Monday, December 21, 2009
Do you hear what I hear?
I would be in shambles if we celebrated Christmas without song. In a season that is potentially quite stressful, holiday music is among my only sources of solace. So with just a few hours before we hit the 25th of December, here's to share with you some of the Christmas albums that have continued to keep me sane and safe through the years.
THE STORY OF CHRISTMAS (SWINGLE SINGERS)
Undoubtedly my favorite Christmas album of all time. I had been a fan of The Swingle Singers' earlier holiday collection and jumped at the prospect of getting this more recent one when fellow chorister Tonet Santana volunteered to get me copy while he was in the U.S. With 21 tracks, THE STORY OF CHRISTMAS embraces the narrative of the Nativity from all possible angles and reflects all the shades of the season, from somber to grandiose, in a cappella. O COME, O COME, EMMANUEL and MAGNIFICAT are staggering beautiful, and the group's SILENT NIGHT never fails to make me cry.
A SOULFUL CELEBRATION (QUINCY JONES)
Maybe not technically a Christmas collection, the album is a modern take on Handel's Oratorio, and traces the lush history of African-American music. I first read about the Quincy Jones's project in the early 90s and was flabbergasted by the roster of artists involved in it: Stevie Wonder, Take 6, Patti Austin, David Pack, Al Jarreau, Gladys Knight, Johnny Mathis, The Yellow Jackets, to name a few. My personal favorites are AND HE SHALL PURIFY and I KNOW THAT MY REDEEMER LIVETH, each with distinct R&B flavors, both rousing in totally different ways. I have three copies of the CDs--the two that I've lent out have never returned.
CHRISTMAS PORTRAIT (CARPENTERS)
College classmate and songwriter Vincent Wongaiham played this non-stop during those months we were working on our thesis with Sandra Herrero-Gonzalvez and Jo-Ann Sto. Tomas-Reyes. Festive and full of cheer, the album conjures images of Christmas pageants and Dorothy Hamill on ice at the Rockefeller Plaza, what with the tubular bells and sleigh bells plus the dense orchestral arrangements in most of the tracks. I must have been influenced by the album sound when writing the musical we produced in college. Thanks to Karen and Richard, we got an A+.
AN EVENING IN DECEMBER (FIRST CALL)
The album had an underground following when I was in college; campus choirs kept requesting scores of ONE SMALL CHILD and STARLIGHT, among others. Coincidentally, I was then producing Bukas Palad's Christmas album and must have been swayed by the rich choral arrangements that were tapered for more pop-sounding choirs, and evident in AN EVENING IN DECEMBER. The sound was and still is both stirring and refreshing.
A CHRISTMAS ALBUM (KENNY RANKIN)
Maybe 5 years back, fellow musician Gino Torres gifted me with this album from one of our favorite vocal stylists, Kenny Rankin. Of course, I never told Gino that I had already owned a copy; besides, I was perfectly fine with owning two. With just man and guitar, the album manages to give new meaning to traditional Christmas songs and carols, infusing jazzy vibe and sometimes melancholic rhythm to such classic melodies as WE THREE KINGS and LITTLE DRUMMER BOY--and mind you, these are songs I had previously no liking for. Ooh, I am still mourning Rankin's recent passing.
THE CHRISTMAS COLLECTION (AMY GRANT)
This was my lucky find last year. I already had one of Amy Grant's holiday albums (which dear friend Reggie Regala borrowed, then lost but replaced immediately), and was elated to come across this collection compiling the artist's favorite Christmas tracks and some new ones to boot. My favorite BREATH OF HEAVEN and the first version I ever heard of the now-too-popular GROWN UP CHRISTMAS LIST made the cut. Equally moving for me beneath drums, synthesizers and electric guitars are I NEED A SILENT NIGHT and A CHRISTMAS TO REMEMBER.
NOELS SANS PASSEPORT (SWINGLE SINGERS)
I borrowed a cassette of this album from choirmate Lourdes Uranza-Jungnitsch and never returned it. Absolutely fabulous! Produced nearly 40 years ago, the music continues to intrigue and uplift with the magical arrangements of carols from around the world--all through scatting and without any of the original lyrics being uttered. Particularly fascinating for me are the medleys that take the listener through musical movements, rising and falling and rising again to depict the myriad of emotions that Christmas brings. I learned recently from friend and musical genius, Palan Reyes, that a CD of the album now exists.
PASKO NA! (BUKAS PALAD)
All right. I guess I lied. Pasko Na is my favorite Christmas album of all time. But I am biased; you see the tracks are written, arranged, and recorded by people I love, and those who have shaped my perception of music and Christmas. They are a big reason why my holidays shall be forever filled with song.
A merry, merry Christmas to all!