, feeling he eclipses the savior whose birth we’re supposed to be celebrating. The Protestant churches, in fact, don’t recognize saints at all. To them, there’s only one hero.

They should understand, though, that Saint Nicholas was totally devoted to the service of Jesus Christ. There is no battle between the two figures; only one the purists and comedians have created. It is said that for those who gain entrance into Heaven, they are granted a particular task for eternity. Since forever is a long time, it had better be something you love doing. After all, what are we supposed to do in Heaven; just sit around floating on clouds all day?

Evidently, Saint Nicholas was granted the eternal wish of befriending children (and sailors) and brining the toys they so love. As we mature, we think we outgrow the notion of having a mythical figure bring us toys and presents and wonderful things, which is as it should be. Somewhere close to adulthood, we finally figure it out – that ‘tis better to give than to receive – and that’s when we rediscover Santa Claus and that we can tell our children in all honesty, that yes, Nathaniel, Alexa, Noah, Keith, Bailey, Aiden, Victoria, Matthew, Jessica, Allison, Rachel, Brian, Sarah, John, and Virginia – there IS a Santa Claus.

I promised a musical history. But first you have to believe in Santa before you can sing about him. I have a Christmas songbook for piano with a song entitled, “I Believe in Santa Claus,” written in 1950. But apparently it was never recorded. I’ve been through ten pages of Google and had to finally get the lyrics from the songbook (and revise one line a bit).

Some of the songs with Santa in the title are: Here Comes Santa Claus, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, Santa Baby. He also appears in Up On the Rooftop, and he’s the star of the tale, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

Small children want to believe the magic, but get confused when they see so many Santas, in every store, mall, party, and sidewalk. But don’t worry about it; that just makes the magic more wonderful. The best part for parents is when they open their presents on Christmas morning (well for those of you have kids) and joy lights their faces. We may make a little too much of the materialism. As long as you have a creche nearby, or take your children to church to teach them what it’s really all about – and teach them who Santa really was, there’ll be nothing wrong with your child taking delight in that bright red fire truck or hugging that sweet dolly.

Reality will come in time, and that will be magical, too, once they get past the political correctness. The Roman Catholic Church no longer recognizes Saint Nicholas as a saint. In 1962, in the Vatican II pact, the Catholic made an agreement to desanctify him and erase history. Read the section about the remains of Saint Nicholas again. He had a broken nose. Before Vatican II, the story was that Myra was overrun by Muslims and they, knowing he was wealthy, robbed and murdered Saint Nicholas. What’s more the name of the town was changed several times, burying the truth in obscurity. The story goes that the Muslims also imprisoned Nicholas and Peter.

The Catholic Church may find it expedient to no longer believe in Santa Claus (in Holland, the name is SinterKlaas (sinter – saint; klaas, an abbreviation of the name “Nicholas”). The Muslims insisted that no one could prove Muslims had murdered him, though apparently his followers knew enough, knew the Muslim raiders were coming and moved his body. Anybody could have robbed him, only no one needed to because he gave his money so freely. Apparently, if the Vatican wanted peace, they had to erase Saint Nicholas, as well as Saint Valentine, Saint Hillary, and some other saints, from their annals. His murder, particularly on what were probably religious grounds, is the third part of sainthood. Without it, without that martyrdom, they’re just another good Christian.

This is how myths are created – by distorting and burying the truth, and putting lies in their place. This is how evil people slowly destroy faith. But never mind, Saint Nicholas. The Greek Orthodox Church still believes in you and so do we.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

O Come, All Ye Faithful - A Christmas Music Countdown

Adeste fideles, laetit triumphants,
venite, venite in Bethlehem!
Natum videte regem angelorum:
venite adoremus, venite adoremus,
venite adoremus Dominum!"

“They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings--and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers." Jesus said that those chosen would be few; that many would praise His name for awhile but then fall off and fall back into their old habits, that they were like seeds cast upon stones; they would grow for awhile but then be scorched by the sun.

“Adeste Fideles” is a hymn tune that has been attributed to English hymnist John Francis Wade. The text itself has unclear beginnings, and may have been written in the 13th century by John of Reading, though it has been accepted that Wade was probably the author.

The original four verses of the hymn were extended to a total of eight, and these have been translated into many languages many times, though the English “O Come All Ye Faithful” translation by the English Roman Catholic priest Frederick Oakeley is particularly widespread.

