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Strike the Harp and Join the Chorus

Deck the halls with boughs of holly, Fa la la la la, la la la la 'Tis the season to be jolly, Fa la la la la, la la la la O come, all ye faithful Joyful and triumphant

O come ye, o come ye,

To Bethlehem Hang all the mistletoe I'm gonna get to know you better this Christmas And as we trim the tree How much it's gonna be together this Christmas Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water? Mary, did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters? Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new? This child that you delivered, will soon deliver you? Christmastime is here Happiness and cheer Fun for all that children call Their favorite time of year Silent night Holy night

All is calm All is bright Chestnuts roasting on an open fire Jack Frost nipping at your nose Yuletide carols being sung by a choir And folks dressed up like Eskimos I don't want a lot for Christmas There is just one thing I need I don't care about the presents Underneath the Christmas tree The most wonderful time of the year has FINALLY arrived. For some of us, it doesn't officially begin until after Thanksgiving. For others, it doesn't officially begin until after Halloween. For a select few, it begins as far back as August or earlier. (That's a head-scratcher for me, but at this point, I've learned to accept that there are people who just LOVE the holidays.) After the past nine months, the holidays couldn't have come soon enough. How did you kick off the season? Did you put up the Christmas tree first? What about putting decorations around the house as the first order of business? Or have you started listening to Christmas music? Even though retailers and shops begin putting up their decorations and holiday merchandise so PAINFULLY early, I never really get into the spirit until I hear Christmas music. It's usually on my iPhone, not the radio. I always mark the start of the holidays with music, and it always changes year after year. My mom tells me I have an eclectic selection of Christmas music, and I slowly keep adding more year after year. I must have a good ear for music because along with the well-known songs and the versions, I seek out the lesser-known renditions and songs as well. I wish I could share my playlist with you sometime. But for now, I can share with you some of the album covers that I do have on my Christmas playlist.

