Posts Tagged ‘Holidays’

Retropost: Let it Snow x 3

With another foot of snow falling on Boston today, I thought I’d dig up this old post from 2008 about winter songs.  Sometimes you need to sing to keep from crying.


 

You may not believe it, but I spend inordinate amounts of time surfing the web. One day idly paging through Wikipedia’s list of Number-one hits, I discovered that the song “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow” performed by Vaughn Monroe was the number one song in the USA for five weeks in 1946. This surprised me for two reasons. One, I never thought of this little ditty we sing at Christmas time as hit record material. Two, the song charted in the weeks from January 26 to February 23, well after the Christmas season was over.

Listen to Vaugh Monroe perform “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!”

Of course, if you look at the lyrics for “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” as written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne you’ll realize that the song has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. It is merely a love song set in wintertime. I’ve long wondered why so many songs we sing at Christmas time have nothing to do with Christmas at all. “Sleigh Ride,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” “Marshmallow World,” and perhaps the most ubiquitous “Christmas” carol of all “Jingle Bells.” It’s become a cliche to add the notes of the “Jingle Bells” chorus to the end of a recording of any Christmas song, but there’s nary a mention of Christmas in the lyrics. Couldn’t one enjoy a vigorous sleigh ride through the country in January, February, or even March?

That many popular Christmas songs of the 20th century were written by Jewish songwriters may play a part in the emphasis of winter imagery over baby Jesus and Santa Claus. But I think that at one time people liked to sing songs about the winter. If you think about it, the way these winter songs have been typecast as Christmas carols would be kind of like only playing Gershwin’s “Summertime” on the 4th of July with patriotic songs like “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful.”

So I’ve come up with an idea. Now that we are a week past Groundhog’s Day*, why don’t we have a national celebration of wintertime by singing and playing these old classics. It could be an annual tradition every year from February 9-15 to acknowledge that whether the groundhog saw his shadow or not that we can make the best of what remains of winter in a joyous carnival of singing.

Who’s with me?

Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
And since we’ve no place to go
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

* Note: I also have a great carol for Groundhog’s Day.

The 44th Annual Christmas Revels

The Christmas Revels at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge are annual family tradition.  My first Revels experience was in Washington in 1996.  After moving to the Boston area, the Cambridge Revels were an annual event from 2001-2006.  We missed the show in 2007 due to a newborn, and in 2008 due to a blizzard, but have been regular attendees since 2009 (that same year I actually sang in the chorus!).  So, I calculate that I’ve seen 13 different Christmas Revels performances.  Each year is delightful and surprising in its own way.*

This year’s Revels is set in Victorian England, with music halls and the Crystal Palace playing center stage.  The first act shows two teams of buskers competing on the streets of a Northern England town as the Crystal Palace manager Harry Colcord and composer Arthur Sullivan seek an alternate performer after a cancellation.  In the usual Revels’ way, everything comes together as the buskers join forces to create a performance of music, tricks, and a “panto” of Cinderella.  The second act is treated as a command performance at the Crystal Palace (complete with life-size wooden cutouts of the royal family in the mezzanine).

Highlights of the show:

  • comic busking performances by Marge Dunn, Billy Meleady, Mark Jaster, and Sabrina Selma Mandell
  • singing a round of “Row the Boat, Whittington”
  • David Coffin’s solos on “It Was My Father’s Custom” and on the melodic “Christmas Bells at Sea”
  • the sing-a-long and acting out of “When Father Papered the Parlour”
  • the “Panto” of Cinderella, which while not a true Panto (oh no it isn’t!), we did get to shout “Don’t touch Billy’s eggs” several times
  • And of course, the Revels traditions of “Lord of the Dance” (and dancing out into the lobby), “Dona Nobis Pacem,” “The Shortest Day,” and “Sussex Mummers’ Carol.”  Unfortunately, the “Abbots Bromley Horn Dance” was conspicuously absence in this year’s performance.

There are five more performances from December 26-28, so if you’re in or near Cambridge, get a ticket and go!

* I also recently discovered that the Revels website has a list detailing the theme of every performance from 1971 to present.  Now I need to discover time travel technology so I can go back in time and see each and every one.

Related posts:

The 43rd Annual Christmas Revels

This afternoon, my wife, son, and good family friend Craig took in the  performance of The Christmas Revels at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge. The annual pageant of music, dance, storytelling, and drama focused this year on the pilgrimage along the Camino de Compostela in the Spanish region of Galicia.  As a Celtic culture, the Galicians have their own version of the bagpipe called the gaita which featured prominently. Any piece featuring gaita and drums was a highlight for me.  The largest drum resonated throughout the house.

The story of this Revels follows Everyman (portrayed by Jay O’Callahan) on his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella and onwards to the End of the Earth in Finisterre.  Elements of Don Quixote are woven into the story as Everyman is knighted and joined on his journey by squire Sancho (Billy Meleady, who starred in last year’s show) and the tavern keeper Angélica (the delightful Angélica Aragón).

Usually the theme of a Revels’ performance is an excuse to tie together song and dance numbers, but this story of a pilgrimage actually maintains a pretty continuous narrative built around set pieces along the Camino, in a tavern, at a monastery, at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, and finally at Finisterre.  The sets and lighting are really remarkable in adapting the stage for the different places along the journey.

