Thursday, November 26, 2009

In Defense of Christmas Music

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Of course, today also marks another significant holiday tradition: open season on Christmas music. Turn your radio to the 24-hour Christmas station and don’t touch the dial for the next month.

I must admit that I broke the Christmas seal a little early this year. Yesterday, I was overwhelmed by the Christmas bug, and my immediate response was to seek out the sonic equivalent of being wrapped in a warm blanket sitting by the

fireside, otherwise known as Christmas music.

If the thought of 24-hour Christmas music stations give you a feeling akin to

fingernails on a chalkboard, not to worry, there is still hope of converting you into a Christmas music lover by the end of the season, I will be trying my best. I must make clear, however, that I in no way mean this with any religious connotations, in fact, with apologies to Bill O’Reilly, I see Christmas as almost entirely a secular holiday.

At the mention of a Christmas album, it seems that the obligatory response from any “real” music lover is to give a roll of the eyes and a haughty laugh, “Of course, everyone knows that these highly commercial “sell-out” albums by otherwise distinguished artists don’t actually count as part of their oeuvre.” And yet, they exist, and in very high numbers at that. These works are apart of the soundscape of nearly every public space for an entire month each year; from Starbucks to elevators they are virtually inescapable. Despite this ubiquity and cultural prominence, a search for scholarly studies of 20th-century Christmas music in the UB library catalog and JSTOR brought up almost no relevant sources. There was one book, Publishing Glad Tidings: Essays on Christmas Music, however, this was much more concerned with traditional hymnody than Christmas music in popular genres. I am sure I have overlooked some studies because I cannot believe that this subject is as overlooked as my futile searching would imply. However, even if I have missed something, my guess is that a serious ethnographic study of popular Christmas music would receive the same condescending response that has been given to Daniel Goldmark’s studies of cartoon music; an amused chuckle, but no serious consideration.

I promise I will eventually post the rest of my thoughts on AMS, however, it will likely be after the end of the semester. For the next few weeks I will be posting some “musicological musings” on Christmas music and its role in society, as well as some reviews of great, and not so great, Christmas albums (just listened to Bob Dylan’s, will probably post something later tonight). I need some outlet to escape from the stress of the end of term scramble to finish writing papers, Christmas music musings seems as good as any.

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