Yup, you could say it's eclectic. Being part music major in an interdisciplinary degree, I'm always on the lookout for great music. I may not always go for the biggest hits on the radio, but I enjoy music nonetheless. The biggest challenge I've encountered when listening and searching for new Christmas music? The best version of the song, if it's been done more than once. Let me tell you there are SO MANY versions of the songs we know and love during the holiday season. The list is practically endless. The truth is no matter which version we listen to, it always seems to warm us up and get us singing along with the radio or mp3 player or the Alexa/Siri speaker. It's hard to know which version is truly the best version. If you get the chance to know to me, you will find that there are just some things that should be left alone and not remade over and over again. Like how Disney is remaking it's animated movie canon. But I digress. I will save that for another blog. Still, others argue that each generation should have the version that speaks to them because the one-size-fits-all idea doesn't always work. The same could be said for Disney movies. But then again, I'm a firm believer that there are some things that are timeless and should be left alone. If messed with too much, it could lose its meaning altogether. I'm doing it again, aren't I? I'll stop. I better shut up and give you an example instead. The first time I heard "These Are the Special Times" by Celine Dion, I immediately felt the warmth and comfort of this song, and it has remained a favorite of mine to this day. Any other artist who has done this, like Christina Aguilera, it just doesn't bring the same amount of joy that Celine Dion's version has. Sometimes, there are versions that just make me cringe a little bit. Another song that I thoroughly enjoy is "Grown-Up Christmas List," with Natalie Cole on the vocals. It's a sad song I know, but it still has meaning and truth into what many of us grown-ups want the most for Christmas - no more lives tore apart, no more wars starting, time heals us, everyone is friendly and kind to each other, right always conquers wrong, and love is everlasting. What more could you ask for from a list like that? But whenever I hear another artist doing this song, it just doesn't do it for me. It either lacks the innocence or musicality Ms. Cole portrays in the original version, or the underlying score doesn't sound like it fits with the overall theme of the song. "Jingle Bell Rock" is a huge favorite in our household. There's a reason why it's one of the great Christmas classics of all time, next to songs like "White Christmas," "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on An Open Fire)," and "Silent Night." To me whenever I hear the first chords of this song, I immediately feel happy. To me, Bobby Helms' version is the ONLY one I listen to. No other rendition comes even close to the classic. The other renditions just don't have the same wholesomeness as the 1957 hit. "Santa Baby" was originally released in 1953, and performed by Eartha Kitt with Henri René and His Orchestra. Apart from the extravagant Christmas list Ms. Kitt croons, it's truly what you would call a classic. My mom is a firm believer that you would have to be between 30-35 to do this song. Anyone who is younger than that does not fit the bill or the tone of the song. I tend to agree with her, and I just can't see anyone else doing this song other than Eartha Kitt with Henri René and His Orchestra. Sorry, Madonna. Sorry, Taylor Swift. Sorry, Michael Bublé. I'm afraid your versions don't quite cut it at all. And here's one that sounds odd, but I'm also a fan of "All I Want for Christmas is You" by Mariah Carey. Yes, it gets overplayed over and over and over and over again, but if you have an mp3 player on your phone like I do, it's simple to not have to play it over and over and over and over again when you have your playlist on shuffle. (Yes, there's the repeat button, but I'm sure if I've found it on my iPhone yet.) As annoying or classic as this song sounds, the only person I can hear doing it is Ms. Carey herself. Whenever someone else does it, it either sounds over the top or an exact copy of what Ms. Carey did all those years ago when she released the album this song came from. Being a copy cat does have it's limits and problems. I guess my ear for music can be sensitive at times, and I hope that's not a bad thing to have. I can hear all of you saying, "okay, okay! There are certain songs that should've been left alone and not overdone. But what about the classics? Those are remade and sung at least 100 times over!" Believe me, I know. That's what I'm about to get to next. My mom often tells me that it's not Christmas until she hears "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on An Open Fire)" by Nat King Cole. His voice is so wonderful and soothing, and it's a big favorite to listen to year after year. But his rendition isn't the only one I enjoy. Some of my favorite artists doing "The Christmas Song" include Michael Bublé, Celine Dion, Josh Groban, Gloria Estefan, and Barry Manilow. There's even a rendition of this timeless classic where both Nat King Cole and his daughter, Natalie Cole, sing together. This may have followed the success of Natalie Cole's Unforgettable: With Love album when she sang "Unforgettable" with her father with the help of digital technology. To me, it's not Christmas without snow, so I always have dreams of past holidays with snow. It's hard to find around here in the DMV, but one can hope and dream, right? "White Christmas," incidentally, was written in the summer along with many of the songs we know and love today because it was very hot, and cooler weather seemed to help them keep cool. Bing Crosby's version is still the #1 Christmas song of all time, and it has led to many artists doing this song in their own special way. Some of my favorite performers who did "White Christmas" include The Drifters, Bette Midler, and a conglomeration of artists from David Foster's The Christmas Album - Natalie Cole, Roberta Flack, Peabo Bryson, Wynonna Judd, BeBe & CeCe Winans, Tom Jones, Celine Dion, Tammy Wynette, Vanessa Williams, and Michael Crawford. It's hard not to like "White Christmas" if it's done right and with plenty of tenderness, nostalgia, and warmth the song has provided these many decades since its first premiere on the radio. It's hard not to find a rendition of "Silent Night" that you don't like. It's simple and almost feels like a lullaby when you listen to