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!

Song of the Week #23- White Christmas

white christmasOur top songs are definitely the cream of the Christmas crop.  This week is the super powerhouse, White Christmas.  This endearing song of reminiscence takes us back to an old-fashioned CHristmas.  Irving Berlin penned the classic in the summer of 1940 (amazing how many Christmas classics were written in the heat of the summer).  There is a little controversy about where the song was written.  It might have been at the Biltmore in Arizona, but more likely in La Quinta, CA at the La Quinta Hotel.  Regardless of where it was written, it is forever linked to the singer who sang it first- Bing Crosby.  Crosby made the first public performance on the radio show, The Kraft Music Hall, on Christmas Day in 1941.  It would then be recorded in May 1942, taking only 18 minutes to get the track finalized!  It was released as part of a collection of 78s for the film Holiday Inn.  The song wasn’t initially popular, more people loved the tune Be Careful, It’s My Heart.  But soon the public started to love White Christmas leading it to become a #1 hit on the charts.  It is the only single to be a #1 hit as part of three separate cycles over three different years.  This isn’t the only record, award or distinction for the song.

White Christmas won the 1942 Academy Award for Best Song.  It was the inspiration for the 1954 film of the same name.  It is on most lists named as the #1 Christmas song of all time.  NPR names it as #2 on the list Songs of the Century, just behind Over the Rainbow.  The Crosby album Merry Christmas, including his version of the song, was released in 1949 and has never been out of print since.  Most remarkably is the status in holds in the Guinness Book of World Records- the Best-selling Single of All Time.  The Crosby version has sold over 50 million copies world-wide.  If you include the more than 500 different recorded versions the sales total reaches over 100 million copies of the song sold world-wide.  100 million!!  The tune also holds a unique place in American History outside of Christmas and songs.  The radio broadcast of the song in April 1975 was the pre-arranged signal to begin the American evacuation from the city of Saigon in Vietnam.

The current Crosby recording is actually a 1947 re-recording due to the wear and tear on the 1942 original.  It still includes the clever lyrics of the opening, “The sun is shining, the grass is green…”.  So many newer versions skip right to the first verse and leave the introduction out completely.  Check out a few versions we found for you:

Bing Crosby– Singing it as part of the film Holiday Inn
Barbra Streisand- Her version includes the great introduction
Bing & Michael Buble– From Buble’s Christmas special on NBC
Mantovani– Orchestral version circa 1952
Supremes– Acapella recording from the girls group
Rockapella– Another acapella version, yes from HSN!
Bob Marley- Even reggae gets in on the action 
Glee– The cast sings and skates with the up-beat take on the song
Canadian Brass–  A clever instrumental version from the group, includes the intro too!

Song of the Week #22- The Christmas Song

Mel_TormeWe almost finished the week without a song of the week post!  As we near the final few songs we get to the cream of the crop.  These last few songs are the best of them all (all opinion mostly).  This week we focus on THE Christmas Song.  You may know it better by its less formal title “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”.  This is the most performed Christmas song of them all.  It was written in 1944 by the Velvet Voice, Mel Torme and his writing partner Bob Wells.  They were suffering through a particularly hot summer.  Mel came upon Bob writing a list of things, not a song lyric.  The list was to get him thinking of winter things, hopefully to make him feel cooler.  Less than an hour later they were finished the lyrics and the song was born.  Mel was only 19 years old!

