Each November we rush ahead in the holiday seasons, jumping immediately from Halloween to Christmas, and the musical sounds of the holiday erupt everywhere from Sirius radio to the supermarket.
I, for one, love it — for the time travel it affords me.
The moment I hear those chords, ostensibly played by Schroeder upon his tiny piano, in the soundtrack of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” I’m temporarily transported back to 6th grade when the beloved cartoon classic debuted on Dec. 9, 1965.
“Little Drummer Boy” takes me back to 1958, when I was 4 and my father brought home Harry Simeone Chorale’s recording, explaining to me it was a song about a child. I listened to it nearly every night at bedtime that year, singing along with each “rum-pa-pa-pum.”
I can’t recall specifically which year in grade school it was when our class studied Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite.” But I remember our music teacher distributed a variety of small instruments that included wooden rhythm sticks, shiny cymbals, silver triangles and a few small drums. As we’d listen to the orchestral album, she would signal to us when to join in with our instruments. (Annually I resist the urge to hold imaginary percussion instruments each time I hear the “March of the Toy Soldiers.”)
My husband shakes his head in disbelief, yet acceptance, when he hears the music resonate in our home, starting Nov. 1. Last week he simply commented, “I guess it’s time to get used to hearing ‘Rock Around the Clock,’” upon hearing Brenda Lee blasting from Comcast’s “Music Choice Sounds of the Seasons” channel. I replied: “I think you mean ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.’”
If two months of Nat King Cole, Bing, the Carpenters, John Lennon, Springsteen, and so many others can bring us some temporary escape, I’m all for it — especially now, when our nation finds itself experiencing intense political division, often ugly and as far as it gets from goodwill toward men.
Even friends of mine who don’t celebrate Christmas have told me there is something comforting in the music, signaling our having made it through one more year. You don’t have to be Christian to feel your eyes well up with tears every time you hear Judy Garland wistfully sing, “Once again as in olden days, happy golden days of yore. Faithful friends who were dear to us, gather near to us, once more.”
When I was in college, while dating an intellectual agnostic, I attempted to prove to him God’s existence by asking him to attend a performance of Handel’s “Messiah” with me. He obliged, and we drove to Boston for the concert. At the evening’s conclusion, as we walked out into the New England December frost, he asked me exactly how a brilliant piece of baroque music proved the existence of God.
To that question I could only reply, “Could anything as glorious as ‘For Unto Us a Child is Born’ or the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ have been composed in a world without faith, without God?” (Needless to say, the relationship didn’t last much longer. I lacked scientific objectivity — too soulful, too artsy.)
For those who argue that November Christmas music minimizes the importance of Thanksgiving, I recommend winter seasonal songs about snow, pumpkin pie and dashing “over the river and through the woods.” To me “We Gather Together,” “Simple Gifts” and “America the Beautiful” are exceptionally meaningful songs of gratitude and should be included more often within the holiday repertoire.
Ultimately, more important than the actual sounds of any season are the behaviors accompanying the tunes. Tolerance and sensitivity to the appropriateness of Christmas music must be respected. Musical tidings of comfort and joy should provide exactly that.