it. Between you and me, I often find myself singing the harmony of the classic because of my musical ear and my training as a soprano, mezzo-soprano, and alto. (You pick up on things very quickly when you're trained in different voice parts. Try it sometime!) Whether it's instrumental or vocal, it's very beautiful. It was first initially played in a church in Germany, but without the organ, since it wasn't working at the time. So, a simple melody with a guitar and vocals led to what is now one of the most popular religious songs to be played during the holiday season. The list is practically endless when it comes to all of the artists who have covered "Silent Night." Some of my favorite artists who do it justice include Lindsey Stirling, Paige O'Hara (yup, that Paige O'Hara from Beauty and the Beast), Boyz II Men, and Kelly Clarkson with Trisha Yearwood and Reba McEntire. Each one of them has its own spin, but all of them are wonderful in their own special way. There are also times when the original performer doing the Christmas songs aren't exactly to my liking. My musical ear must be very sensitive and picky, right? "Baby It's Cold Outside" has always been a favorite of mine, even as the controversy spreads about the lyrics suggesting date rape and consent. I can see why, but I also know that there's more to the story that needs to be explored and shared with the general public before writing off this song as inappropriate, sexist, and offensive. How that can be done remains to be seen. But the important thing here is to listen to both sides of the argument and come to a mutual understanding, even if it's agreeing to disagree with each other. Here's an article to look at that may shed some light on this controversy: https://www.vox.com/identities/2016/12/19/13885552/baby-its-cold-outside-feminist-date-rape-romantic Going back to the song itself, I'm not a fan of the original version. If you're going to do "Baby It's Cold Outside," don't do it so fast! At least that's what I think. If you really want to hear a great rendition, I suggest listening to Barry Manilow and KT Oslin's version of the song. It's slow, yes, but there's also a romantic element in there that sounds like an actual conversation rather than the fast flirting going on between the two singers. To me, no other rendition comes even close to this holiday favorite, even if it has been divided in recent years. "Mary, Did You Know" was originally written by Michael English and Buddy Greene in 1991. I'm sure this version is lovely, but I have yet to hear it, so I can't say for sure. But what I will say is the first time I heard this song was by Reba McEntire. It was very lovely, but it wasn't until recently when I heard a rendition by Dave Koz and Chris Walker that really touched my heart. "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" must've been played on the radio a dozen times since it's release in 1971 or even more than that. It was originally performed by John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir. I gotta be honest here - Yoko Ono CANNOT sing! Every time I hear the original song, I have to change the station or turn off the radio because I simply cannot stand that version. (Sorry, John! Nothing against you, I swear!). Which versions can I stand? Well, Celine Dion and Sarah McLachlan's renditions come to mind. Their voices are quite pleasant, and it brings again warmth and hope for the new year. "O Holy Night" was written back in 1847 by Adolphe Adam to the French poem, "Minuit, chrétiens" ("Midnight, Christians"), which was written by poet Placide Cappeau. It was translated into English in 1855 by Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight to the version we all know and love to this day. Since then, it has been done numerous times, and I do mean NUMEROUS! Almost too many artists to name at this point. One version which I think is the definitive version to me is Michael Crawford's version from David Foster's The Christmas Album. The beloved Tony winner truly does this song justice, and with the choir and orchestrations, it's truly a masterpiece. (Between you and me, when I learned that David Foster used the exact same orchestrations for Josh Groban's version which would go to #1 on the charts, I was quite peeved. I'm not sure why he did that or radio stations not playing Michael Crawford's version at all. You shouldn't have to recycle things just to make a hit out of them. Whatever happened to creativity and originality?) And the list goes on and on and on... (As with all of my previous blogs, all of what I had to say is based on my opinions and experiences. This is probably one of the few times where I'm sounding the most opinionated because of my ear for music and the memories and feelings that come with it. You are welcome to disagree with me on whatever I wrote down today. But just remember, this is the holiday season, and we all should be kind and understanding to each other. No hatred or prejudice allowed, please.) I know I'm throwing so much at you with songs and renditions and artists. But I am truly getting somewhere this. And it's a relatively simple yet complex idea that all of us struggle with to this day. And that's agreeing to disagree. We've had a tumultuous year, and many of us are looking forward to 2021 with good reason. The last thing we need to worry ourselves over is which version of a Christmas song is the best or the most definitive version. But it's more than just debating over which song is the best. It's people mistaking agreeing to disagree over certain topics as ordinary when in actuality, it's very important to us and these topics do matter. Topics like human rights, for instance. If you firmly believe that a certain person or group of people don't deserve the same rights as you because they look different from you, follow a different religion from you, or aren't your definition of an "ordinary" human being, that's not agreeing to disagree. That's being a monster, or a racist, or a sexist, or a misogynist, or even a cruel individual, in my humble opinion. EVERYONE deserves the same basic civil liberties, and it's not up for discussion. As one picture that's been circulating on social media channels states, we can agree to disagree over pizza toppings, but not on human rights. We all walk on this one planet together. We breathe the same air. We love. We have emotions. We learn. We grow. We are all much more alike than we realize. The sooner we start to accept that, the more there will be a chance for "peace on earth, goodwill toward men."

