Long before trios of tenors toured the globe, there was Luciano Pavarotti. There was also this 1978 performance at Montreal’s Notre Dame Cathedral. I was a young teenager when this Christmas special aired on television, and it was my first exposure to opera. From the opening note, I was mesmerized and moved by the passion and richness of Pavarotti’s voice, and of the cathedral itself. Somehow, the combination of the two makes “Adeste Fideles” seem even more holy.
I’m feeling a bit nostalgic tonight — probably because each Sunday night, I’m aways reminded of family dinners at my grandmother’s house in Queens, NY. Once all of the dishes were hand-washed and dried, we used to sit in the living room (on the sofa and floor) to watch “The Wonderful World of Disney,” “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, ” and “The Lawrence Welk Show.” If I remember correctly, there was a lot of eye rolling at that last show, but something has changed in the passing decades.
Looking back at the clips, there is something rather sweet and, yes, comical about the show. Maybe it’s the familiar faces or the corniness or the remembered aromas of my grandmother’s cooking, but Mr. Welk and crew certainly brings a smile to my face.
And if that wasn’t enough nostalgia for one night, how about this one from Perry Como. Pay attention to the pop-ups and remember to wait for Santa Claus.
I couldn’t let this post end without one last moment with Lawrence Welk.
This morning, I woke up to snow — and while I may not be a fan of the white stuff, even I must admit that there is something exciting, something magical about snow at this time of year.
On Long Island, a white Christmas is always iffy. More often than not, if there should be any snow, it’s usually washed away by rain or a burst of mild temperatures. Our snowy time arrives after Christmas. Still, the iffiness does nothing to dampen our hope and excitement that this year we will have a “White Christmas.”
While many performers have put their own stamp on this Christmas standard, I’m always drawn to Diana Krall’s version. Her voice, sultry and intimate, feels like a warm blanket — kind of like the one that’s wrapped around me right now, as I watch sugary powder dust and cover everything.
It’s been a beast of a week. After locking up your office, you’ve bundled yourself against the cold.
Clutching your coat tight around your chest, you make your way home, grumbling about the piles from yesterday’s snowfall and how the city’s grime has already turned winter white into a dull gray.
If there could be any good fortune on a night like this, it’s that the buildings on the cross street are blocking the winter wind. The wind, you realize, is just a few yards away, waiting for you to turn the corner.
You’ve reached the end of the street and it’s time to walk uptown. You brace yourself, but it doesn’t do any good. The northwest wind slaps you full across the face, squeezing frozen tears from your eyes. You worry that it’s not just nipping at your nose, but gripping it and ripping it, as well.
Stray pages of some newspaper become wrapped around your legs, as you lean into winter, hunching up your shoulders and sinking in your neck, a gloved hand pressing your scarf to your nose and mouth. You’re thinking you need an oasis — a bit of warmth in this frozen urban land.
And there it is, sitting in the shadows between the glow of two streetlights. You’ve walked this route hundreds of time and can’t recall seeing this place, now decorated with a string of colored lights and a wreath.
You step inside to a muted interior and all at once you’re in 2013 and 1953. The coat check girl, platinum hair swept up in a retro ‘do and tattooed shoulders above a glittery red dress with white faux fur trim, smiles at you with painted red lips. As she takes your coat, she says, “Why, you’re just in time for the first act.”
It takes a few seconds for your eyes to adjust to the dark and smoky interior, to take in the assorted souls at the bar and seated at small tables close to the stage. You find a place and ask for a drink.
The band steps out, and the first notes sound familiar — a carol performed by so many. A woman steps up to the microphone — and very soon, her voice is as warm and velvety and soothing as the amber liquid in your glass.
I wonder who will be taking the stage
We’re at the halfway point in our Yule Tune odyssey and I thought I would take a look at a very moving carol, “The Holly And The Ivy.” It’s so moving that I placed it into the category: “Carols That I Love Even Though I Don’t Know The Words.”
