Annie and a New Deal for Christmas

hbz-blog-annieRoger and I had the good fortune to see our family friend, Emma, in the Sanford School’s amazing production of Annie.  Although I had heard most of the music at one time or another and had seen the photos of the cartoon Orphan Annie and Daddy Warbucks, I am sad to admit that I did not know the story.  Imagine my surprise when a true Christmas dream-come-true musical unfolded on the Sanford stage!

The final song is “New Deal for Christmas,” both in reference to Roosevelt’s political plan (inspired by orphan Annie!?) and Annie’s adoption party at the 5th Avenue Warbucks mansion.  The entire show is set around the time period  Roosevelt’s first Christmas in office.  Act I of the play features Hoover-ites gathered around fires in barrels and Warbucks (with Annie) advising a depressed Roosevelt on ways to improve the economy.   By the end of the play, Annie, Warbucks, and Roosevelt are singing about their bright future.   Historically, the president and Mrs. Roosevelt received a record 40,000 Christmas cards in 1933.  (More on that in a future post!)

This most recent Annie revival (the 35th Anniversary) opened November 2012 and closed  on January 5, 2014. It opened with Jane Lynch (Glee) as Miss Hannigan, and there were a total of 38 previews and 487 regular performances at the Palace Theatre.  I learned that the Miss Hannigan role has been played by many famous actresses, including Nell Carter (20th Anniversary revival)  and Carol Burnett (movie version in 1982).  The original production of Annie in 1977 won many Tony awards and held the record for the longest running show at the Neil Simon Theatre (until Hairspray in 2009).  I remember singing “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” as a child, and now I am realizing that I must have been influenced by the first Annie storm in the late 70’s or the movie in the early 80’s.

The newest production of Annie will be the Christmas 2014 movie starring Beasts of the Southern Wild, Quvenzhané Wallis as Annie.  Cameron Diaz will be Miss Hannigan.

I think Roger and I should add seeing this movie with Noah to our Christmas 2014 plan!

O Holy Night- Another Christmas Music Post!

Snowy Holy NightHappy 2014!  I am excited to be writing my first post in the new year.  I’ve been trying to come up with an organizational plan for my weekly posts.  I work much better if I have a plan, or perhaps theme, to guide my actions.  So for my first Thursday post each month I am going to focus on music!  No better place to start than with my absolute favorite Christmas song of all time- O Holy Night.  This song has been at the top of all my lists for years.  It is musically sound and even the worst versions can still prove somewhat enjoyable.  But when it’s good, O yeah!

The song originates in France.  It was written by Adolphe Adam in 1847  for the poem Minuit, Chretiens (Midnight, Christians).  The first performance was in a small french church to celebrate the repair of the organ.  The first singer was a well-known opera singer of the day.  The topic of the poem, and thus the song, is the birth of the savior and our redemption as man.  Check out the opening verse and chorus:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.
 

St P crecheThe song has always had great success over the last 150+ years.  It has been recorded by world renown singers, bands, choirs, and orchestras.  It is part of many small church repertoire for the holidays.  Notably it is part of history as well.  In 1906 it was the first live performance on the new AM radio program.  That first broadcast version featured voice and violin.  It is truly timeless.  A recording made in 1916 is still being sold today!

One of the things I resolve to do with Christmas music this year is to find new versions of songs I love.  For O Holy Night I discovered a great version through a post on a friend’s Facebook page with a recording of Auld Lang Syne.  It featured three singers from the Broadway show Spider-man singing acapella.  I went a little further with some Youtube searching and discovered the had a recording of O Holy Night.  Not just their version, a great version.  Give it a listen-

This is my new go to favorite for this tune.  (Bonus is that one of the three guys is a JMU alum- Go Dukes!)   As I sit here watching the snow fall on a cold winter night it definitely fills me with the spirit of Christmas!

Happy Independence Day America!