To me, music has the power to bring people together, particularly during the holiday season. There are songs that speak to us at every stage of our lives, young and old, and how special they are. Imagine a world without music. Or even with the arts. We would be depressed or going out of our minds without it. I'm going to say this once, the arts ARE essential, and I hope that after all is said and done, we truly start to value it as an important part of our lives and never take it for granted again. Christmas music is no exception to this. Yes, the songs are treasured classics, but there's always an opportunity to be creative and make it one's own. Or even write new Christmas songs that may prove to be classics many decades from now. I may have given you an eclectic selection of what I like to listen to during the holiday season, and I may be picky, but it also shows how much I enjoy music and what it means to me on the days I need it the most. The beauty is that we each have songs we enjoy and what they mean to us, and we can share our tastes with others. We don't always have to like it if it's not our cup of tea, but we should at least be respectful of other's opinions on the songs they do like. If there's a certain artist, band, or orchestration you don't like, that's okay! Not every genre of music suits everyone, but we shouldn't chastise each other for not liking certain things. I know I may never like Justin Beiber or Taylor Swift because their songs and voices aren't my cups of tea, but I hope I'm not criticized for liking something different other than the vast majority of mainstream artists. I know I may never like all of the songs from my favorite artists, but I know that's okay. Not every song is meant to move us all the time, and if it does, that's great. But the one thing we shouldn't be agreeing to disagree with is human rights. No one should be deprived of the basic civil liberties granted to mankind. We may look different, practice a wide scope of religions or none at all, work in various fields in our careers, live in colorful places, and much more. But no one should be told they don't deserve the right to have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That's not up for discussion. Human rights aren't like pizza toppings. If you disagree with this once principle, then you're not being kind or understanding to your fellow man. This holiday season put the songs on full blast. Sing at the top of your lungs. Put it on repeat even. We deserve quite a bit of merriment this year, even if we're apart. Remember that music has an important place in our lives, especially during this time. Celebrate what makes you unique in what you like and don't like in terms of songs. Feel the warmth in your hearts whenever you hear that song. And hug your loved ones a little bit tighter this year. We are apart now so that when next year comes, we can all be together again. Maybe having a sensitive ear for music does wonders after all. With the angelic hosts proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem Hark! the herald angels sing Glory to the newborn king Could you hurry, sir, daddy says there's not much time You see she's been sick for quite a while And I know these shoes would make her smile And I want her to look beautiful when if mamma meets Jesus tonight Christmas eve will find me Where the love light gleams I'll be home for Christmas If only in my dreams Santa Claus, Santa Claus, It must've been ol' Santa Claus, Santa Claus, Santa Claus, Happy ho-ho-ho to you! A very merry Christmas And a happy new year Let's hope it's a good one Without any fear I'm dreaming of a white Christmas With every Christmas card, I write May your days be merry and bright And may all your Christmases be white Go tell it on the mountain Over the hills and everywhere Go tell it on the mountain That Jesus Christ is born Through the years we all will be together, If the fates allow Hang a shining star upon the highest bough And have yourself a merry little Christmas now

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