In my head, the song sounds something like this: “The holly and the ivy. Hmmm. Hmmm. Hmmm. Hmmm.” My intention was to locate the lyrics and print them with pictures of, well, holly and ivy. A simple, no-nonsense post — until I began the research and uncovered a complicated history of the carol.
To make a long story short, the lyrics are full of controversy and symbolism. Well before Christianity entered the world stage, early peoples honored the winter months by decorating their homes with evergreens, including holly and ivy. In fact, ivy was often associated with the Roman god Bacchus, and holly was part of Saturnalia celebrations. Early Christian leaders tried to change pagan traditions, but they were eventually incorporated into the new religion.
As the lyrics evolved, they became symbolic of Christ’s life. They also reflected earlier carols that described the battle of the sexes, with the masculine holly challenging the feminine ivy for supremacy. With very little mention of ivy in the carol, it would seem that holly has won the battle — or is this just another example of the feminine being suppressed by the masculine, which is the basis for a little novel called The DaVinci Code.
Like I said, all I really wanted was a simple post. Instead, I have a complicated one, as well as a complicated carol. It’s probably why, now that I think of it, I have a complicated relationship with both of these plants. I love them. I hate them. I love them.
Let me first say that I have ivy growing everywhere: spreading along the ground, rambling on and over fencing, climbing up trees. I love its lush appearance and its ability to make a wall of green. But that’s where the love-fest ends. Ivy does not have low maintenance in its vocabulary. It plays a huge role in my gardening life as I hack, prune, and yank it to keep it within bounds as it spreads, rambles, and climbs. And let’s not even talk about the time I had to clean out an ivy-filled area to create a perennial garden. Bah, humbug — indeed!
Then, there is the holly. I have a variegated type, and Joe and I have moved it around the yard at least twice. I hate to part with it, because I do like the leaves — especially at this time of year, when we cut sprigs and bring them into the house. The thing about holly, though, is that it lulls you into a false sense of security. Just when you think it’s lovely, it’s time to do some spring cleaning, and inevitably, I get stuck by the spiny edges of the leaves. Over and over and over again. The rest of that gardening day has me muttering something like, “The f%(#*&(n holly and the f&^%%$&n ivy. Hmmm. Hmmm. Hmmm. Hmmm.”
At this point, it’s probably best that I let those who know the words — and who can sing it far better than I — show you why it is one of the most beautiful carols ever written.
My favorite version of “Little Drummer Boy” has got to be the original by the Harry Simeone Chorale. As some of you may know, though, I’m a bagpiper — and tonight I’m in charge of my pipe band’s Christmas party. While I’m off to light the sternos, enjoy this performance by another pipe band, the Duncan McCall Pipe Band, based out of Pensacola, FL.
In yesterday’s post, I wrote about Mr. B, a widower who generously opens up his home to show movies to small groups of friends in his basement movie theater. This is the second year in a row that Joe and I and our friends paid a visit to Mr. B and his holiday show. In the comments of that post, Kathy wondered if Mr. B was really Santa Claus.
I’m not too sure if he’s the actual Santa Claus, but I’m positive he’s one of Santa’s helpers.
Mr. B kept last night’s film choice a surprise. During the drive to his house, my mind considered which holiday movie we were going to see on his large screen. White Christmas? It’s A Wonderful Life? Holiday Inn? Christmas In Connecticut?
No, Mr. B had a different Christmas gift in mind, a film that his audience had never seen — The Lemon Drop Kid. This comedy not only starred Bob Hope as a good-natured con man, it also introduced “Silver Bells” to the world.
In this clip, Bob Hope and his co-star, Marilyn Maxwell, (with some harmonizing help from William Frawley of “I Love Lucy”) celebrate Christmastime in the city — sprinkling ite with some humor that’s politically incorrect by today’s standards.
