“It almost makes you want to go to war.”
Such was the effect of the fife and drum corps at colonial Williamsburg as they marched by.
Music in wartime is an ancient tradition. Why? Why should something so beautiful, lively, and celebratory be laced with something so horrid, devastating, and grim?
There is the simple explanation that music is a mood-booster. I think we can extract a deeper reason, though.
Music declares victory before the battle. Music strengthens the heart with the promise of what could be the reward of valor: rest, peace, and jubilee.
When Christ was born, poetry erupted. It is unclear how melodic these words were, but it’s reasonable to remember them as song, as we tend to do. Mary uttered her magnificat; Zechariah uttered his prayer. The host of heaven astonished the shepherds with their verse. They all sang good news.
But as far as we can tell, things went silent for Mary afterward. She lived to see her own son pinned in shameful death. At that moment and many others, how she must have clung to the vivid words that heralded his birth. How she must have needed that report of the host of heaven singing to shepherds who didn’t have a clue.
They had sung, “Peace on earth.” They were announcing the means by which God would achieve that Peace, but they were also declaring Peace before the war was over, before the crucifixion, before the final return of Christ.
We still need that song. The work of Christ is complete, but the day of complete salvation has not arrived. Those who are in Christ have a hope none can take away. And yet, we witness so much evil, and our limited frames render us downcast. We ask, “How long, O Lord?”
In times of discouragement as well as times of gladness, we can reach for the song. It is God’s gift to us to remind us that victory is sure, even if not yet here.
That’s why I have come to have a special love for music at Christmastime. It’s not just a European tradition; it's a biblical one. What could be more fitting than to celebrate the Word made flesh with words made song?
To this end, there is a European tradition that has powerfully helped our family appreciate Christ in song. The King’s College at Cambridge, England, formed the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, a flexible liturgy of prayer, Scripture, and carols. It is broadcast on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; see if you can catch it. Alternatively, it so happens that this very evening (Dec. 6) at 7pm a local college is live-streaming their version of Lessons and Carols.
Let me tell you about some favorite Christmas records now. The list includes choral, a cappella, jazz, Irish, and pop-alternative. Favorite songs from these artists, as well as several others, are in our master “Christmas in the Hall Home” playlist.
A word of warning: even the best Christmas music can get old. So, don’t overdo it. AND. Comment with your favorites! Always looking for more.
Carols from Cambridge (album by various artists)
Wonderful old carols delivered by English choirs.
The Singers Unlimited began as a jazz a cappella jingle group. Their Christmas album is exquisite. A few tracks are jingle-esque, but altogether it's a beautiful, harmonically thick collection of Christmas arrangements, including several lesser known songs. Here's one of my favorites. Listen to that final sustained note!
The majority of Jon and Valerie Guerra’s Christmas songs are feel-good holiday music, but there are a few spiritual numbers. Last year’s video of “Remind Me, Lord” brought a tear to my eye.
Their “Snow Song” is lovely.
JJ Heller delivered a wonderful update to We Three Kings.
There are three types of people in the world: those who like Sufjan’s music, those who don’t understand those who like Sufjan’s music, and those who have better things to do. I’m in the first camp with a major caveat: I like his traditional Christmas songs. They are fresh and beautiful, if a a bit whimsical.
Something tells me those who get the Sufjan wavelength will connect with Bifrost Arts. Though the vocal style of several songs is too weird for me, a few are captivating.
My mother-in-law introduced me to this vintage sound.
Their Bells of Dublin record comes with the scent of woodsmoke and ale.
Canadian Brass has multiple classy Christmas albums with carols and fun holiday numbers.
Vince Guaraldi Trio
Does Christmas jazz piano get any better than A Charlie Brown Christmas?
Justin Kauflin's Silent Night is another fine jazz piano record.
Songs from these artists and several others are collected in this playlist. Enjoy.