I love Christmas music, and I love listening to it throughout the whole Christmas season. Please don't ask why -- no one quite knows the reason. But I am willing to bet that most of it boils down to one of two things: I used to be a (semi-) classically trained singer, and Christmas music makes me feel very, very happy. (Probably because a big chunk of it is about presents, which I love.) (Also, a lot of it makes me think about going to Christmas Eve Mass with my family, where everyone would sing their faces off, and the music is probably the one thing I miss most about organized religion, now that I am basically a godless heathen.)
Depending on the kind of mood I am in when I turn ol' Poddalita on (yes I named my iPod shut up don't you judge me), I tend to listen to one of three different types of Christmas songs: classical, "classics," and neo-classical. Or, to not be so cute about it: really old stuff (hymns, ballets, opera music), kind of old stuff (basically anything recorded prior to 1970 or so), and stuff that makes me feel old because I think I can remember when it first came out.
My usual default is to go for the classical stuff, because honestly, it never gets old. I know that most people don't actually like classical music, but I am not most people. I sang alto in the concert choir, the treble choir, the Camerata, the chamber singers. I still remember the notes I had to sing in a lot of the pieces we performed, and when I am listening to Muzak in the mall, I can still pick out my voice part. I am an NPR listener, for God's sake -- of COURSE I like classical music.
(Stereotype myself, much? NERD.)
So, anyway, here are the Top Ten Classical Christmas tracks on my iPod right now (in no particular order), which I am sharing with you because I am a sharer, dammit:
- Shubert's "Ave Maria" -- On my iPod, it is performed by Josh Groban, but any decent tenor or baritone will do. You hear this song sung by women a lot, but I really prefer to hear it by a tenor. What can I say? I love tenors. (Plus Josh Groban is a total stone-cold hottie and I will fight to the death anyone who argues otherwise.)
- "Carol of the Bells" -- Straight No Chaser. A capella music kicks ass. (Also: Hi, Walt!)
- "Für Elise" by Beethoven -- The version I have is from the soundtrack to "A Charlie Brown Christmas" performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, and it is THE VERY BEST Christmas record ever made. Go get it. This is not a Christmas song, per se, but because it's on this particular soundtrack, I count it. (My blog, my rules.)
- "Gesú Bambino" by Pietro Yon -- Not technically "classical," since it was written in 1917, but it's often sung by operatic tenors. It's perfectly lovely. I listen to a version recorded by Luciano Pavarotti and if you don't get chills listening to it, then you're already dead.
- "What Child Is This?" -- I am partial to the version by Vanessa Williams on A Very Special Christmas 2. (That whole record is fanfreakingtastic, bee tee dubs, even including the Sinéad O'Connor cover of a Bob Dylan song.)
- "The Nutcracker Suite" by Tchaikovsky -- Self-explanatory. If you need a break from all the more "traditional" sounding stuff, listen to The Brian Setzer Orchestra's version, which you might have heard in 8,000 commercials already. You can find it on any number of BSO Christmas records, but I personally recommend the soundtrack to Elf because it has Louis Prima and Leon Redbone on it, too.
- "Panis Angelicus" by César Franck -- I have a version of this that was recorded by Pavarotti and Sting and it will knock you naked, for serious. (Josh Groban's version is also excellent.)
- Gounod's "Ave Maria" -- Second version of the "Ave Maria," so big ups to the BVM! And big ups to the one, the only, the Miss Barbra Streisand, whose Christmas Album is the third-best Christmas record ever made (after "Charlie Brown" and Elvis).
- "O Holy Night" -- My very, very favorite traditional Christmas carol, written by Adolphe Adam. I love hearing this in the original French, but I've only ever sung it in English. I am still very, very sad that I was not good enough to earn the "Honor Solo" for this song when I was in Concert Choir my senior year in high school. My favorite sung version of this song is by Tevin Campbell from the compilation A Very Special Christmas 2, but my absolute favorite version is an instrumental version, played on a trumpet, that was a benefit single for Tipitina's Foundation. Trumpets make church music sound sexy and heartbreaking, yo.
- "Silent Night (Stille Nacht)" -- Sung/spoken by John Denver and the Muppets. There are no other versions.
Any classical stuff you like that I left out? Let me know in the comments. Otherwise, join me again tomorrow, when I give you my list of my Top Ten Christmas Classics, and you can tell me why I'm an idiot.