Friday, December 20, 2013

Music of the Season

The news of the day has been about Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson being suspended from his own family’s reality show on A&E, because he answered a direct question about his opinion on the definition of marriage, in an interview to be published in GQ Magazine. There is a firestorm of response about that. A couple of my favorites are Shawn Rogers’ commentary (available on Not on This Watch Facebook page 12-19-2013 ) and PJ Media’s Bryan Preston. If you’ve read my Defense of Marriage collection, you probably know where I stand. Which doesn’t make me a hater either—just a civilized thinker.
So, rather than spend more time on that just before Christmas, I’m going to spend time sharing something much more pleasant: Christmas Music.
Music is a pretty big part of my life. I play piano and organ well enough for church purposes. I lead the church choir. I play mountain dulcimer, and taught that instrument in an adult education class through the community college this fall. The little jam group I attend weekly, which includes dulcimers as well as guitars, mandolins, a string bass, banjo, and flutes, has performed as a service several times this month. I also occasionally play guitar and recorder (wooden flute, soprano and alto). And I sing. To paraphrase Buddy the Elf, “Singing is my favorite!” Or lines from “The Holly and the Ivy”: “…The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir.” It’s what I do. I sing at home and in the car. Sometimes in public.
Christmas is a music season. So I thought I’d put together a little online concert here—some of my current favorite Christmas pieces, for no other purpose that to feel what it is to feel the Spirit of Christ while we’re spending time celebrating His very special life.
This first one, is a capella, written by Aaron Edson. I first heard it in two places, in late 2005. Edson wrote it for a scripture video series called Liken the Scriptures (very fun series, with kids imagining how things must have been, with lots of music). This one is sung by the shepherds in The First Christmas. It was also included on BYU’s Vocal Point 2004 album, “Standing Room Only.” Vocal Point is BYU’s national award-winning men’s a capella ensemble. So I’ve been a fan since years before they became famous on the TV show The Sing Off.
In 2006 I contacted Aaron Edson to see if I could get the music for a concert I was conducting. He was at that time working to get it into print and sent me, at no cost, a pdf of the music along with permission to use it for our church concert. What a great guy! We had a group of eight or so perform the ensemble piece for our 2006 concert. This video is excerpted from The First Christmas.

Since we can’t get enough of men’s a capella, here’s a bonus of Vocal Point doing the perfect version of “12 Days of Christmas.” (Harvard and Indiana University men’s ensembles have done this as well.)

Do you know about The Piano Guys? Hurray for the internet making performances possible and sharable in ways they never were before! The Piano Guys is a combination of pianist Jon Schmidt and cellist Steven Sharp Nelson and some other musicians who happen to also be extraordinarily skilled at video production. So these guys do videos of their music in various places. Once they airlifted a grand piano onto a dangerously high mesa in southern Utah, where they’re from. Recently they performed on the Great Wall of China. I’m a big fan—got to see them in concert last summer when they stopped in Houston on tour.
Their newest Christmas video is “Angels We Have Heard on High,” using the piano in ways you might never have seen—unless you’ve seen these guys before. I encourage you to go to the link. Watch everything they’ve done! But the video I’m including is from a year ago, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” a Mormon Channel video including them and their music in a beautiful depiction of the nativity and Christ’s life. (It looks like it was filmed on location in the Holy Land, but is actually a beautifully done media studio set.) I watched this every day for a month last year—well into January.

The year that Vocal Point was on The Sing Off, that year’s winner was Pentatonix. I was disappointed my heroes didn’t win, but I’ve come to really like this group. This year their version of “Little Drummer Boy” is my new favorite of that song. It’s no longer the same song I sang in elementary school.


Lindsey Sterling is another internet video star. She’s a violinist who dances (dubstep) while she plays. She’s a delightful elfin/pixie-looking young woman, and makes use of that, totally decked out as an elf in “Celtic Carol.” But the piece I'm sharing is her heart-wrenchingly beautiful version of “What Child Is This.”

Lindsey has done videos with both The Piano Guys (a very fun "Mission Impossible" spoof) and Pentatonix  (a post-apocalyptic looking "Radioactive.”) She grew up in Arizona, it turns out in the same neighborhood where Mr. Spherical Model’s brother lives. Her dad is a close family friend. I mentioned this to my son Political Sphere, who used to live there too, and he said, “Oh, yeah. I know who that is.” I was a fan well before I learned she was a regular person just down the street, except for when she’s touring the world.
There are others I’d like to share, but are less easily linked. So I’ll end with a new favorite I discovered this year. My dulcimer group introduced me to this one, and we’ve already performed it several times. I’ve gotten ahead for next year and ordered it for my church choir to sing. The link is for audio only, but it’s a heavenly three minutes, called “Shines the Light.”
May your Christmas be full of beautiful music! 


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