Friday, November 25, 2011

Troll the Ancient Yuletide Carol

 Troll (verb)
1. to sing or utter in a full, rolling voice.
2. to sing in the manner of a round or catch.

Every year, usually sometime in October, many department stores begin to pipe in Christmas music in hopes to entice shoppers to do their Christmas shopping a little early.
Every year, just after Hallowe'en ends, a local radio station begins to play Christmas music 24/7 up through the Big Day itself, and their ratings skyrocket.
Every year, right around the time of these two occurrences, a flood of complaints stream onto Facebook about stores and radio playing Christmas music so early.
It's kind of "in" to complain, you know? I mean, unless they shop at department stores daily or are ardent listeners to the station playing the music, why should it upset them?
Just because, I suppose.
Now, as a Christmas person - something that drives many people nuts - all of this doesn't bother me. If there was anything to upset me it would be that these stores and stations play the same carols over and over and over and over...yes, even I will get sick of the songs they play.
And that's where this story begins - - -

In December of 1983 I thought I would treat my girlfriend to an old-fashioned Christmas, so I purchased tickets to a special evening dinner at Greenfield Village's Eagle Tavern where we would be able to partake in traditional holiday fare of the mid-19th century.
I was very excited about this and we arrived much earlier than the 6 pm start time; we were there at 5:00! So we made ourselves at home inside the lobby of the entrance building and sat next to a roaring fire in the fireplace. There was a beautifully decorated tree that I would guess was at least 12 to 15 feet tall, and there was also cedar garland roped throughout the large room, giving one that old-time Christmas feeling even before the event itself began.
Above all of this, however, were the sounds of Christmas music being piped in through a hidden sound system. Now, I had grown up with Christmas music playing continually in my house by my mother from a few days before Thanksgiving through New Year's Day. Artists such as the Ray Conniff Singers, Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis, Gene Autry, Mitch Miller, and Rosemary Clooney were always on the console stereo - my mother wore the grooves out of those records!
That was Christmas music to me and I absolutely loved it, even as a blase' teen and young adult when one is supposed to be too cool to like anything like that.
On this special evening at Greenfield Village, waiting with my girlfriend in the lobby for the horse and carriage to take us to the Eagle Tavern, there was something a little different coming from the speakers: it was the sound of the hammered dulcimer, a fiddle, and  guitar. The music playing, for the most part, was of mostly unfamiliar tunes. However, even though I didn't recognize them, each carol sounded like Christmas. But not like the Christmas's I used to know...rather, it gave me the feeling of Christmas's my great great grandparents used to know.
It was an engulfing and mesmerizing experience.
I went to the front desk and asked for the artist's name they had on. Unfortunately, the woman couldn't tell me, and neither could anyone else working there. And they were too busy to find out.
But those sounds stuck with me the rest of the evening. Even after listening to a quartet of traditional vocalists entertaining us while we dined on a splendid repast of turkey, squash, stuffing, whole cranberries (of which I had never tried before that night) and other traditional fare inside the 1832 tavern, the beautiful strains of the dulcimer, et al I heard in the entrance building continued to haunt me.
I remember on the way home speaking about what a fine time we had, and how we both felt like we had stepped right into another era from long ago and experienced first-hand the way Christmas used to be celebrated during the time of our ancestors. We were on a high that I can still intently recall after all these years since. Yet, it was the Christmas music I heard in the lobby that rang in my ears.
I searched off and on for quite a while for that old-time music, to no avail. During this period in my life I was working as the head product buyer in a record store, and part of my job in the fall was to order and organize the Christmas music albums and CD's. Virtually everything we ordered was on a major label such as CBS, RCA, MCA or Warner Brothers, and those companies carried the titles and big name artists that I've mentioned above (Mathis, Crosby, etc.). Yeah, there were some cool rock and roll, blues, and country Christmas albums released as well, but nothing close to what I was looking for.