CHristmas SOngOriginally it was titled “Merry Christmas to You” before becoming simply The Christmas Song.  The first recording was made by the Nat King Cole Trio in 1946.  This recording was not to Cole’s liking- he wanted a new arrangement using a string section.  That first 1946 version was not released it landed on a 1989 compilation album by mistake.  The second 1946 recording featuring a small string section was the first to be released.  It was wildly popular.  Cole would go on to record it two additional times in 1953, with a full orchestra, and in 1961, in stereo with a full orchestra.  The lyrics paint a wonderful picture of the holidays.  Something for all in the family, “kids from one to ninety-two”, and many more references to white and wintry Christmas scenes.  This might be why hundreds and hundreds of singers, band, groups, and choirs have recorded and released the song.  Mel Torme himself recorded it four times, in 1954, 1961, 1966, and 1992.  Listen to some of the interesting version we found:

Nat King Cole– The original (well first released) recording on 78 rpm with a small string section.
Mel Torme– The writer singing it in 1963 with Judy Garland (see if you catch her little twist to the lyrics).
Vince Guaraldi– This instrumental version from A Charlie Brown Christmas might be my absolute favorite!
Target Commercials– In 2002 Target ran a series of commercials featuring India Arie & Stevie Wonder singing the song
Sesame Street– Big Bird and the Swedish Chef give it a whirl
Connie Francis– Recorded in 1959 at Abby Road Studios
Justin Beiber & Usher– Even the Biebs gets in the holiday spirit- lot more up-beat

 

Here Comes… St. Nicholas? (Song of the Week #21)

That’s right.  Here comes St. Nicholas.  Today I was all prepared to write about our Song of the Week #21, Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane).  Then I was reminded that today is the feast day for Saint Nicholas.  You see, we switched days here at the log, so I was a little off.  My solution is to combine the two.  Seems like a good song to share on the feast day for the man who would help to form the characters of American Santa Claus and British Father Christmas.  So first- the man, the mystery, the saint.

Saint_NicholasNicholas, or Nikolaos, was a Greek priest living on the island of Myra in the 4th century.   He would become the Bishop of Myra known as the “Wonderworker”.  Born of wealthy parents he was orphaned at a young age and raised by his uncle, also a priest.  He took to religion early in like and was devoted to the fasts and practices of the church of the day.  As a priest he was also known as a secret gift giver.  He would put coins in the shoes of people who left them out for him (sound familiar?).  He is said to have resurrected three boys who were killed by a butcher in a time of famine.  He also is known for convincing sailors to give the town part of their wheat destined for the emperor in Constantinople.  The miracle was that they left over 2 years worth of wheat, but when the sailors arrive in port at the end of the voyage, there was no wheat missing.  He is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, students and children.  Also, curiously, for pawnbrokers and thieves too.  When he died his relics were kept in the church in Myra.  In 1071 his remains were stolen during a period of war and taken to Bari in Italy.  Odd that thieves stole his relics, right?  The remains are still there today (although the Turkish Government has filed an appeal to have them returned to Myra).  These remains have a miracle property of their own.  Each year on December 6th they exude a clear liquid smelling of roses called manna, or myrrh.  The liquid is sold at the Cathedral and is said to have healing powers.  St. Nicholas Day is today and is a festival for children.  He is known to be the starting place for the British Father Christmas and the American Santa Claus.  So, here he comes!

Here comes santa2Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane) was written by Gene Autry and Oakley Halderman.  Autry got the idea for the song while riding his horse in the 1946 Santa Claus Lane Parade in Los Angeles.  Today the parade is known as the Hollywood Christmas Parade, held the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  The first demo version was made by Johnny Bond.  He improvised during the recording, using a glass of ice cubes to make the sound of some jingle bells.  Autry liked it and added the bells to the first recording he made in 1947.  He liked the song so much he even used it in his 1948 movie The Cowboys and the Indians.  The song has simple lyrics of a pop type but with a solid sacred message.  Hundreds of versions have been recorded over the last 65 years.  Take a moment to listen to a few:

Gene Autry– Original recording from the 40s. (version from his 1948 film, too)
Elvis Presley– It’s Elvis- a classic
Bing Crosby– Crooner takes on the song with the help of the Andrew Sisters
Ray Conniff– Ray and his singers (just for Natalie!)
Mariah Carey– drippy version from an ABC TV holiday special
Bob Dylan– Yup, Bob Dylan…