Ladies and Gentlemen, “Silver Bells.”
I’m feeling a bit nostalgic tonight. Joe and I, along with friends Michele and Tim, are going to the movies — sort of. We’re actually going to Mr. B’s house.
A year ago, Michele and Tim introduced us to Mr. B, a widower who very generously opened up his house to a handful of friends looking for Christmas spirit. Once inside his small home, he led us into the basement, which he had converted into a movie wonderland: movie posters, autographed photos, memorabilia, and a Hollywood Walk of Fame with the names of his grandchildren.
There was also a door. Apparently, Mr. B’s basement was larger than his house. When he opened the door and we walked into the adjoining room, we were like Dorothy stepping from her black and white Kansas home into the colorful and merry old land of Oz.
Mr. B had built his own movie theater in his basement — complete with dimming wall sconces, a curtain that opened to reveal the screen, and vintage seats rescued from a local movie theater. With popcorn and Christmas cookies and Doris Day and Frank Sinatra, we not only found movie magic, but holiday magic, as well.
I wonder what vintage film Mr. B has chosen for this year’s showing. I’ll let you know tomorrow.
In the meantime, please enjoy “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” from one of my favorite musicals, Meet Me In St. Louis. Directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Judy Garland (the two met on the set and later married), the film follows the Smith family and their excitement over the upcoming Louisiana Purchase Exposition World’s Fair.
At this moment in the movie, the Smith family is in a bit of an emotional upheaval after Mr. Smith announced that they would be leaving their home in St. Louis and moving to New York. On Christmas Eve, Esther Smith, portrayed by Garland, arrives home and sings this song to comfort Tootie, played by Margaret O’Brien, who is quite worried that Santa will not be able to find them once they move.
If you search YouTube for Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” you’ll discover countless versions, from the Mormon Tabernacle choir to smaller church singing groups. For me, though, nothing moves me more than a flash mob in the food court at the mall.
Although this video has been around for a number of years and although it enjoyed viral status, I find myself searching for this video all year long. There are so many layers that bring on my emotions: having this amazing sound in something as common as the mall, watching the passion of the performers (who took the time to do this) and the reactions of the shoppers (who paused during the hectic holiday prep time), and wishing that I could be somewhere just as a flash mob begins.
Without any further delay, here is the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Please, pass the Kleenex.
Because the following video is, well, boring — just a still image of the vinyl version of Pearl Bailey’s “Jingle Bells Cha-Cha” — I thought I would give you a story to go along with the music.
When I hear this song, I imagine myself working in an advertising agency, circa 1962, ala “Mad Men.” It’s the office Christmas party, and the typewriters are covered, mistletoe hangs in all of the most convenient of places, and Pete Campbell is spiking the punch to help make this shindig merrier and brighter.
I’m standing near the office window, when Peggy Olsen comes by to make some awkward holiday small talk. Her lips say, “Merry Christmas,” but her words mean, “How’s that Lucky Strike campaign coming along?” Someone should tell her this is a party — no work and all play.
Speaking of play, now would be a good time to start the music.
“Jingle Bells Cha-Cha” rolls from the hi-fi and I leave Peggy to ask Joan for a dance. I like Joan. She gets me and I get her. She knows she’s safe with me, because I’m not expecting anything in return — unlike Roger over in the corner, who’s glaring at me over his tumbler of Scotch, like we’re at an 8th grade dance and his girl is dancing with the guy who’s light in the loafers.
As Joan and I move and slide between the garland-draped secretaries’ desks, I can’t help but think that Joan, in her tight red skirt, is built for the cha-cha. My thought is validated by the stares she’s getting from the other ad men — and the dirty and jealous looks they’re giving me.
Just then, I catch a glimpse of Don Draper, looking as dapper as always. He looks a little nervous, though, as if he’s searching for something — probably the premiere of the next season of “Mad Men.”
Silly boy, he’s not going to find that gem until the spring.