However, there was a music peddler, a man known as Billy from Tant, who would show up a few times a year with a whole unheard world of music stacked and stocked inside of his van - he was a dealer in recordings and artists which consisted of pure hillbilly, folk, big band, rockabilly, country blues, "old-timey", and other similar genres that the larger record companies wouldn't sign, for it was felt there was little commercial appeal in this style of music. Instead, these mostly obscure folk artists would sign up with small independent record labels such as Rounder or Flying Fish.
Well, in the fall of 1985 (the year I married my girlfriend, I might add) Billy brought over a collection of Christmas music. I sat in his van and picked through the albums to sell in our store. Most fit the non-commercial category as described, and there were even a couple of Christmas radio shows from the WWII era - pretty cool stuff! But one album on the Hogeye Record label caught my eye, mainly because I liked the name of the label. You have to admit, "Hogeye Records" did sound enticing. The title on the front of the cover was "On This Day Earth Shall Ring." I flipped it over to read further information about it: the list of song titles were not the usual assortment I normally saw - "Christmas Is Coming," "I Wonder as I Wander," "Virgin Mary Had One Son," "Blessed Be That Made Mary," "Patapan...", and even  a couple of well-known carols like "What Child is This," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," and "Silent Night."
But, guess what? Listed under the titles were the names of the instruments used, and there, under "What Child Is This," was...the hammered dulcimer! I also noticed other instruments included such as the recorder, guitar, mandolin, viola, and harp.
Just what I've been looking for!
I'm sure you can guess what I purchased that very day. And you can go ahead and just imagine how thrilled I was to put the album on my turntable and hear the  traditional three and four part harmony vocals, hammered dulcimer instrumentals, and, for the most part, the music that has been haunting me over the last two years!
Oh yeah, this was my album of the year.
Since that time nearly three decades ago, I have amassed a rather large collection of these wonderful old-world-type Christmas carols CD's. The search-and-destroy experience taught me to look for the small indie label artists rather than the major labels for this stuff.
And you won't hear most of it on the radio either, by the way, meaning you won't get sick of it.
In fact, unless you are just anti-Christmas music ("except on Christmas Eve and Day!"), you will probably really enjoy this.
There is a unexplainable sensation one gets when listening to this old-world music. It does not 'urge' you to go out to the mall to Buy! Buy! Buy! There are no songs about Santa, Grandma getting run over by a reindeer, hippos, or asking you to come home for Christmas. Instead, the carols here will lull you into enjoying Christmas rather than stressing out over it.
The best part is this period Christmas music can - and does - mix in well with the more popular, well-known carols from the major stars heard often (too often sometimes) in our modern age.
I don't know...I'm sounding new age-y here, aren't I? Ugghh! I don't mean to. This is not new age music by any means. It is a music of long ago, from another era, from a time when Buy! Buy! Buy! wasn't the buzz word or catch phrase of the Christmas season.
And I never tire of hearing it. No hippopotamuses here!
My own vocal group, Simply Dickens, performs the music from days of old rather than the current carols.

The following is a list of my favorite traditional old world Christmas Music CD's. I linked them to in case you find yourself wanting to purchase some of this wonderful music for yourself. You won't be sorry!

On This Day Earth Shall Ring: Songs for Christmas

The Holly And The Ivy: Christmas Music With Hammered Dulcimer And Singing  
Christmas Comes Anew by Madeline MacNeil
The Bells of Dublin by The Chieftains

Some traditional. Some contemporary. And some that are a little of both. The traditional carols alone are more than worth the price of the CD!

American Christmas by Folk Like Us 

A Victorian Christmas by Robin Petrie 

A Victorian Noel by Robin Petrie

Christmas at The Eagle Tavern by Opera Lite (Greenfield Village singers!) 

