Here on Christmas Eve, I want to provide a few of my favorite tunes — both old and new, but mostly old — for Yuletide. And to add the appropriate flavor, I’ll drop in a few photos from the Hagley Museum‘s 2022 Gingerbread Contest with the theme All Creatures Great and Small.
This year I’m featuring two masters of the finger-style guitar, various artists from one of my favorite radio shows, and the group Windborne.
Each year at the Institute of Musical Traditions’ Celtic Christmas concert, guitarist Robin Bullock plays a beautiful rendition of Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovich‘s Christmas song that didn’t begin as a Christmas song: Carol of the Bells. He did so again earlier this month, and I share it with you here at an especially meaningful time for the people of Ukraine.
Robin’s album Christmas Eve is Here, is full of beautiful guitar, cittern, and mandolin arrangements of the old chestnuts. We’ll sample a few, beginning with It Came Upon a Midnight Clear followed by In the Bleak Midwinter — based on a poem by Christina Rossetti — which is one of Candice’s most beloved songs of the season. I’ll end the Bullock segment with the frisky Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day.
Alex de Grassi
Musician and composer Alex de Grassi has produced a series of sublime and beautiful guitar arrangements of seasonal classics. The Holly and the Ivy begins this set, followed by Good King Wenceslas and then by one of my personal favorites, Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella.
Bring a Torch began as a French dance tune for nobility in the 17th century, but quickly became a Christmas standard.
The characters “Jeannette” and “Isabelle/Isabella” are two female farmhands who have found the Baby Jesus and his mother Mary in a stable. Excited by this discovery, they run to a nearby village to tell the inhabitants, who rush to see the new arrivals. Visitors to the stable are urged to keep their voices quiet, so the newborn can enjoy his dreams.
etown holiday music
A community of musicians and artists who have been sharing their gifts from Boulder, Colorado for more than 30 years, etown is a great place to find musical collaborations…including some holiday treats.
Fiddle great Mark O’Connor brought his Hot Swing! group to etown, where they performed a beautiful rendition of The Christmas Song.
The next two offerings show the informal side of etown. There’s a bit of patter and interviewing before Celtic singer Loreena McKennitt performs a haunting arrangement of Greensleeves on the piano. In the second video, co-founder Helen Forester steps in during the middle of the great Tex Logan tune Christmas Time is Coming to read the show’s credits. Tim O’Brien then jumps right in with a mandolin break and the tune’s back in full swing. This is live radio, folks!
We’ll end this Yuletide musical celebration with two tunes from Windborne. The group sang this fun arrangement of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at last month’s IMT concert here in DC. And there’s no more fitting song to wrap up a holiday musical special than Auld Lang Syne.
Happy Christmas and best wishes for the season!
More to come…
For more holiday tunes from the acoustic and old-time set, check out last year’s post.