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(Annunciation to the Herders – Govert Flink, 1639)

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

– Luke 2: 8-14

Surely one of my very favorite passages in the Gospels, the annunciation to the shepherds literally brings tears of happiness every time I read or hear it.  Even when I was a kid watching Linus recite it on the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, I remember feeling a very particular, even unique kind of joy, a sense of a special moment of unity between Heaven and Earth.  The image of the sudden appearance of the heavenly host still gives me the shivers whenever I think about it.

The merriest of Christmases to all of you, my fellow port-swillers!


Lawd, do I need the break.

Except during Lent, I leave the radio in my office on all day, tuned to the local classickal station.  (Yes, I know that using good musick as background noise is revolting to purist sensibilities, but there it is.  Rest assured that it’s not the only way I listen.)

About two weeks ago, the station started feeding holiday tunes into its playlist.  At first, they constituted a mere smattering among the regular works, but – kudzu-like – gradually came to dominate.  The past 72 hours or so, the station has played little, if anything, else.

By this afternoon, I was about ready to jam pencils into my eardrums.  As I listened to the umpteenth variant of “Silent Night,”  it suddenly occurred to me that Christmas musick suffers from what one might call the Humanities Doctorate Problem:  There are only so many reasonable ways to present the classics, only so much that can sensibly be said about them.  On the other hand, there is a constant pressure for originality and innovation.  The result?  A lot of damned tomfoolery. 

As it is with Ph. D dissertations on Shakespeare, so it is with arrangements of holiday musick .   Everything good and intelligent has been done already.  The only avenues left for “new” expressions are simply abominable:  Ersatz treatments along the lines of “If Bach Had Written ‘Jingle-Bells'”;  near-sacrilegious medleys featuring combinations of  ‘O Come, Emmanuel’ with ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’;  renderings of ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’ and ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’ in full operatic mode (I heard a series of favorites served up by Leontyne Price today – capped off by the inevitable Schubert  ‘Ave, Maria’ that gave me what Mr. John Keats called the guts-ache).     

It seems to me that there ought to be a law.


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December 2009