As everybody knows by know, the Mission Santa Clara is one of our favorite places to sing, and draws a faithful and longtime audience. Our new Christmas gospel by Rosephanye Powell is a big crowd pleaser and gives first year tenor Matthew Mazzola a big showcase in the first of its three sections. Matthew will be going home to Houston for the holidays. Alan, now in his twelfth year singing is featured as the speaker at the top of the program, reading a piece by W.H. Auden. He'll be going to Florida to see his parents.
My favorite Christmas album has to be Jingle All the Way by Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. They move seamlessly from Bach fugues to funky bass solos to Tuvan throat singing. Doesn't get much better than that!
I've been on a little bit of a Planxty kick recently, so the next song on my playlist is a bit performed by Paul Brady. "Arthur McBride" isn't really about Christmas, but it does take place on Christmas day, and that's good enough for me! I first heard this song on a late night drive from Chapel Hill, NC to Southern Pines, SC on our recent tour of the southeast.
Growing up in Bear, Delaware, I remember the Christmas soundtrack being a mix of Bing Crosby and Mannheim Steamroller. Nothing says "80s Christmas" like the signature electronic fusion sounds of Manhnheim Steamroller...
My family's favorite Christmas movie is White Christmas. We used to watch it the day after Thanksgiving every year. There are so many great songs to choose from, but "Count Your Blessings" is perhaps my favorite. It's got a good message and a great croon.
My personal favorite Christmas movie is Lord of the Rings (yes, all three). Watching the full extended version of LOTR has become an annual tradition of mine and started when I was the only one left in my apartment waiting to sing Christmas eve services. "Concerning Hobbits" always puts me in the holiday spirit.
Now, those are my favorite Christmas movies. I also happen to have a favorite Christmas musical fable. And of course it's composed by the inimitable John Rutter. I had the pleasure of playing the eponymous role in the Reluctant Dragon during graduate school, and it's become an annual favorite of mine ever since. The "Banquet fugue" is sung during the celebratory feast after the townsfolk think they've killed the dragon...
Next on the list are my two Chanticleer picks. During college, I sang the tenor line in the anonymous "There is no rose" and fooled everyone into thinking my falsetto was my modal voice. Who would have thought there was a career in that?
The next track is my all-time favorite Christmas hymn, "Lo, how a rose e'er blooming" (arr. Michael Praetorius). I think Chanticleer absolutely knocks it out of the park on this recording.
The last two tracks are from an awesome and unique album called Folkjul: A Swedish Folk Christmas. Two of my closest friends introduced it to me a couple of years ago (hello Anna and Tim!). The choir sounds fantastic, the arrangements are gorgeous, the organ improvisation is dope, and the kulning (look it up) is otherworldly.
Sometimes it seems easier to get from SFO to Shanghai than to get to LA. Yesterday was NOT one of those days. A very smooth travel day, and the impeccable hospitality and efficiency of the L. A Phil's staff made for an enjoyable evening. Fred said it was a great concert! Walt Disney Concert Hall seemed very full and as always we had the feeling people knew us well. Eric's family came to see his last Christmas in Southern California and, of course former counter tenor Casey Breves- now an LA resident- showed up.
- I had to start my playlist with the man who some call the King of Christmas. This song was from his first of eight Christmas albums and is definitely one of my favorites. I also had the pleasure of performing weekly in Andy Williams’ Moon River Theater in 2012, where this song is always played at Christmas time.
- Does this one need an introduction? Nat King Cole recorded this one a total of four times. This track is the last one he recorded and is known to be the most definitive, recorded in 1961 with full orchestra in stereophonic sound.
- No Christmas playlist would be complete without a number from the iconic album, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” I imagine you’ll be seeing a few songs from Vince Guaraldi in these playlists.
- I really love the harmonic sophistication in the Carpenters writing. Their album Christmas Portrait got played every Christmas when I was growing up. And who doesn’t like to listen to Karen Carpenter? Her voice is like butter.
- Being a lover of vocal jazz, I wanted to include a track from The Singers Unlimited, a game-changing group, singing the huge, multi-tracked arrangements of Gene Puerling. The Carpenters’ harmonies are great, but they can hardly compare to this track.
- Originally written for the Swingle Singers, this incredible jazz-influenced arrangement by Jonathan Rathbone is stunningly beautiful and full of raw emotion. Brian included this piece in his playlist as well and I had to as well because it’s simply that good. It is my favorite piece of this year’s A Chanticleer Christmas program.
- This song, like all of these, has been covered a multitude of times by other contemporary artists. I've included the original in my playlist by Donny Hathaway.
- This one is a guilty pleasure. I'm not the biggest fan of *NSYNC, but maybe bigger than I'd like to admit. I just enjoy this arrangement and how none of it sounds overly-produced and pitch corrected. I've also had the opportunity to perform it.
- The Real Group is a five-member Swedish a cappella group that formed in 1984 by music students from the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm. Since then, they’ve gained an international audience and have received notoriety for their unique sound. Personally, I think they’re one of the most talented vocal groups of the past three decades.
- Here’s another one I remember listening to when it came out. With a New Orleans street-beat as its core, Harry Connick Jr.’s Louisiana inspiration really shines through in this track.
- Pentatonix exploded on to the pop a cappella music scene in 2011 after coming in first place on the 3rd season of NBC’s The Sing-Off. They are mostly known for their electronic dance music inspired a cappella tracks, but I’ve chosen to include one of their most acoustic and honest offerings and the only original song from the double-platinum album of the same name.
- I had to include Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” in my playlist. The piece has become an institution for Chanticleer and is performed every year. It’s very rewarding to sing a piece that moves the audience as much as this one does.
Another audience with whom we go way back, and who go back before us - like the woman there tonight who sang with Louis before he ever founded Chanticleer. She, like others who knew our founder, say that he would not be at all surprised that we are now 40 and thriving. Apart from an alarm going off during intermission, it was a peaceful and happy evening among friends with every seat full. We're happy to be back at First Congregational from which we've been absent since extensive fire damage the year before last. While we do everything we can to sing for as many people as possible for Christmas, we have always stopped on the 23rd, enabling us to enjoy the holidays too. Andy is looking forward to going home to Michigan. It's the first Christmas in six years on which he hasn't been working, for instance when he was part of the Radio City Music Hall Christmas show. Matt Knickman will be splitting his time between Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon.