Is there any meaning left in Christmas Carols?

By Barry Kempton

It’s mid-December and the attack of the background holiday music is in full swing.  Shops, restaurants, elevators and any building that plays background music – they are all pumping it out quietly and numbingly.  Even our beloved Classical MPR has an on-line holiday music stream, available 24/7 I assume (though I haven’t tested that).   It’s all meant to put us in the spirit of the holiday season.  But does it?

I fear it’s having the opposite effect – at least on me.  I’m not the cynical type, but I worry that the power of festive music (like any other good music) to lift our spirits and change our moods is diminishing because there’s so much of it, and it’s incessant.

I have happy memories of playing holiday music in youth band.  It’s always wonderful to come across a live choir singing carols or to attend a holidays-themed concert (of which there are many great ones in the Twin Cities).  When I worked for the City of London Sinfonia a few years ago, I was privileged to attend the Christmas concert at St Paul’s Cathedral on multiple occasions.  More recently some of us at The Schubert Club were fortunate enough hear the hugely talented soprano Carrie Henneman Shaw sing unfamiliar, recently composed carols in a beautiful private home.  Uplifting experiences one and all.

Great holiday music doesn’t have to be live.  It’s fun at Christmas time to listen to a favorite recording or music show on the radio.  The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College Cambridge is much enjoyed by many Minnesotans I know.  We’re lucky to be able to hear it on Classical MPR. 

I just don’t need the blurry, bland background stuff in between.  Less is more.

If you live locally and can attend lunchtime concerts, do come to our free courtroom concert at Landmark Center next Thursday at noon.  Schubert Club composer in residence Abbie Betinis and administrative colleague Max Carlson have put together a program of lesser-known carols sung by a stellar quartet of Minnesota’s finest singers.  It will be uplifting, I am certain.

Happy Holidays to everyone.