Monday, December 3, 2012

Kellemes Karácsonyt!

Merry Christmas!

Over on the Friday, church-music-related side of the blog it's still Advent, a four week period leading up to Christmas (which is 12 days long!) but here on the secular side of the blog as we all know the Christmas season is about three-quarters over already, having started sometime in September. So I'm actually very late in acknowledging this. My apologies. And hohoho.

I have what might be considered a bad habit at Christmastime, which is to find and learn some new music every year. One reason for it is that it helps keep me from getting bored playing and listening to only and always the same music every year, and it also helps to set each Christmas apart from the ones that preceded it. Then, when I approach the music in following years I can recall the year and the Christmas in which I learned it. Although at this point many Christmases have pretty much receded into a vague mush of half-remembrances, and only a few still stand out. I suspect it is like this for most of us.

Another interesting thing about the new music is that it is sometimes from different cultures and reminds me that Christmas is a holiday that has been celebrated by a whole lot of people over a wide span of time and space. Which is were today's selection comes in.

Bela Bartok liked to do a little field research. He would go out into rural Romania and collect folk songs. The  group of 10 very short pieces you are about to hear were (are?) sung by children in Romania in the 19th century. I don't know anything more about them yet.

If you are getting bored with Jingle Bells already this might be your thing. (I'll also be posting a Christmas program, in about a week, over at the mother website,, consisting of an hour of organ music you might not normally hear at Christmas.)  On the other hand, it does collide with one of the more important requirements that people have of music in general, and particularly at Christmas. It isn't familiar.

The funny thing about traditions, though, is that they all start somewhere. If you listen to this a few times this season, box it away (don't worry, I'll store it for you) and get it out again next year it may become a part of your Christmas. In which case we can share in this process, and this tradition, together. You'll be including the children of 19th Century Romania in your Christmas, too.

True, for those of us in the United States of the 21st century, these don't really sound much like Christmas Carols. But if you listen carefully, you might start to hear sleigh bells.

Bartok, Bela: Romanian Christmas Carols (1st set)

p.s. Actually, I started to hear them, too. While I was practicing for the recording, Christmas wreaths were being hung in our sanctuary, and you could hear the bells jingle. As I got to the final chord I had an idea for a little sleigh bell obbligato. So I switched on the microphone and my assistant accompanied me on this last carol. In the end, this version wound up on the cutting room floor because my favorite take was at a faster tempo then the one we did, and tacking it on the end of the other nine carols done in this fashion would have taken the air out of the climax. But who doesn't enjoy a good bonus feature now and then? So here's one of the outtakes....

With bells on...

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