Monday, December 15, 2008

Oh brother!

In defense of Christmas music. Specifically, "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Two wildly different blogs I read regularly mentioned how "depressing" the soundtrack is, and a friend made a similar comment recently.

What, all Christmas music has to be one of the following?

a) religious
b) ridiculously upbeat
c) histrionic

Don't get me wrong - I love Christmas music, all of it. I'm a huge fan of Bing Crosby, Burl Ives, Perry Como. And I love swingin' loungey Christmas music (Dean Martin, anyone on the Ultra-Lounge label). And who doesn't enjoy the three tenors doing "Ave Maria"?

But every once in a while, it's quiet in the house, you're doing something that you want to give some attention to, like decorating the tree or making a fire. Those moments often call for something a little subtle, unobtrusive even. And Vince Guaraldi's piano is nothing if not subtle.

It's not like every song is a dirge. "Skating" sounds like a jazzy snowfall, if snowfalls had genres. The tinkling keys couldn't represent anything but the falling of snowflakes. "Christmas is Here" is the classic "dance" song for the cartoon, where all the kids get distracted from their theatrical duties and start be-bopping around (my personal fav - the girl that dances in one place, cocking her head side to side).

In fact, the only one that doesn't have at least a pick-me-up section is "Christmastime is Here." True, even the version with lyrics sounds more wistful than cheerful. But it's also my favorite on the album. To me it sounds . . . introspective. Children and adults certainly celebrate the holidays differently; it makes sense that we wouldn't appreciate the same music all the time.

Of course, indulging in child-like fantasies is one of the best parts about Christmas - eating candy like it's going out of style, getting excited over wrapped presents, debating the merits of colored versus white lights for the tree (well, maybe kids don't do that). But by only celebrating the children's version of Christmas, we're denying adults the pleasure of a grown-up version: getting together with friends you haven't seen in a while, having drinks by the fire, taking in the light displays at a reasonable pace. We can all enjoy Christmas, and I'd say that for being the soundtrack to a children's animated television special, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is definitely a grown-up treat.

Listen: E-Music will let you listen to small snippets of every song on the album.

Listen: NPR's Morning Edition discusses "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (has a few of the songs as well)

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