Stars and StripesAs we all wrap-up our days of friends, family, food and fireworks Christmas is likely not on your mind.  It certainly wasn’t on mine.  I just wanted to get a nice cool drink and some aloe.  I did flip on the tv and caught a little coverage of the National Symphony performance on the Mall in Washington.  They were wrapping up the show with a performance of Stars and Stripes Forever, the most well-recognized of all the Sousa marches.   The song was officially named our National March by Congress.  I like Sousa but there are two things that always drive me nuts when it is performed.  First the way people like to clap, but can never keep a steady tempo and second, when the sing lyrics to the march.  The second was in full effect and lead me to search to find out where those words originated and why they were added to the song.  I was surprised to find a Christmas connection to Stars and Stripes Forever!

John Philip Sousa was in Europe on holiday with his wife in 1896.  He received word that his long-time friend and manager of the Sousa Band, David Bakely, had died suddenly.  Sousa boarded a boat to rush home to handle the affairs of the band.  It was on the ship back to the States that Sousa imagined the entire musical composition.  It was on Christmas Day!  He created it all in his mind and committed it to memory, not putting  it on paper until he arrived in port.

The inspiration that came to Sousa on that Christmas Day in 1896 is celebrated by all Americans each July Fourth.  How thankful we all are for this amazing Christmas gift from the March King!  (oh and fyi- it was Sousa himself who penned the lyrics)

Take a listen to an early 1911 recording by Sousa’s Band.

Happy Valentine’s Day from The Yule Log

Happy Valentine’s Day from The Yule Log.  Christmas is, of course, a month-long celebration of love for each other.  The Valentine heart, just as red (or pink) and just as full of love, is represented all over the Christmas tree.

love xmasOn this special day, many lovers–and lovers of love–turn to poetry to express their feelings–writing their own or searching for someone’s words to express their thoughts and feelings.  Victorian poet Christina Rossetti is one whose works are often quoted.  Although biographical sources reveal that Rossetti did not find lasting love and marriage in her own life, her poetry is often copied and shared, like one of my favorites,  “I wish I could remember that first day.”

Era gia l’ora che volge il desio. – Dante
Ricorro al tempo ch’io vi vidi prima. 
– Petrarca

I wish I could remember that first day,
    First hour, first moment of your meeting me,
    If bright or dim the season, it might be
Summer or Winter for aught I can say;
So unrecorded did it slip away,
    So blind was I to see and to foresee,
    So dull to mark the budding of my tree
That would not blossom yet for many a May.
If only I could recollect it, such
    A day of days! I let it come and go
    As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow;
It seemed to mean so little, meant so much;
If only now I could recall that touch,
    First touch of hand in hand – Did one but know!
Rossetti’s Christmas poetry is just as loved and has been set to music?  She wrote the poem “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which often sung at Christmas.  (James Taylor recorded a memorable version.)  Her poem, “Love Came Down at Christmas” has been set to music by many composers.

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

Marching Band is for Christmas, Right?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis week I started planning my fall calendar and that means making time for one of my favorite activities, marching band.  I have been involved in the activity in one way or another every season since 1985!  Most see the activity as something for the heat of the summer and the football games of the fall.  This is mostly true other than the occasional Christmas parade.  I’m guessing many people view marching band as what happens when you go for your hotdog at a football game, what plays behind the commentators for a college game, or the music you hear in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. There are some decent marching band versions of most upbeat Christmas songs for bands to use for parades.  These are usually tags to the end of a season and worked in amongst the prep for the Winter concert.  During the regular season the bands work continually on their show, centered on some type of theme.  I’d never really considered if a band might choose Christmas music for that show theme.  Why the heck not?  There is so much potential!  A typical show usually has a powerful opening song, a ballad, a feature of some type, and a strong closing anthem with tons of variations possible.  Just thinking of all the possible musical combinations got my head spinning.  Add to that all the varied visual looks that could come from the color guard!  You can just imagine my excitement.

