That great festival of love Christmas is nearly upon us once more when giving gifts that nourish the spirit is high on my list. It is that time of year when we ask ourselves has the meaning of Christmas truly become lost, buried under a mountain of tinsel and toys?
I like to think not, and for me there isn’t a gift quite like that of marvellous music.
Making music magic can take many forms and my two albums of choice to take to Sydney for this year’s family Christmas celebration are entirely opposite in their composition and context as well as quite complex in the choices they offer.
Seems to me with 2017 on the horizon with all the challenges the world is facing with a post-Brexit Britain and a post Trump US, we need a multitude of choices to keep us up to the minute and abreast of milestones of change, which are meant to be progressive.
When produced and played by some of the world’s historic and contemporary composers, songwriters, musicians and songbirds with an aim of helping us to celebrate the occasion and to inspire us with hope, these two CD’s certainly meet that criteria.
A Celtic Christmas by the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra (ABO) includes Irish, Welsh and Scottish music. Their beautiful renditions of ‘A New Tune’ and ‘Stille Nacht’ are so hauntingly beautiful, they make you feel as if you want to really get lost in the mists of time.
A Pentatonix Christmas, by the vibrant talented Texan a capella quintet of vocalists: Avi Kaplan, Scott Hoying, Kirstin Maldonado, Kevin Olusola and Mitch Grassi is something right out of the box, thrilling the senses in a myriad of ways.
These two albums are about as diverse as two albums could possibly be; both providing a rich variety of styles and moods and a completely different perspective on the Xmas celebration through a selection of pop, reggae, hip-hop, folk, cultural icons and classics.
You could say that I have all my musical bases covered.
Interestingly Celtic music and the music Pentatonix prefer are both based on the Pentatonic scale, which has only five notes (CDEGA). It is in turn based on either the major or minor scale, providing a great starting point for song writing and improvising.
A Celtic Christmas by the ABO is a showcase for arrangers and composers Alice Chance, Brandenburg soprano Meinir Thomas and Sydney saxophonist Christina Leonard.
The anthology includes a sublime Ciaconna by Nicola Matteis (1650 – 1714), considered the earliest most notable violinist in London during what we know as the Baroque period in music. He was basically considered much like a rock God during his time.
Almost lost to us until the twentieth century, he astonished all who encountered his works with their beauty and joy.
A Pentatonix Christmas Sing-Along should get everyone going. You can shed those blues and embrace the swinging spirit of the season as you celebrate being together with those you love.
Pentatonix start us grooving along to a traditional Carol with a contemporary twist. Their rendition of O Come All Ye Faithful with its vibrant beat follows the northern star right to the place where Jesus was born. Both foot tapping and uplifting, this group have their own You Tube channel.
Then follows award winning God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, which has gained over 4,250,523 viewers in its first five days!
This is true a capella magic, which sounds like it would have come straight out of a great European Cathedral at a time when the correlation between music and architecture existed.
This was when great spaces constructed of stone reflected the eternal harmony believed present in nature and composers exploited their effects to produce amazing melodies that scaled the heights reverberating off faceted stone arcades to linger long in lofty places just as their Hallelujah also does.
A song of praise, devotion and thanksgiving, reflecting the beauty of the cosmos, Pentatonix offers an upbeat version entirely in keeping with life in the twenty first century. Their rendition of the nostalgic I’ll Be Home for Christmas is guaranteed to evoke memories.
The glorious voice of soloist countertenor Maximillian Riebl is showcased superbly in Raise your Voices a contemporary work by the talented Rolf Lovland a member of one of my favourite duos of all time, Secret Garden as played by the ABO.
No one knows who wrote the stunningly beautiful Wexford Carol, Max Riebl also performs. It is a traditional religious Irish Christmas song originating from county Wexford in Ireland during the 12th century.
However as arranged by contemporary Sydney composer Alice Chance for the ABO it does serve to remind us all of what the Christmas season is originally all about. Chance has also arranged My Dancing Day by Gustav Holst of The Planets’ fame and it’s so lively it will have you dancing for joy.
Artistic Director of the ABO Paul Dyer pours his heart and soul into both sourcing and staging the ‘most beautiful, joyous and uplifting music’ for Noël! Noël! their Christmas concert each year, which is simply irresistible.
Xmas music is all about how traditions and how they can become important when for some, hope may seem a lost concept.
Traditions are generally associated with pleasure and warm and fuzzy feelings, like those the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus generate, rather than those that cause pain.
But that’s not always so, traditions do offer painful experiences, which in hindsight may turn out not to have been a good thing for society collectively.
Sensational sounds can be delivered by young clever ‘rap’ artist, an emerging opera singer, a jazz singer, a popular vocalist or even better still, a great pre-arranged ‘flash mob’. It’s all about ensuring that the music remains ‘alive’ and exciting as it is with Pentatonix and their version of Up On the Housetop.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays the final song on the album by Pentatonix is all about transforming and met morphing traditions into a new age gradually, sd they continue an important link from one generation to another.
Both of these albums by Pentatonix and the ABO are all about enriching our society and the way we live in it, helping us all benefit as indeed is entirely fitting. They will make splendid additions to your Xmas gift giving.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016