Highlights of the show include:

  • the talent and hard work of the Revels’ children whose performance more than ever is fully-integrated into the show.
  • the charming line dance when the pilgrims are greeted by the monks to the tune of “Alborada de Ourense.”
  • O’Callahan telling the story of “The Singing Sack.”
  • sing-a-long with choreography to “Fum, Fum, Fum.”
  • puppetry and lights to enact the Galacian version of the posadas ritual.
  • an amazing bit of stagecraft where a giant censer is swung like a pendulum over the performers on the stage (based on the Botafumeiro at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
  • Jaime Jaffe’s solo performance of “Ondas Do Mar De Vigo.”
  • a mummers play featuring a mustachioed dragon who performed the hammiest death throes.

There were some disappointments.  Jay O’Callahan was hard to understand and I’m not sure if he was mumbling or mic’ed improperly.  Sitting in balcony center meant it took a long time to get downstairs to participate in “The Lord of the Dance.”  It ended just as we reached the lobby.  While I would not rank this among my all time favorite Revels’ performances, it was still delightful and I recommend seeing it if you have the chance. There are four more performances before the show closes on December 27th, so get your tickets now!

The Boston Globe has a more-detailed review for your perusal.

Related posts:

The 42nd Annual Christmas Revels

It would not be Christmas without the Christmas Revels at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge.  This year my wife, son and I joined by our friends Abby, Kim, & Sid took in the Winter Solstice performance on the evening of December 21st.  The show was delightful as always with the subject being near and dear to my heart, the music of Irish emigrants as they sail the new world.

The show was a more restrained and simple performance than a typical Revels keeping to the theme of the cast being impoverished immigrants aboard a ship and not having much to celebrate with.  After the opening number, lines and gangways were removed from the sides of the stage and notably no cast members went down the steps into “the ocean” except during a storytelling sequence.  These restraints did nothing to detract from the beauty of the song, dance, and stories performed.

Highlights of the show for me included:

  • Bill Meleady’s colorful telling of The Soul Cages, the exception to the restraint on the performance where the visuals of the story come to life in vivid detail.  I enjoyed the dancing crustaceans especially as well as Steve Barkhimer’s portrayal of the merrow Coomara.
  • “The Wexford Lullaby” gorgeously performed by Mary Casey along with Jamie Jaffe as a duet and later as a quartet.
  • The dramatic “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” swelling as the audience joins the chorus.
  • “The Lord of the Dance” is always a highlight and was cleverly worked into the show as being the English ship crews’ contribution to the shipboard celebration.
  • The show had several sets of traditional Irish music by The Rattling Brogues and step dance by O’Shea-Chaplin Academy of Irish Dance that livened up the proceedings greatly.
  • If there was one minor disappointment is that the show ends with the immigrants seeing The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.  The show is set aboard the Cunard steamship RMS Carpathia and since Cunard had a western terminus in Boston (there’s still an office building marked “CUNARD” on State Street) it would have been a nice local connection to have the ship dock here instead of New York.

A traditional element of the Revels – “The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance” – was not included in the program but as this was the Winter Solstice, the audience was treated to a special rendition of Abbots Bromley after the curtain call.  I’d actually guessed that Abbots Bromley was the surprise we’d been promised before the show, but it was still a thrill when the first haunting notes of the recorder came out and the audience reacted with joy.

This was another great Revels and I believe all the shows were sold out.  If you missed this year’s Revels, make sure to get your tickets early for next year’s show which I promise will be just as great.

Related posts:

Song of the Week: Christmas Edition

A special edition of SOTW brings together three current songs to get you in the holiday spirit.

First, Sufjan Stevens’ “Lumberjack Christmas/No One Can Save You From Christmases Past”:

Next, the Dismemberment Plan’s take on Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas”:

Finally, JD McPherson’s soulful “Twinkle (Little Christmas Lights)”

Happy Christmas!

Christmas Caroling Mob

On the Sunday before Christmas, my son Peter & I joined the Boston Caroling Mob jauntily wassailing from the Green St. MBTA station to nearby homes in Jamaica Plain singing cheerfully and in harmony. The leaders of SingPositive, JP are also in charge of the Caroling Mob so there were some familiar faces among the nearly 100 carolers of all ages.  We were well-received by the residents of the houses we serenaded – one of whom even posted a video of us on Facebook – and received hot drinks and cookies at the JP Cohousing for a finale.

Here we are singing “Carol of the Bells:”

This is the first time I’ve ever gone Christmas caroling anywhere and I hope it won’t be my last because it was great fun.

Photopost: Holiday Week in Boston

There’s no place like home for the holidays, and Boston is our holiday home. With a week off from work and school, my wife Susan, son Peter, and baby Kay sought and found many adventures including: The Museum of Science, Boston Common, The Children’s Museum, The New England Aquarium, The Christmas Revels, The Larz Anderson Auto Museum and Park, and Edaville USA. Thanks to the Boston Public Library for providing the museum passes that allowed free entrance to the Museum of Science, Aquarium, and Auto Museum.

Some of my favorite photos are below. If you want to see more, check out my online photo slideshow.

San T. Rex is coming to town.

Leatherback Turtle surfaces for a snack in the giant ocean tank.

Anderson Auto Museum license plate collection.

The Edaville Railroad's steam engine

Big fun on the big wheel

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