cadets2012When marching bands want to see the top-level of the marching art they regularly turn to Drum Corps International, DCI.  DCI is a summer activity that pulls together young musicians to join a corps and spend many months working 10-12 hours a day on a single 10-12 minute performance.  These are performers that are the pinnacle of the activity.  They compete all across the country throughout the summer months.  Last summer one of the corps, the Cadets, had a show titled “12.25”.  You guessed it- a Christmas themed show!  The arrangements they share with us are strong versions of many of the Christmas classics we all know and love.  There are many videos of the Cadets show on YouTube.  Check out a full performance or a full run rehearsal.  Either way you can see for yourself just how awesome a Christmas marching show can be.  Like what you see?  You can check out some links about the overall activity at www.dci.org.  If you have a marching band fan in your circle of family and friends you might get some good gift ideas there too.   Without a doubt marching band is connected in many ways to Christmas, so maybe the question might be better asked “Christmas is for marching band, right?”

Christmas Melting Pot

Jew XMasOne of the things that has always interested me about Christmas is the origins and history of our holiday.  The fact that so much of the traditions and customs trace back to non-Christian religious, spiritual, and ethnic practices is well documented.  The Yule Log has shared many posts about the early conversion of “pagan” or other practices to the Christmas feasts and festivals.  Trees, elves, Santa Claus, food, customs, and song all are part of the rich mosaic that Christmas has formed over the centuries.  Christmas has close ties to many world religions including Islam and Judaism.  One of these connections has been one of the more intriguing to me- music.  So many of our most popular Christmas songs were created by Jewish composers and lyricists.

Natalie and I have talked about this occurrence many times.  It seems that this fact has been one of interest to many writers over the years.  Never noticed this connection before?  Here are some basics.  More than half of the annual top 25 holiday songs compiled by ASCAP were penned by Jews.  Composers like Irving Berlin and Mel Torme give us great works.  Compositions include White Christmas, the Christmas Song, Christmas Waltz, Silver Bells, Rudolph, and I’ll Be Home for Christmas.  There are also numerous Jewish performers that have given so many of the classic versions of holiday songs.  Main Jewish artists of Christmas hits include Barbra Streisand, Neil Sedaka, Barry Manilow, and Neil Diamond.  Even Bob Dylan cut a Christmas album last year.  For a more interesting look at the connections read this short 2011 article from the New York Daily News.  It definitely is one of the miracles of the Christmas season that so many people of such varied backgrounds can come together to celebrate peace, hope, and love.

Good King Wenceslas and the Feast of St. Stephen

Happy St. Stephen’s Day!  St. Stephen was one of the Catholic Church’s earliest martyrs, and his day is mentioned in one of my least favorite Christmas carols, “Good King Wenceslas.” ( Jeremy described one of the St. Stephen’s Day traditions, the hunting of the wren, in his March 13, 2012 post. Check it out here.)

weneslas1Last night, I listened to the Stuff You Missed in History Class episode that describes the historical figures of “Good” King Wenceslas and St. Stephen. After listening, I have renewed respect for the figure in the carol, and, after reading all of the lyrics (as opposed to the first verse that we all have memorized), it’s a lovely story of good deeds–whether true or not.   Seems that the pictures we see of King Wenceslas are more imagination than reality. (The illustration to the right is the typical depiction–more like St. Nick.) The 10th century Bohemian prince, who wasn’t a king at all, was a young man when he was murdered by his brother, Boleslav the Cruel.

I’m a big fan of the podcast, Stuff You Missed in History Class.  In this podcast, co-hosts Deblina Chakraborty and Sarah Dowdey discuss both historical figures and give insight into their good deeds.    They reference of the stanzas of the carol,

In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed

As Wenceslas and his page walk forth to take a meal and firewood to a peasant, the king’s very goodness melts the snow beneath his feet.

In the podcast, Chakraborty mentions that she edited another How Stuff Works blog post, “10 Myths About Christmas.”  It gave me the idea for a future blog post to research the history of the glass pickle.  Jeremy gave me one for Christmas, and now I want to know more!