Celtic Christmas by Katie McMahon


Cup of Kindness by Neil Woodward

Colonial Christmas by Linda Russell

A Scottish Christmas by Bonnie Rideout 

Sounds of the Season, Vol. 1 by Maggie Sansone

The Christmas Revels by The Christmas Revels

Christmas by Mannheim Steamroller
Some traditional. Some contemporary! The traditional carols are more than worth the price of the CD! 

Believe me when I say there is plenty more available besides what I have listed here.
Troll away!!



Stephanie Ann said...

Good post!

One more: The Court of a King

Stephanie Ann said...

Hmmm. For some reason the Mp3s linked on that Amazon page are NOT the songs on the CD.

This one is correct:

Hope you enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Lovely posting, Ken! Sure makes me long for dulcimers and harps. If I hear any more"wanting hippopotamuses for Christmas"...I KNOW I will literally get sick!

An Historical Lady said...

Dear Ken,
My blog just received the 'Duchy Award', and I nominated yours. You can see what to do by reading my last post:

In a world with too many 'farbs', you are a beacon of knowledge and authenticity! Your blog is so charming and entertaining, not to mention so well written. It is one of my favorites, and I am proud to nominate it.
Kind regards,

Historical Ken said...

Wow! Mary, I am touched - thank you!

An Historical Lady said...

Another fantastic post, Ken. I felt as if I were there at the Inn that frosty night for a wonderful feast, and mesmerized by the music as well!

Back in 1982, I too had an epiphany with regard to Christmas music when at a holiday Open House at and antique shop I bought cassette tapes of A NEW ENGLAND CHRISTMASTIDE, both ONE and TWO. These are by Northstar Music, and are still available, and in CD. The carols are the lesser known, and less 'modern', and these two featured dulcimers, and other exotic instruments. I still love them as much as I did then, and still play them from Thanksgiving through New Year!

PJ Academy said...

I have just spent WAY TOO MUCH time on your 2 blogs :0)

I have them both saved as they are right up my alley!!!

The books you mentioned in one of the posts.....would they be okay for a jr highers reading? Or are there some you could recommend. She LOVES the Laura Ingalls books but has read them multiple times!

Thank you for all the time you put into this!! I have a few trips planned now because of your blog!!

Historical Ken said...

PJ -
Wow! Thank you for the compliment!
I have such a love for social history and being able to write about it is like therapy for me, especially during times when I'm not reenacting, though I do write some of my posting while in period clothing!
You asked about books for a jr high level: I believe if your daughter can handle the Little House books she could probably handle most of the books I mention. The majority are more of an adult level but not too difficult for the younger set. I highly recommend "A Pioneer Sampler" by Barbara Greenwood. This is an awesome social history book that was written for teens but should be read by adults as well.
Thanks again for the kind words!

Richard Cottrell said...

I love Christmas music, it is some of the most beautiful and never would be Christmas with out it. Every year a local Christmas station does 48 hours of it with no interruptions. My Favorite. I just did a post about and 1860 house that I transformed for Christmas. Try and stop by, if you haven't. Richard from My Old Historic house. Carol of the Bells, my favorite of all times.

Pam of Eastlake Victorian said...

Hi Ken-

Boy, thank you for this wonderful post! I, too, love the old time music from our earliest days and have collected it for years (not just Christmas music)! Flying Fish and Rounder are great for this kind of music. I also pick up CDs from artists who I see perform live. I got a lot of my hammer dulcimer CDs that way! Patapan is one of my favorite tunes. It's so beautiful any time of year. I love Steven Foster music, too, and a lot of great stuff comes out of English and Celtic traditional music. For Christmas, I love The Holly & The Ivy and Carol Of The Bells.

I will definitely check out these links and add to my collection. This makes me think I should do a Christmas music post as well. Would you mind?


Historical Ken said...

You should absolutely do a music post! I will look forward to it!

Splitter226 said...

Ken - you may or may not be familiar with this Christmas Music Blog:

There are also links to many other Christmas Music sites.