Before the emergence of John Francis Wade as the probable composer, the tune had been purported to be written by several musicians, from John Reading and his son to Handel, including the Portuguese composer Marcos Portugal. There are several similar musical themes written around that time, though it can be hard to determine whether these were written in imitation of the hymn, the hymn was based on them, or they are totally unconnected.

The earliest existing manuscript shows both words and tune. John Francis Wade included it in his own publication of Cantus Diversi (1751). It was published again in the 1760 edition of Evening Offices of the Church. It also appeared in Samuel Webbe's “An Essay on the Church Plain Chant” (1782).

The original text has been attributed to various groups and individuals, including St. Bonaventure in the 13th century and King John IV of Portugal in the 17th, though it was more commonly believed that the text was written by an order of monks, the Cistercian. German, Portuguese and Spanish orders have, at various times been given credit.

The original text consisted of four Latin verses, and it was with these that the hymn was originally published. The Abbé Etienne Jean Francois Borderies wrote an additional three verses in the 18th century; these are normally printed as the third to fifth of seven verses, while another, anonymous, additional Latin verse is rarely printed. The text has been translated innumerable times, but the most used version today is the English “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” This is a combination of one of Frederick Oakeley's translations of the original four verses and William Thomas Brooke's of the three additional ones, which was first published in Murray's Hymnal in 1852.

The most commonly-named Portuguese author is King John IV of Portugal, “The Musician King” Born in 1603, he came to the throne in 1640. John IV was a patron of music and the arts, and a considerably sophisticated writer on music. Additionally, he was a composer, and during his reign he collected one of the largest libraries in the world (destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755).

The first part of his musical work was published in 1649. He founded a Music School in Vila Viçosa that ‘exported’ musicians to Spain and Italy. In Italy, at his Vila Viçosa palace, two manuscripts of the “Portuguese Hymn” have been found. Those manuscripts (1640) predate Wade's 18th Century manuscript. Among the King's writings is a Defense of Modern Music (Lisbon, 1649). In the same year (1649), he struggled to get instrumental music approved by the Vatican for use in the Catholic Church. His other famous composition is a setting of the Crux Fidelis, a work that remains highly popular during Lent amongst church choirs.

The hymn was known for a while as the Portuguese Hymn after the Duke of Leeds in 1795 heard the hymn being sung at the Portuguese embassy in London and assumed that it had originated from Portugal. The translation that he heard differs greatly from the Oakeley-Brooke translation.

Also a different account of the story, which is more believed to be true, is that King John IV of Portugal wrote this hymn to accompany his daughter Catherine to England, where she married King Charles II. Wherever she went she and her embassy, were announced and accompanied with this hymn, which became widely know in England as the Portuguese Hymn, because it actually represented Portugal (in the form of the Princess).

The hymn has been interpreted as a Jacobite birth ode to Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Professor Bennett Zon, head of music at Durham University, claims the carol is actually a birth ode to Bonnie Prince Charlie, the secret political code being decipherable by the “faithful” — supposedly the Jacobites, with Bethlehem a common Jacobite cipher for England and Regem Angelorum a pun on Angelorum (Angels) and Anglorum (English). From the 1740s to 1770s, the earliest forms of the carol commonly appeared in English Roman Catholic liturgical books close to prayers for the exiled Old Pretender. In the books by Wade it was often decorated with Jacobite floral imagery, as were other liturgical texts with coded Jacobite meanings.

In the United Kingdom and United States, it is often sung today in an arrangement by Sir David Willcocks, which was originally published in 1961 by Oxford University Press in the first book in the Carols for Choirs series.

Although it was said to be written for the purposes of the likes of Bonnie Prince Charlie and Princess Catherine, they were not the royalty the faithful were being summoned to adore, nor does the hymn call today’s faithful to worship royalty, politicians, or celebrities (although many celebrity singers have recorded the song).  * Source: Wikipedia

The seeds of faith were planted over two millennia ago; we don’t know whether the seeds fell by the wayside, were devoured by birds, withered on rocks, or found good soil. When Christmas is over, will we pack away our faith with the Christmas tree and our CDs, or will we still sing the praises of Jesus comes the summer, when the weather is fair and our spirits are high because it’s warm outside?

Will we worship the Sun? Or the Son?