Friday, December 04, 2009

Holiday music

There are probably fewer than 100 really standard Christmas songs in the world. The ones that truly stick are very simple tunes, things that non-musical, drunk relations can approximately remember and sing, with moderate ranges and few accidentals. Large books of 100+ Christmas standards seem to end up resorting to nonstandard songs. The standard songs get repeated endlessly in stores and shopping centers around this time of year.

I probably also dislike Christmas music more than most people because I've played lots of it. Anyone who plays music invariably ends up in a holiday concert or two, and because most standard Christmas tunes are relatively short and simplistic, they get crammed together into cheesy medleys, often with jarring key and tempo changes. The only other challenges to playing such pieces in a group are agreeing with the others in the group as to how many times to repeat the choruses, and not getting too bored rehearsing them.

A couple of years ago, Scott and I were in Italy around the holidays. On the whole, it was a great trip. All the churches, big and small, and all the towns put up elaborate creches and try to outdo each other. Venice also had a gorgeous Murano glass tree in the main square, lighted from inside. And because it's not really the tourist season, it's less crowded at the major landmarks, which also suited us fine.

There were also lots of buskers in Italy, folks on street corners playing music, hoping for tips. From Pompeii to Milan, they all played Jingle Bells, which has even fewer notes than most and requires no particular talent or finesse. One particularly dreadful rendition was from a saxophonist honking it loudly in one train car, then the next. It was getting on my nerves, so I told Scott that we should tip the first guy who was playing something besides Jingle Bells.

It was towards the end of our trip from south to north that we crossed one of the larger bridges in Venice. At the top of the arch, at night, in the cold, was a violinist playing Silent Night, decently well. Scott pointed out that he wasn't playing Jingle Bells, and we tossed a coin in his case.


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