Thursday, December 01, 2016

two Christmas pieces

(And don't read the YouTube comments, but you knew that).

I like Sufjan Stevens' rendition of some of the traditional/religious Christmas music. They are more or less contemporary in feeling, and yet, at the same time, I think they honor the integrity of the music. My complaint with so many "modern" renditions of Christmas carols or even sometimes Christmas sacred music is that the singer or instrumentalist makes it "all about them" - showing how many high notes they can insert, or how much "artificial sweetening" in the form of string overlays they can do, or how much they can alter the basic tune.

(That said: I don't mind it, and when it's done well, I like it, when someone "churches up" [as they say around here] a traditional song - Ray Charles' version of "America, the Beautiful" is one I can think of that in his "churched up" rendition sounds good)

But I think a GOOD piece of music is one that can be played simply and still sounds good - it has a certain structural integrity. "Silent Night" is like that - legend has it was originally just voice and guitar (the story being the organ bellows in the little German church were broken, more legend says it is a mouse chewed on the leather bellows and caused a hole). "Silent Night" sounds good with a guitar, it sounds good with a piano, it sounds good a capella.....

Bach is the same way. I don't like Bach "overdone" - I think there is enough complexity in most of his melodies/counterpoints that you should play it more or less straight. Which Stevens and his fellow musicians do.

This first piece is called "Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light" which is from the Christmas Oratorio but has also been reworked as a stand-alone hymn. I think this is very keeping in this week's advent theme of "Hope" - it is a very hopeful song ("And usher in the morning...."). And yet, I admit, there are times when I've heard it these past couple of years where I put my head down and cried a little....

The second is one I actually knew the tune of FIRST as a Good Friday piece ("O Sacred Head Now Wounded") but it is actually originally from the Christmas Oratorio and I admit I like the sort of full-circle effect of that.

Again, the music on this is so beautiful. The words are beautiful, too. (And reading the original German title, I am beginning to be able to understand it....I know some of the words in the title if not recognizing the sentence structure).

I'm not the only one to recognize the "Hey, isn't that tune also...." This writer has some thoughts on it (I don't agree with everything the writer says, partly because Resurrection, partly because I tend to believe Jesus totally knew what He was getting Himself into and it was a choice, a choice shocking to us maybe, but a choice made out of love, and also because....I think "How shall I fitly meet thee" also reminds us - the word FITLY - that we need to stop and examine ourselves and how we are living our lives as Advent progresses. I don't see it as a purely warm fuzzy thing. And anyway: life is hard and brutal, sometimes retreating into a bit of warmth is good for the soul; good for helping us to go on in this life and to keep fighting whatever good fight we have chosen to fight)

I should find some piano arrangements of these and try to learn to play them. Maybe for next year.

I am trying to play a little Christmas music. I found a book of fairly-simple arrangements of traditional carols and with a little work, I was able to mostly play the arrangement in the book. Yes, maybe it's not "stretching" myself very much, but it is satisfying to realize I've gotten good enough to be able to mostly play even a simple arrangement after about a half-hour of working at it.

No comments: